Gonna have ourselves a time
Sick and tired of licensing out their beloved series to game developers who constantly failed to capture the essence of the show, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker eventually decided that the only way to do it right was to do it themselves. Enter The Stick of Truth, a project the comedic masterminds helmed from the get-go. They handled all the writing, personally picked a developer, and even navigated the bankruptcy of their first publisher, THQ, and the transition to Ubisoft—all in the hopes of finally conquering the last realm of media they hadn’t been able to strike gold in.
One big reason The Stick of Truth works so well? Parker and Stone penned a tale that puts players themselves in the middle of the crazy Colorado mountain town. As the New Kid, you’ll begin your adventure with the most innocent of tasks: making some friends. And it’s not long before you stumble upon Cartman, Kenny, and all our favorite foul-mouthed youths. Because you refuse to speak, however, the boys resort to calling you “Douchebag” in lieu of a real name.
The refusal to speak isn’t some cruel joke, though. It’s intentional from a game perspective and helps portray your avatar as somewhat of a blank slate. This allows you to customize your character and have some say in how he’ll look, as well as which one of four classes (Fighter, Thief, Mage, or—appropriately, for the series—Jew) he’ll represent. I ended up making my particular “Douchebag” a Fighter that looked like Walter White from Breaking Bad for most of the game. The only typically standard customization feature locked in stone? Your character must stay a boy, even if you want to dress him up as a girl. Before you get up in arms, this actually makes sense when you analyze it from a plot perspective, because pre-teen boys (especially Cartman) would never want to play make-believe with girls.
After your class and customization options are set, the boys welcome you into the fold with the official title of “Sir” Douchebag. Being named “Douchebag” and having Cartman tell you that if you choose to be a Jew, you can never be true friends is just the beginning of a near-constant barrage of crude humor that might rub more casual fans the wrong way. But as a huge fan of the show, I laughed throughout. Every story beat helps The Stick of Truth feel like an extra-long episode and makes for a joyous celebration of what’s kept South Park such a cable staple for nearly two decades.
The writing isn’t the only thing that makes the game match the mayhem any fan of the show would expect. Parker and Stone clearly spent copious attention on even the tiniest details—you’ll be amazed at how much the animation and art style resemble an actual episode. So much so, in fact, that I actually felt I was a part of the town as I explored familiar landmarks like City Wok, South Park Elementary, and Stark’s Pond.
The old-school, turn-based combat, meanwhile, took me back to my days playing Super Mario RPG, complete with similar timing-based blocks and attacks. Each character has hysterical special attacks appropriate to them, like Cartman farting on a match to roast the entire field of foes. The New Kid’s comparable flatulence-based abilities, meanwhile, can be used as standalone attacks or to bolster normal moves, providing a bit of nuance to what starts out as a simple, straightforward system. But the more I battled, the more I noticed the lack of balance caused by overpowered status effects. If I didn’t knock enemies out in one hit, they’d often die after their first attack due to all of the freezing, burning, bleeding, and “grossing” (the game’s equivalent of poisoning) I’d stacked.
The New Kid’s farting is at its most interesting outside of battle, however, providing four of the ways you interact with the world. “The Sneaky Squeaker,” for example, can be used to distract enemies, while the “Nagasaki” can break down obstacles blocking your path. I just wish it were easier to switch between the different abilities. I’d have preferred if this mechanic were handled by the D-pad, which is instead used to quickly open up tabs in the cluttered menu screen.
The Stick of Truth offers other ways to feel immersed in the South Park universe beyond how well you can clench your sphincter, though. Some are simple, such as firing your toy bow and arrow to hit far-off switches. Others are more complex, like activating an anal probe to teleport between two points (OK, so even some of your other powers deal with your butt). When you use these abilities in tandem with your farting prowess, the world in The Stick of Truth opens up and shows a lot more depth than you might see on the surface.
The only thing about The Stick of Truth that left me truly disappointed is that it’s easily the shortest RPG I’ve ever played. I was able to finish nearly every sidequest, the main campaign, and max out my abilities in only 10 hours. The story felt like it had a natural ending and didn’t feel rushed at all, but I sure do wish there were more to it. If they left me begging for more, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, right?
The Stick of Truth is finally the game Parker and Stone have wanted to represent their beloved comedy series. Not only does it pay tribute to some of the show’s best moments, but it also builds new lore on top of that. As a game—and not just a story—it certainly could be better, but South Park fans will still feel immensely satisfied with the effort.
|Developer: Obsidian Entertainment, South Park Digital Studios • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 03.04.14|
Finally, fans of South Park have a game worthy of the TV show. The writing, animation, and little details are all outstanding, and while a few balance issues surface during combat and the main quest is a little short at around 10 hours, those aren’t dealbreakers. No South Park game has captured the sleepy Colorado mountain town quite like this, and show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker delivered on their promise to create a gaming experience that matches the Comedy Central hit.
|The Good||The Stick of Truth is a game finally worthy of the South Park name.|
|The Bad||A bit short, a bit easy, and a bit unpolished.|
|The Ugly||The poor odds of getting a sequel.|
|South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 using a retail code provided by Ubisoft.|