If you’ve ever had any degree of love for the television/pop-culture phenomenon that is South Park, you’d be hard pressed not to be enraptured by the newly released South Park: The Stick of Truth for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Really, that previous sentence is enough for fans. I’m going to do the review thing, hell, you’ve already seen my score, but trust me when I say that liking South Park is all you need to love this game, so ignore the score and just go get it. It takes the show’s uproarious, highly satirical, and potty humor to more extremes than television will allow in this sixteen-or-so hour turn-based RPG that deserves the title of funniest game ever made. Yeah, I played Portal 2, but I still mean it. The games faults, of which there are some, rely solely on some of the games mechanics and this slight but inescapable truth is why giving this game a score was excruciating for me.
The game begins with the construction of your South Park avatar, the newest resident of this “quiet, little, redneck, Podunk, white-trash, mountain town” we know and love as South Park, Colorado. After creating yourself, of which the customizable options are few (but made up for later, I assure you), your parents drive you out into the town to make new friends. It doesn’t take long before you meet show regulars Butters, Cartman, Kenny, and Clyde who, along with all the boys in town, are engaged in a Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, insert-fantasy-title-here game. The goal of this town-wide quest is for one of the two warring factions to possess the ultimate power in the universe, the titular Stick of Truth. Each of the kids have taken on the persona of a class: Cartman is a wizard king, Butters is a paladin, and Kenny is, well, a princess. You too are in need of a class, and the choices are mostly typical: Warrior, Mage, Thief, and Jew. Each class has distinct abilities, but choosing one rarely hinders your prowess in any way. It is from here that the plot does what Matt Stone and Trey Parker do best, move from outrageous plot point to more outrageous plot point, being progressively more offensive, disgusting, and (let’s face it) goddamned wonderful.
The whole game is peppered with references to the show, fantastic one-liners, and jokes at the expense of game tropes. It is a semi-open world RPG, because the town of South Park becomes yours to explore almost at the outset. It isn’t gigantic, but there is a lot to see and do. Though some areas are blocked off, only to be accessed once you have certain abilities, there are plenty of sidequests to initiate even before you delve into the main plot. Lots of objects in the world can be interacted with either by breaking or investigating them and along with weapons and equipment for your character, there are stickers that enhance weapons and armor, flair to drastically alter your appearance, and junk which is sellable for cash. The junk consists of nearly every single object that has ever been in the show (some more phallic than others). South Park fans will delight in exploring the bedrooms of major and minor characters, prominent locations from the show, and the main cast who are involved in main and side quest alike. After fulfilling quests or even just meeting people, you can become friends with them on your hub. Having tons of friends leads to character perks for an extra edge in battle.
Battles take place akin to that of the original Paper Mario. Once you engage an enemy on the field, you move to the battlefield and take turns landing hits. Each turn allows the use of one healing/buff/debuff item and one attack/ability move. Hits can then be intensified and blocked with the properly timed press of a button. These button-presses can be a bit unpredictable though, and sometimes there is little confirmation (since you give and take damage anyway) as to whether or not you succeeded in landing critical hits and crucial blocks. There are other nuances, like battle stances your enemy will have that resist certain attacks, plus there are layers of armor that may need to be penetrated. That said, it is important to update your character frequently with sturdy armor and damaging weapons, since sometimes the level of difficulty enemy-wise will jump or fall unpredictably depending on what quest you are on. You will rarely die, thanks to the addition of some abilities that ignore armor, but sometimes it may take you a much longer time to kill an enemy thanks to their inexplicably high damage tolerance. Along with you in battle is often one ally who can be switched out (even in battle) with other characters and each are fan favorites with their own class-based bells and whistles. With summons, a melee weapon, a range weapon, abilities, partners, and spells (farts), there are many ways to fell foes and battles are often fast and fun. The greatest revelation that this game brings to RPGs is the fact that status effects are actually useful in this game, though they atypically include things like the grossed-out status.
A person looking for a more in-depth RPG may find South Park: The Stick of Truth lacking. There are only fifteen character levels to achieve and there is no need to grind at any point during your quest, though you will since battles are so enjoyable and you’ll probably reach the level cap long before the game ends. Also, while I did say before that the game is sixteen hours, I completed nearly everything the game has to offer in that time and, given the surprise factor and lack of major differences between classes, replaying the game may not be a priority upon completion. For people along for the short, sweet ride, this will be fine; however, anyone looking for a lengthy RPG will be sorely disappointed by the game’s brevity. It is impossible to ignore the polish in the game’s animation and sound design. There are times when you may forget that you are playing a game instead of watching the show since the entire thing is realized in the paper-cutout style it is famous for and songs from the show play in the homes and businesses of the town. Manipulating the environment in-game also has battle advantages. For example, electrocuting enemies pre-battle could make things easier or even bypass the battle entirely, still rewarding the experience that would have been earned otherwise.
There are negatives to deal with here though. While exploration is fun and rewarding, there is a plethora of unimportant and useless things to find that you won’t bother equipping upon discovery. Fart tutorials are frustrating, and lots of situational button-pressing is unexplained; these moments, which are few, halt the game and make you realize that perhaps not all is well with this iteration of South Park. The game’s length, as I have said before, will disappoint some and, it is reasonable to expect more, since this game has been more than long-awaited in its development. I also think that two of the more beloved partner characters are acquired too late in the game.
Full disclosure: my view of this game is likely colored by my reverence toward the shocking and unforgiving nature of the show’s humor, which carries over into the game seamlessly. The game uses cutscenes but does not rely on them for exposition (a problem of most RPGs). Instead, many of the laughs and plot revelations come about during and as a result of play. I couldn’t stop myself from playing straight through the game because it compelled me to by offering more and more South Park goodness. What we have here is a perfect South Park storyline coupled with gameplay that satisfies at its best and underwhelms at its worst. Yet, at the same time, it is a miracle that a license this good could be done with such reverence to the original material.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames