Over the course of it’s 17 seasons (yes, it really has been that long) South Park has carved out a very impressive place in popular culture and built a bit of an empire for creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. So it only makes sense that these two seemingly geeky dudes would put a game on their bucket list.
So here we are, several delays later, with South Park: The Stick of Truth. Picking up with a similar motif to the Black Friday three-part episode that aired in the US recently (which itself was a convoluted parody of Game of Thrones), the game begins with a new kid being introduced to South Park and immediately getting caught up in the games the children of the ‘quiet little mountain town’ are playing.
The kids are playing fantasy, split into two warring factions: Cartman, as The Grand Wizard, leads the Klan of Kupa Keep (yes, that’s offensive) and Kyle leads the elves. The particular variety of play the children indulge in is clearly very based around video game culture (e.g. there is a Dragonborn, everyone has levels), which basically creates a faux-open world turn based RPG adventure. As Cartman says when you’re learning combat ‘I know it’s stupid to wait for your turn to attack, but that’s how they did it in olden times’.
So after selecting your name (which will be Douchebag, no matter what you select, courtesy of Eric Cartman’s charmingly insulting humour) and your class (Fighter, Thief, Mage or Jew), you’re quickly released into the world, with the goal of preventing Kyle’s elves from stealing the titular Stick of Truth – the object that basically determines who is winning the game the children are playing.
You’re set out into the surprisingly large world of South Park to wage war with your toy weapons and unique abilities. And from here, the game plays out much like an episode of South Park.
Of course, things manage to escalate from a simple children’s game to epic, ridiculous levels, and before long aliens, the government, Nazi zombies, ManBearPig, the Underwear Gnomes and Canada are involved in, what could possibly be, the single most ridiculous video game story ever told. But that’s exactly what you want to see.
And although the console versions have been slightly censored for European markets (which unfortunately includes NZ / AUS), the content still won’t fail to illicit a few shock laughs – scenes at the abortion clinic and featuring the always absurd Randy Marsh manage to earn some serious belly laughs.
Part of this comedy is that the game flawlessly manages to capture the tone of a South Park episode.
The comedy and voice-work is exactly as over the top as you’d expect, and the 2D visuals look terrific to.
Such attention is paid to the past jokes from the series, that you can’t help but feel like you’re part of it all, and that this script could have easily wound up on television rather than on your gaming console.
A vast range of sidequests further add to this sensation, as often they’re just an excuse to chuck in amazing references to the series at large. At one point you’re tasked with helping Al Gore with ManBearPig, another sees you combating Mr. Mackey’s hoarding problem.
Stick of Truth, at it’s core, is a very simple turn based strategy game, which sits on the spectrum somewhere between Pokemon and Final Fantasy.
At all times, you have a range of different attacks available to you (melee, ranged, magic, special, summons etc), and you always have another party member with you. As you go you will find all manner of ridiculous weapons to fuel your violence – some of my favourites include the Vibroblade (clearly just a vibrator) and the Morningstar of David (the ultimate weapon in the Jew Class). Each weapon can have upgrade stickers attached to it, and many of the armour items you find can have similar abilities added to them.
What’s really cool is that, with a few minor exceptions, all of these weapons and armors fit the ‘kids playing’ motif that the game is striving for.
In much the same way, item use also plays a fairly large part in the combat – using items like Red Bull and Tacos to cure status ailments.
But at no point is it really complicated enough to verge on difficult. It’s a simple and fun system, that definitely get more points for humour than it does for complex, engaging gameplay.
Sure, very rarely will you die or need to vary who your companion is, but summoning the owner of City Wok to do his war dance and attack an enemy is always funny. As you level up, you gain access to new and stronger abilities, and as you meet people in the real world and add them to your in-game Facebook page, you slowly unlock passive perks to make you even better in combat.
The Stick of Truth is a decent enough length for an RPG – clocking in at around 12 hours for the main campaign, and probably another 6 if you smashed out all the sidequests.
But the pacing works well enough so that you can roll through it without ever falling into a serious lull. The game is genuinely one of the most entertaining and comedically brilliant I’ve ever played, so is definitely worth a look, even if you’re not typically a huge fan of RPGs. Even despite how ridiculous and often offensive it is, it won’t fail to win you over with it’s hilarious, unique sense of humour.
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