When South Park first premiered back in 1997, I hadn’t even hit my teens. However, that didn’t keep me from watching the highly-anticipated show, or recording every episode of its first few seasons on blank VHS tapes. Once I watched it for the first time, I became captivated by the construction paper-crafted hijinx of its town’s caricaturized inhabitants — namely Eric Cartman, Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski and Kenny McCormick — and couldn’t get enough. They brought something truly unique to television, the likes of which had never been seen before, and that is still the case to this very day where the baby of Matt Stone and Trey Parker is preparing for its 18th season.
After a while, I drifted away from South Park and its polarizing eight-year-olds, but I’m not sure why. In fact, I’ve never stopped liking the show and now regret the fact that I stopped watching it every week. Recent episodes that I’ve viewed with friends or caught on TV have been hilarious, and have sparked my interest in going back to the beginning and starting over. Those thirty-minute escapes into animation aren’t the only reason for this, though, because the show’s newly-released video game, South Park: The Stick of Truth, is also very much to blame. My time spent with said RPG was so engrossing and enjoyable that I am now a bit jealous of those who’ve yet to experience its greatness.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a game about epic LARPing, or Live Action Role-Playing if you prefer. Within its narrative, Cartman and Kyle have taken up opposing sides in the battle for the titular Stick of Truth, forcing their friends to choose sides. Those who inhabit the backyard kingdom of Kupa Keep with Eric “Fatass” Cartman are known as the Humans, while the boys who’ve sided with Kyle and Stan are simply known as Elves. As the rules state, the members of each faction must duke it out using role-playing cliches in order to attempt to earn the Stick, which is said to provide its owners with control of the entire universe. It’s a very simple yet imaginative premise, which is befitting of the fourth graders who act as its driving force.
In true South Park fashion, the somewhat innocent game of pretend becomes a part of something much, much bigger. However, I don’t want to provide any details out of the fear of spoiling the greatness that lays within the game and its tale of “The New Kid,” who players create and assume upon pressing the start button. The less you know about things, the better your experience will be, because this game is chock full of hilarious twists, turns and surprises. It’s also very well written, and pays homage to other pop culture phenoms like Skyrim and Guitar Hero.
Although it’s based on one of TV’s most outlandish offerings, The Stick of Truth is a creative but very robust RPG, which either adheres to or puts its own spin on classic genre motifs. In fact, those who look at this experience as being something stupid or write it off for being a licensed game will miss out on one of the most entertaining and memorable campaigns of all-time. A lot of blood, sweat, tears and hard work went into crafting this title and it shows. As such, I now think of this as a work of interactive art, because that’s what it is, thanks to dedication from developer Obsidian and show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. No corners were cut, and things certainly weren’t rushed, in order to hastily unleash Princess Kenny and company onto gamers.
During this expertly-crafted campaign, the entire mountain town of South Park, Colorado, is at your fingertips. You can explore the elementary school, invade City Hall and even make your way into peers’ homes in search of quest items, miscellaneous objects (which pay homage to the show’s history), collectable Chinpokomon and friends. Yes, friends. You see, one of your main goals is to become Facebook pals with as many of the town’s inhabitants as possible, which you can do by either talking to them or completing certain quests. Through this endeavour, your character can earn perks of the traditional variety, which can help improve your odds in battle.
Speaking of battles, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that South Park: The Stick of Truth is, in fact, a turn-based role-playing game in the vein of Final Fantasy. However, although it shares a base formula with said Japanese phenomenon, it exists as its own creative beast. Its move set and battle system act as a combination of JRPGs and games like Paper Mario, allowing players to achieve perfect hits, blocks and counters by pressing a button at the right time. On the Xbox 360, the buttons in question are generally A and X, which are responsible for both light and heavy attacks. However, Y is also thrown into the mix whenever a fart is required.
Instead of learning magical spells that complement his special abilities (which correlate to his chosen class), the player’s incredibly customizable New Kid is taught fart magic. This isn’t limited to just one basic fart style, mind you, but several different types. There’s the standard fart, which can be unleashed upon those standing near you outside of battle, the Cup-a-Smell (which is directed using hand motions), the silent but stinky squeaker (which can be moved into place before being detonated, allowing you to distract foes) and the Nagasaki. The latter variety is quite severe, and is actually so strong that it can destroy environmental objects by causing severe tremors.
