A long long time ago, amidst the days of the Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1, South Park debuted late one night featuring an episode where main character Eric Cartman was captured by Aliens and probed. What followed was a strange phenomenon online, the likes of which hadn’t been seen beforehand, or likely since. In the 6 days between South Park episodes (they were on Wednesday nights in the US back then and Fridays here in Canada,) South Park became an underground internet community sensation, not only as show fans turned to Comedy Central and Realplayer (remember when Realplayer was our best hope at watching media on our computers?) for their streaming needs, but to see who could make the best mini-game based on that week’s episode. Hundreds, if not thousands of fan made games littered every corner of the Parkosphere back in 1998 (most of them terrible) and then eventually, Acclaim relented, got the South Park gaming license and released a couple of games that made those fan made homebrews look like the Gold Standard of video gaming in comparison.
Then they just stopped. After South Park Rally made us question again why video games existed to begin with, they stopped. A couple mobile games aside, South Park has thrived for the past 15 years without a retail gaming release, which is as surprising as it is unprecedented. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have found creative ways to keep the series relevant aside from first runs, and the show has arguably gotten better with age. Still, the burning feeling they got from those video games made them a bit hesitant to go back — Until now. Announced in 2011, and after a few bumps and bruises along the way (such as THQ’s closure and eventual sale of Obsidian to Ubisoft,) South Park: The Stick of Truth is here to make us forget why we waited this long for another one of their games.
Release Date: March 4th 2014
Overall Rating: M for Mature
Consoles: Available as follows
So yes, this game is rated M for Mature. Given that it’s a South Park title, no surprise. I’ll try to keep this review as clean, and work safe as possible.
South Park: The Stick of Truth has loose connections to the Lord of the Rings-era South Park episodes from around 10 years ago. The costumes are nearly spot-on, though the storyline is all original. In it, you play a new kid in town whose parents have moved him to the quiet mountain town to begin anew, though it’s not said why. Almost immediately, your father kicks you out of the house and demands you meet new friends. Not surprisingly, Butters Stotch is the first to meet you, and immediately takes you to Cartman’s house to meet him and begin the main questline. Don’t worry — If you need one of the ultimate all-time Butters references to get you comfortable, walk the main stretch and you’re bound to hear “There’s Something in my Front Pocket” in one of the shops.
Here’s where I should stop and say that if all of this sounds foreign to you, it may be worth familiarizing yourself with the characters, inside jokes and humour style of South Park. You don’t have to know anything to just play the game, but for you to understand a lot of the references, items you pick up, and the characters themselves, you have to know the show. There were so many references and kickbacks to the first couple seasons that made me laugh (Anybody remember the Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka from Season 2?) that I really think you’ll need to go back and refresh yourself with some of the more landmark episodes of the show’s first 10 seasons. It doesn’t have to be every episode, but at least remember some of the classics like Season 3’s Chinpokomon and even the very episodes that form the basis of the game (Season 6’s “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers” and this season’s Black Friday multi-episode arc.)
From here, you choose a class and spend the next hour or so learning the basic elements within – attacks, abilities, “magic” (the first spell you learn is how to fart on your opponent) and even special melee abilities. You pick up various weapons and learn the battle system as well. Given that this is an RPG, a certain level of strategy is involved. For example, your enemies can hold shields, or automatically counter-attack your advances, leaving you to have to figure out another way to get the job done. Potions and health packs are everyday items like water bottles or bags of Cheesy Poofs. But boy, taking out those enemies is oh-so fun because you get to loot the corpses afterward, and that’s half the laughs in this game. For example, taking out a pack of meth addicts results in looting loose change and used needles, while looting the elves that pick fights around town (battles in town are spawned by kids chasing after you) will bring up anything from Terrance and Phillip dolls to references of episodes past, like a Cherokee Hair Tampon. All of these can be sold to merchants like whomever is in Cartman’s backyard selling weapons or Jimbo for cash to buy more potions, weapons and armor. You can even purchase powerups for your weapons. Bloody an opponent by sticking a toothpick on your weapon, or purchase stickers to add special effects to it. Hundreds of characters customization perks can be purchased or found in South Park (you can find plenty throughout the town and during corpose loots.) You can even keep your eyes open around town for Chinpokomon, and collect all 30 of those around South Park. Which one’s your favorite? I’ve always been partial to Pengin and Shoe.
