Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release Date: March 4th, 2014
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Played on: Playstation 3
Time Played: 15 Hours
Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park serves as a cultural barometer for all of the craziest outliers in current society. Who knew it would take them this long to release a game with their hands lovingly crafting it? In this partnership with developer Obsidian, South Park Studios has delivered a game dripping with authenticity. One might remember Obsidian from such games as Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol. Previous (not so good) games involving South Park include the Nintendo 64’s self-titled South Park as well as South Park: Chef’s Love Shack.
I myself remember being in 5th grade when rumblings of a show starring four 3rd graders with potty mouths started circulating the lunch tables. These kids had mouths beyond what even the most liberal of moms would condone in their households. Back in 1997, Comedy Central was pretty hard to find on networks in this particular stretch of the midwest. So, one can imagine my amazement when my mom let me rent South Park VHS tapes from the local Blockbuster and told me to hide them from my dad. Upon watching episodes like “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” and “Weight Gain 4000,” I realized that Trey and Matt had tapped into something so crude and ridiculous, it would only get bigger. This new video game into the very tried world of swords and sorcery is the newest expression of South Park’s madness.
16 seasons later, the show shows no signs of slowing down; it is still as relevant as ever. Enter South Park: The Stick of Truth. While this is certainly not the first game with the South Park brand, it is certainly the best- despite a few flaws. Check your things at the door if you’re easily offended, though.
The story of SP:TSoT begins with an unnamed protagonist who is a brand new resident of the sleepy Colorado town of South Park. The first thing one notices about this character is that he is a silent protagonist, taking cues from the likes of Link from The Legend of Zelda series. While talking to each other about your character in the beginning, the parents allude to some deep, dark truth about their son. They eventually encourage you to go outside where you meet Butters, who guides you to “Kupa Keep.” This is actually just Eric Cartman’s backyard, which contains some of the series’ most recognizable characters dressed up in rough versions of Game of Thrones or Dungeons & Dragons costumes. The only character that is truly different is Kenny McCormick, who takes on the persona of “Princess Kenny,” because, as Cartman says “it’s just how he seems to be rolling right now.” The story involves the antics of these 4th graders as they attempt to retrieve the “Stick of Truth” from a rival clan, as well as anyone else who gets in their way.
The gameplay of SP: TSoT is divided between exploring the town, completing quests, and getting into battles. This is pretty typical of the RPG, but something about how South Park portrays everything as a 10 year old’s LARP dream come true is just really original and funny. One of my favorite exchanges between characters occur when they are talking about Twitter. In order to not break their role-playing fantasy, they refer to it as “the carrier raven.” Brilliant.
The only flaws I saw with the execution were mostly minor annoyances. At times, my Playstation 3 version of the game would have a framerate dip here or there- transitioning from scene to scene. I also had one fatal glitch that caused my characters to be stuck in battle without being able to issue commands. This made me have to reset my console. I can’t speak for the Xbox 360 or PC versions of the game, but this is what I found in my playthrough on Playstation 3. The actual gameplay itself is wonderful; Obsidian could have just spent an extra amount of time polishing the technical hiccups.
Concept and Execution Grade: 22/25
The battle system is reminiscent of the classic Super Nintendo RPG, Super Mario RPG. This is a good thing, as every battle is extremely dynamic and fun. Combatants take turns fighting, but the two things that separate this battle system from others is that for one, you can heal and attack in the same turn. Second, timed button presses determine how much damage you deal to your enemies. Another really funny aspect of the battle system is the game’s version of “Summon” attacks. These are instant kills for regular enemies, but have the stipulation that they cannot be used on bosses and can only be used once a “day” in the game.
Items can also be used for status buffs and de-buffs, like a taco resurrects a fainted ally and Tweek Bros. Coffee lets you attack another round. These buffs and de-buffs are put on 4th grade terms as well. For example, while being “poisoned” is the worst nightmare of any RPG fan, in SP: TSoT it is known as “Grossed Out.” Or, if a character can attack one enemy, that de-buff is known as “Pissed Off.” The list goes on and on. This is one aspect that makes this game so special: changing the standard, tired status effect names of “old-school” RPG’s and mixing in some 4th grade flair.
Throughout the game there are also mini-games that help break up the repetition. These include “Family Home Evening” favorites such as an abortion mini-game or a Goth Kid Dance-Off with coffee and cigarettes to prove how dark your soul is. These are usually hilarious and are a nice break from the questing/battling that was mentioned earlier.
Everything is not perfect in Imaginationland, however. Later in the game, you get a farting mechanic that is key in solving various environmental puzzles (almost like a point-and-click style game). The farting mechanic is serviceable at BEST and downright infuriating at worst. The controls just aren’t there and are very obtuse. There are different fart styles that do different things, but really, they could have implemented the controls better here. At the very least, they could have cut down the variations of farting to just one or two (instead of four). This would have made the puzzles more intuitive and less frustrating to figure out.
