At this point, professional sports and video games are intertwined. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and almost every other major sports have video games in which players at home can be their favorite athletes.
Sometimes, however, these video games are a far cry from the sport they play for money. Throughout history, there have been several bizarre attempts to use athletes to sell different types of games.
‘Shaq Fu’ combined Shaquille O’Neal and martial arts
One of the most infamous failures in gaming history, Shaquille O’Neal never shied away from exploring the limits of his superstardom. With platinum rap albums and several films under his belt, O’Neal decided to use his NBA star power to release a game, but it wasn’t a basketball game. The results would go down in infamy.
Shaq Fu was a fighting game that saw O’Neal on a quest through a fantastic world to rescue a young boy named Nezu. It was a critical failure.
However, the game developed a cult following thanks to its bizarre nature, and in 2018 a new edition of the game called Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn was released. While still poorly reviewed, it was not as infamous as its predecessor.
‘Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City’ had Jordan rescue his teammates
Michael Jordan refused to sign on to the Players’ Association at the height of his NBA career. This meant that the Chicago Bulls superstar was withheld from several classic basketball franchises. Those who wanted to be the greatest basketball player of all time could scratch that itch thanks to Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City.
The game was less NBA Jam and more Super Mario Bros, as players guided Jordan through a journey to rescue his captured teammates and fight a variety of creatures along the way.
Jordan used his basketballs as weapons, and like Shaq Fu, the game now has a special spot in the heart of many ’90s kids who bought it at the height of his celebrity.
‘Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball’ combined basketball and fisticuffs
Unlike Shaq Fu and Chaos in the Windy City, Bill Laimbeer’s video game was a basketball game — sort of. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball combined basketball and combat, both of which were staples of his career. It was a remarkably violent event in the history of gaming, but memorable because of it.
The game’s aesthetic looked more like something out of a Mad Max movie than an NBA arena, and while it wasn’t well-received, it is a nostalgic hit with fans everywhere.
‘Blitz: The League’ featured NFL players, drugs, and strippers
Blitz: The League is, by all means, a sports video game. A simple look at the cover might even trick the casual fan into thinking that they were buying a run-of-the-mill football game.
What made this game different was the story around its football play. After losing the NFL licensing due to Madden’s exclusivity, Midway wanted to continue the hard-hitting style of the predecessor.
Free from any censorship that might come with a family league, Blitz: The League made a darker video game in which bones were shown snapping thanks to X-Ray vision, steroids as a means to mend a variety of gruesome and more profanity than the average movie. To make it more official, the game employed retired NFL players like Bill Romanowski and Lawrence Taylor to voice doppelgängers for the gritty game.
The game was a big enough success to warrant a sequel, but the Blitz brand went back to a family-friendly NFL product before disappearing forever.
‘SpongeBob at Bat’
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Blitz: The League, Nicktoons MLB looked to get a younger audience hooked on baseball. They did so by mashing up the worlds of SpongeBob SquarePants, Ren and Stimpy, Avatar: The Last Airbender with Major League Baseball. The result was a bizarre mix of cartoon antics and real-life baseball.
While the makers of the game may have hoped they had a hit on their hands, the game was never a big enough success to warrant any franchises. What remains, however, is a strange look at what happens when two different worlds collide.