South Park: The Stick of Truth
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 "Douche-bag" in lieu of a real name. You're then welcomed into the boys' inner circle as they play a medieval fantasy game that transforms from harmless fun into a quest to save all of South Park.
Your character's "name" is only the beginning of what is, admittedly, a nearconstant barrage of crude humor that might rub more casual South Park viewers 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 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 could certainly be better, but South Park fans will still feel immensely satisfied with the effort.
Never has the ESRB's Mature rating seemed less appropriate. Don't get me wrong--I'm all for a little juvenile humor now and again, but there's only so long I can spend farting and throwing poop at people before I start to get worn down. I've always been drawn more to the biting, satirical side of South Park, and while there's some of that here, it's mostly lowest-common-denominator gags and rehashes of jokes from the show. Oddly enough, it was the gameplay that kept me going. The battle system is fun and approachable without seeming shallow or brain-dead, and Obsidian's done a great job expanding the limited 2D side-scrolling perspective in ways I never expected.
As a moderate South Park fan, I was shocked by how much I actually enjoyed The Stick of Truth. True, much of the humor seems juvenile and undeniably scatological, but at its core, this is really an overarching satire of RPGs--as well as videogames in general. It's so over-the-top profane, so numbingly sardonic that it's easy to miss its parodic nature. But the game succeeds brilliantly at nearly everything it tries to accomplish and somehow manages to work on many levels--not the least of which is being an extremely well-designed RPG. Sure, it could be a bit longer, but it never seems padded or drawn out, and everything here just works.