The same goes for the “Buddy System.” Throughout the game, one of the boys accompanies you as your partner in battle (like Jimmy the Bard, Princess Kenny, or Cartman the Wizard). Their roles in combat are strictly enforced, giving you no room to customize what they can do. You control them, but you can’t change their clothing or equipment. These characters also have special abilities that solve environmental puzzles, but they are used so sparingly I wish they wouldn’t have included them at all. However, I have to admit, it’s funny watching Princess Kenny showing her “boobs” to “charm” enemies that might be blocking your path. This level of insanity meshes extremely well with the gameplay’s originality.
Mechanics Grade: 21/25
The first thing that one notices about this game is how it looks just like you are playing an episode of the show. The animation and presentation is impeccable. Then there is the voice acting. All of the voice actors of the show such as Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Mona Marshall, and Adrien Beard reprise their roles with a script written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The music consists of jingles, theme songs, and original music that fits perfectly into the game. My personal favorite is the epic music that plays when you wander around town with Cartman singing in the chorus. Fantastic.
In one way or another, all of the fan favorite characters make an appearance. It may be by offering the player a quest or just an occasional message on the game’s Quest/Friend/Inventory/Map/Ability tracker, Facebook. You equip items, add buffs/abilities, view quests, and the map of the town from this.
The best aspect about this game is its scope. The entire town of South Park is put in front of you, and the game does very little to prevent you from exploring every avenue. Locations such as “Skeeter’s Bar” or “Unplanned Parenthood” are represented in game just as most would expect. One can even explore the houses of the boys. For example, if you head into Cartman’s room, you can turn on his radio and listen to the “Minorities” song from the “Pee” episode of South Park. If you venture into his closet, you can see things such as the AWESOME-O cardboard costume from the episode of the same name, or the picture of Cartman being held in “jail” at Casa Bonita. The nods to series fans is nearly endless and totally rewarding. Consistently throughout the game I would just laugh because of the inane details that I suspect only long-time viewers of the show would “get.”
For example, one of my favorite locations in the game is South Park’s “U-Stor-It,” located near the northeast corner of the map. This place holds secrets of a certain supervillain that likes Bennigan’s and a former Vice President who becomes extremely annoying in his reminders of “Man-Bear-Pig” and Global Warming.
I don’t want to spoil much more, but there is a scene in which you walk into Stan’s house and Stan’s dad, Randy, is watching TV is his underwear. “Hey kids, wanna watch SportsCenter?” he asks. This scene had me in stitches, just knowing how true to character Parker and Stone had Randy. It’s little moments like this that make the game just drip with authenticity. It’s the first South Park game that had Parker and Stone deeply involved with it. Because of that, I know I don’t want to play another one unless they are again at the helm.
Atmosphere Grade: 25/25
SP: TSoT finishes at about the 12-15 hour mark depending on how much wandering around the town and completing side quests that you do. However, I loved exploring every nook and cranny the game threw my way, so I imagine if you just went straight through the main quest, it could be beaten in under 10 hours. The developers threw LOTS of content into the game in the forms of costumes, junk, accessories, beards, glasses, hats, etc. that can make for some really fun customization. However, this is all window dressing and does very little to extend the replay value of the game. Even something like transforming your face into David Hasselhoff (which costs over $100 in 4th grader currency!) doesn’t even earn a trophy/achievement. All it does is make some characters address you differently until you choose you want to look like a kid again. Kind of disappointing.
Something that made me a “sad panda” with this game is how, after you beat it, you can’t go back and play chapters. For the avid completionist/achievement hunter, this is maddening. I felt like I had explored the game top to bottom, accumulating 115 friends, only to find out there are actually 120. I missed an end-game interaction with Ike Broflovski that I could not go back and claim. If I wanted to get the trophy for getting all of the friends, I would have to replay the entire game and make sure I didn’t miss a single one. This just strikes me as unfair. There is no reason why chapters cannot be replayed. The same thing goes for the Chinpokomon that can be collected. In an early chapter, you go to a place that cannot be revisited. I missed a Chinpokomon collectible and, by extension, my trophy as well.
The game offers very little in the way of replay value because of this oversight. I sold my copy on eBay as soon as I beat it and have very little desire to ever revisit it. Once the story is completed, the jokes told, and all the farts passed there is very little reason to revisit South Park. The only reason I could think of would be to show a friend a specific moment from the game- but again- you cannot replay chapters unless you make separate save files.
Overall, it can be said without a breath of hesitation that South Park: The Stick of Truth is the best South Park game ever made. It can also be said with absolute certainty that it is certainly one of the best TV show licensed games ever made. One can just experience the series’ canon, characters, and history in this game, unlike anything ever before. Little flaws (such as technical issues) and big flaws (like lack of replayability) prevent this game from achieving truly classic RPG status (although I’m sure the Woodland Critters don’t help either). Overall, it is a wonderful addition to the South Park mythos and a must-play for any South Park or RPG fan- or if you like slaying Nazi Zombies, because it’s so “cooooooooool.”
Entertainment Value Grade: 15/25