Being the new kid never felt so good.
I was just ten years old when South Park made its debut on Comedy Central. It’s crazy to think about sitting in my fifth-grade class while all my friends talked about the show, and I couldn’t join in because I wasn’t allowed to watch it. After 17 brilliant seasons, a movie, and a myriad of merchandise, the one thing that always felt missing from the behemoth of a franchise was a truly good video game. After some ill-fated titles that came three generations ago, such as South Park Rally and Chef’s Luv Shack, demand for another game entry was understandably low. However, after creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker approached Obsidian Entertainment to develop a game for them, South Park: The Stick of Truth was born. The fact that this game even made it to release is nothing short of remarkable, what with nearly two years of delays and a publisher change that occurred when THQ went bankrupt. However, unlike many cases of a game being delayed, The Stick of Truth was very much worth the wait.
The simplest way to explain this game is that it’s Paper Mario with a South Park coat of paint and more bells and whistles. You start by creating your own character, including hairstyle, facial features, and clothes. The customization really has some depth to it, so it’s worth playing around for a while to capture the perfect look that you want. You also get to choose from one of four character classes: Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew. The classes have different special abilities that you can upgrade in multiple ways, but it seemed like any class could equip any weapon and armor, so you aren’t getting useless drops during gameplay. The combat is surprisingly deep, complete with quick time events to either improve your damage or lower that of your enemies. You can bring one of six “buddies” into combat with you: Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman, Butters, or Jimmy, and each are complete with their own abilities and weapons.
One of the things that you don’t truly realize just from watching the show is that the quiet mountain town of South Park isn’t really that small. There are many shops to visit that have all made appearances on the show, and in addition you can visit many of the kids’ houses and interact with their families too. Visiting all the places around town is imperative for building your quest log, and you’ll find that many of the citizens in-game need your help. Examples of quests include finding Jesus, recovering a lost iPad, and even placing ManBearPig sensors around town for Al Gore. While many of these are side quests and don’t progress the main story, the references and humor involved are more than reason enough to get them done. In addition, the game continues the tradition of the show by pushing the envelope as far as it can go. There are scenes depicting your character’s parents doing the nasty, large amounts of uncensored profanity, and even a battle with a gigantic Nazi zombie aborted fetus.
However, at its heart this game is an RPG and I shall judge it as such. To that end, South Park: The Stick of Truth has done very well for itself as a turn-based game in a world of real-time RPGs. It borrows elements from various games and yet still manages to create its own identity with the combination of the upgrade (through leveling) and perk (through gaining Facebook friends) systems. Menus are user-friendly and most situations where players get stumped are answered by your buddy if you wait long enough. I have only two complaints with the game, one major and one minor. The more serious gripe that I have is that the main storyline is far too short. I completed that part of the game in under nine hours. While there’s plenty to do on the side and postgame, I would’ve liked to see some more time invested in the overarching plot. The other, smallish complaint is that the game is very easy on the “Normal” difficulty setting. I was never really in danger of losing a fight from beginning to end.
Overall, South Park: The Stick of Truth is one of those games that you might not fully appreciate if you don’t love the source material, but if you do, prepare yourself for the most fun experience so far in 2014.
Final Grade: A-
Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360