Farting can be helpful during battle sequences, much like one-time use summons that can be called upon to wipe out every enemy on the opposing side of the frame, but they’re most useful outside of conflict. Letting gas go by open flames can create destructible explosions, for instance, while the others’ benefits were mentioned above. Using the correct fart type at the right time is pivotal for progression, and can also help you use the environment to take out enemies.
Battles can involve up to several enemies, who want nothing more than to knock the player and his one buddy out. However, though only one friend can be utilized at any given time, they can be switched in and out. This noted list features the likes of Princess Kenny, High Jew Elf Kyle, Wizard Cartman, and their pals Stan, Jimmy and Butters.
Each buddy has his (or her?) own specialty, which must be taken into account. For example, Cartman is weak in melee combat but can light his farts on fire to damage multiple opponents, Kyle can use elemental magic or call upon the arrow fire of his fellow Elves, and Butters can turn into a gigantic superhero. Jimmy is the weakest, using music to alter the status effects of his peers and enemies, and Princess Kenny is also relatively weak in combat outside of her ability to call in a trampling unicorn. She can woo enemies by showing her boobs off, though, and can also gross them out (a status effect that causes them to lose health via puking) by kissing them. Other status effects include a melee-blocking riposte stance, a ranged weapon-deflecting position and a bleeding status that works as you’d expect.
What’s great about the battle system within South Park: The Stick of Truth is how it effectively balances all of its parts. You’re put at a disadvantage if you call in another buddy, because a turn is lost through doing so. On top of that, mana and power points must be topped up regularly if you hope to continue using fart magic or special attacks. It’s fair, though, because each Human and Elf can use one item per turn, without losing a chance to attack. Special abilities count as attacks, as you’d expect, but each character also has one unique talent (or buff) that is treated like an item.
Though I had a blast as I played through this unforgettable storyline, I found just as much enjoyment when I took time off to explore the town. Actually, it took a little while before I even bothered with the first couple of main quests, because I was caught up in rummaging through the town’s homes and buildings, where I found some rather unique items that I’d never imagined I’d find in a role-playing game, let alone a non-adult-rated game. There’s simply so much to do throughout town, which makes it easy to forget about the core quest line for a little while. It will pull you back in, though, because you’ll want to find out what will happen next.
I beat The Stick of Truth over the course of several days, and it took me between fifteen and twenty hours to do so. That length felt perfect, though, and I missed the game as soon as I finished it. There are still some side quests that I’ve yet to complete, though, and I’d like to replay the entire thing as a Jew instead of a Fighter, so I’ll definitely have to revisit it soon. Normally, I don’t get to replay games because I play so many of them, but I’ll have to make an exception for this one.
When it comes to presentation, this epic LARPing adventure is a highly mature treat. In action, it looks and sounds just like the show, making you feel as if you’re simply interacting with a present day episode. There are also a ton of customization options that will let you create your ideal South Park character.
Technical hiccups were (unfortunately) present during my play through, but they only marred my experience a bit. I dealt with a small amount of slowdown, in addition to a slight input delay when it came to choosing moves for at least one of my buddies. There were also times where it seemed like my character would move the wrong way on his own after a cutscene, battle or loading screen, but those instances were few and far between. None of these minor problems really affected my time with the game, though, so don’t let mention of them keep you from giving it a shot.
Now that I’ve gushed about South Park: The Stick of Truth for quite a few paragraphs, it’s time to conclude this review. I’ll begin to do so by saying that, even though I went into this game with high expectations and an immense hope for quality, my expectations were exceeded and I was blown away by what I played. This truly is a wonderful and magnificent role-playing game, which perfectly captures the quirky essence of the TV show it’s based on. Additionally, it provided me with one of the most entertaining play throughs I’ve ever had the pleasure of taking part in, and has become an all-time personal favourite.
Don’t miss out on this one! Unless you hate RPGs, or despise the colourful language and mature content of the South Park universe, it behooves you to enlist in the battle for the Stick of Truth!
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a fantastic game, which perfectly captures the essence of its inspiration. A lot of hard work went into crafting this passion project of an RPG, and it shows.