Licensed games have a long history of sucking ass.
From E.T. on the Atari 2600 (now available from a New Mexico landfill near you) to last year’s Alien: Colonial Marines, we’ve seen countless tie-ins where quality control was neglected in favour of an easy buck. It’s only once in a while such a game breaks the mould, capturing everything the audience knows and loves. South Park fans rejoice – our time has come!
I’ll admit I was ready to pass on The Stick of Truth as I hadn’t forgotten those lacklustre South Park games on the PS1. Hearing about the direct involvement of creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker forced me to reconsider – could this game finally capture the world, characters and humour that has kept the show going strong for 17 years? And did anyone else feel old when they realised that’s how long it’s been running?
The first thing you’ll notice is that The Stick of Truth looks and sounds EXACTLY like the TV series. Everything from the construction paper animation style to the musical score is absolutely spot-on. The town is crammed with references that never feel forced or lazy. Look around the back of the school and you’ll see the goth kids hanging out. Walk into a store and the radio might be playing Taco Flavored Kisses. And who’s that hiding in Stan’s closet? It’s all there just begging to be explored.
So it may be the quintessential South Park experience, but does The Stick of Truth deliver as a game? In a word, yes.
Interacting with the town and its residents isn’t just entertaining – it unlocks perks, side-quests and hidden items. Battle and levelling systems are more complex than you might first expect and between the range of special moves, weapon strap-ons and environmental tricks you’ll no doubt find your own victory tactics.
Plus there are some brilliant in-jokes for gamers such as deliberately pointless audio logs, Cartman attempting to explain turn-based combat and just wait until you behold the breathtaking graphics of Canada! The RPG mechanics are accessible for those unfamiliar with the genre and the tutorials are funny even when they’re not incredibly useful. On the downside, the main quest is quite short and the range of enemies feels a bit limited.
Players get to customise their own silent protagonist, referred to as “New Kid” or “Douchebag” throughout. There’s no option to play as a girl (LAME!) but you do have the choice of four classes; Warrior, Mage, Thief or Jew. It’s dangerous to go alone, so you can battle alongside a South Park buddy like the Elf King Kyle, Princess Kenny (HEY! How come Kenny gets to play as a girl and I don’t?) or Butters a.k.a. “Professor Chaos.” Occasionally you can gain assistance from fellow residents such as City Wok’s Mr Kim and Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo. These summon attacks are fantastic to watch and work brilliantly as a last resort in combat.
One controversial aspect of the European release was Ubisoft’s decision to censor a number of scenes. They’re replaced with a detailed description of the missing footage, elevator muzak and a facepalming Statue of David (or for those in Australia, a sad koala.) While the placeholders are hilarious in their own right, we do lose a mini-game that comes up later along with several scenes featuring Randy Marsh – arguably the best character in the show. Make no mistake, there’s still plenty of disgusting humour left in and the PC version has been released uncut. Whatever the version, it’s definitely not a game for the easily offended.
Despite The Stick of Truth’s gross-out sequences, this game really captures the charm and innocence of children’s imaginary games. Invading a treehouse while brandishing household objects as weapons becomes a Tolkienesque battle of epic proportions. In fact, it might just remind you of your own childhood and the joy of playing outdoors. You know, before TV and video games warped our fragile little minds.
But we want more, dammit! Fingers crossed we’ll get a sequel or at least some DLC. Personally I’m choking for a battle with Mecha Streisand, a “Coon and Friends” side mission or a perhaps a trip to Imaginationland. A crafting mechanic would be pretty sweet too, especially with all that household junk that’s yours for the taking. Finally if we can’t have a female avatar then let us have Wendy as a playable characters because, as we all know, you don’t fuck with Wendy Testaburger!
South Park: The Stick of Truth accomplishes the unthinkable – it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy game that’s as fun to watch as it is to play. For fans of the show, it’s an absolute must. For developers of tie-in titles and comedy games, THIS is where the bar is set.