I’m guessing that because of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s direct involvement with development, they were pretty particular, because this game hits the essence of South Park on the head. The graphics are spot on. The SFX and voicework/jokes are spot on. The whole town of South Park is basically laid out as you would expect it, down to the stores and streets. Every time I went back to play some more, I would find something completely out of left field that was unexpected, yet integrated so well. The controls (I was playing on a PC) were a tad confusing for me at first as a console gamer and a bit more than my apparently inflexible fingers could handle at first, but they made a lot of sense (and really, it’s nothing MMO players haven’t experienced) once my fingers were capable of figuring out how they should be laid out on the keyboard to press commands. We don’t normally talk about PC controls that much here at Plug-In considering the majority of our reviews happen on console, but the controls are pretty well laid out here, such as I for Inventory, and M to access the map. The menus are done as though you’re on a computer, using a social media stream for messaging and a miniature operating system. You manage your friends here (again, remembering that your dad told you that you HAD to make friends) as well as your inventory and travel plans. The town isn’t massive, but it’s big enough that it’s a pain to walk from one end to the other. Luckily, fast travel is available to you in the game if you can find the Timmy toot horns throughout the city. There are 12 in all, and one of the early side missions is to find them all. You may as well spend about 30 minutes traversing the map for them just to make your life much easier in that regard.
Give yourself a lot of time to play South Park: The Stick of Truth, and don’t skimp on the small things. You can probably breeze through the main storyline in about 10-12 hours with one class and no sidequests, but you’re going to want to take a lot of time to do the hilarious other missions, and then play again through the other classes. I started out as a Fighter and that’s how I played through for this review, but I want to go back and definitely play as the other classes, especially Jew, which, well, is an RPG first, that’s for sure. The sidequests will also give you specific powerups for completing them as well. For example, Priest Maxi’s sidequest where you have to “find Jesus” (which is literally playing Hide and Seek with Jesus in the church) allows you to summon him for non-boss Battles. Cleaning up the rats at Skeeter’s pub gives you darts. You can accept any and all side quests as you go through the game, and then act on them as you go through the town. For example, playing Hide and Seek with the Kindergarten children isn’t something you’ll want to dedicate yourself to, however, you can just find them all while you’re running through the town completing a main mission. Make sure you open every little treasure chest, door and cupboard too. Anything with yellow handles can be opened, and you can unlock the “treasures” inside. By “treasures,” you’ll get the odd thing that’s of use, but the rest is junk. Much like corpse loot, these can be sold to a dealer for cash toward the purchase of more weaponry and armor. Everything has a dollar value in South Park. Even a hobo’s pubic hair you f
ind in a treasure chest inside a cube van is somehow worth 3 cents. I’m not even exaggerating.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a very deceptive RPG, in that, by all stretches of the imagination, this is still your standard turn based RPG. However, you spend so much time laughing and getting absorbed in the humour and atmosphere that you forget that there’s a deeper element to the strategy involved. Much like last month’s Bravely Default, Stick of Truth applies traditional principles of standard RPGs, but change the rules a bit to add a unique spin to the experience. In this essence, it works to the game’s advantage because it will entice show fans to give the game a spin where they aren’t necessarily series fans. You don’t have to be to enjoy the game, but as I said earlier, it really helps. Hardcore RPG players may also be turned off by the shortened main quest timelines, or the fact that the combat system is a bit entry level. Don’t come into the game expecting Final Fantasy V, but at the same time, don’t come in thinking you can just melee attack your way to victory like you can with some games of the genre.
Where do I rank this in my favorite RPGs? Well, I think from a pure nostalgic, pure entertainment purposes, it might be my favorite. It definitely isn’t my alltime favorite actual RPG (you’re still safe Secret of Mana) but it’s a definite top 5, if only because I’ve been watching the show since Season 1, and this rehashes all sorts of memories while being just a really fun game. Stick of Truth does so well to immerse you into the South Park universe that you forget what you’re actually doing here. You forget that you’re basically playing through the imagination of elementary school children dressed up as elves and wizards fighting a schoolyard-type game, though with adult strategies involved. Never again might you play something so simultaneously juvenile and grown-up at the same time. It’s quite the experience.
Very few games suck me in from the first moment. My feelings tend to warm up slowly to games, but Stick of Truth had me in from the very first steps I took as my character, and realized the great attention to detail taken to make this game. You’re basically just playing a 15 hour episode of the show, and the game just can’t be developed any other way but this for it to all work. About the only thing I can really say that I didn’t enjoy about this game is really the same issue I have with all RPGs (and one of the reasons I don’t play them often) – The battles can become a tad monotonous, however, it’s not something that RPG players aren’t used to already, and this game finds creative ways to counteract that, like playing RoShamBo to stun opponents in lieu of standard magic spells.
Show fans will generally love the humour and the inside jokes (I’m still finding them now hours and hours later) and love the game in general. RPG fans may get a kick out of it if anything else. South Park gaming in general has been fairly unconventional. Never once have they really done a standard adventure game you’d expect. It’s always been something outside the box, like a quiz show, or racing game, or this – an RPG. One thing’s for sure though. They finally got it right, and it definitely shows. I look forward to seeing what else comes of this partnership going forward, and hope it isn’t another 15 years before we see another title.
Gameplay: 4.5 / 5
Graphics: 5 / 5
Sound: 4.5 / 5
Controls: 4 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5 / 5
Overall Rating = 4.6 / 5 (92%)
It was worth the wait. Put the kids away to bed (it’s definitely not for them,) grab your headphones and head for South Park: The Stick of Truth available now at Best Buy and online at BestBuy.ca.