Idiotic (Indie?) Impressions #13 – South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
- Engaging and tactical gameplay
- Great writing and humour
- Filled to the brim with references to characters and events familiar to all South Park fans
- Humour may be too immature or crude for some
(Well I had to take a break from the indie-whoring at some point, right? I mean even us indiefags gotta play something with a real budget. Forgive me.)
It’s often said that licensed games usually don’t carry a lot of quality. Unfortunately, we live in an age where many good video games have such huge budgets that developers and publishers simply aren’t willing to take a risk on a new franchise, instead churning out poorly-made games based on franchises and preying on the fans of the franchise. Sadly, fans buy these shitty games by the truckload, forcing these developers and publishers to do the same thing over and over. For that reason, many people approached South Park: The Stick of Truth with caution and subdued expectations. After all, we’d gotten quite a number of games for the franchise in the past, ranging from reasonable efforts (South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense Play) to some real stinkers (South Park Rally comes to mind here).
I’m glad to say that all the caution was for nought. Although it had a somewhat tumultuous development cycle, the end product is a fantastic representation of everything that’s great about the South Park series. If you’re a fan of the series, or at least its style of humour, this is a no-brainer. For others that have never been impressed with the juvenile and tasteless jokes ubiquitous throughout the South Park universe, I’d recommend that you avoid this title. This isn’t because the gameplay can’t hold a candle on its own – it can, and it was definitely a fun romp in its own right. It’s more that the developers spent so much effort on building the perfect South Park game and added as many of their well-renowned politically incorrect humour that it becomes unavoidable and unbearable if it’s not something you enjoy.
The game begins with you, (affectionately referred to as “Douchebag” by your peers) and your parents moving into South Park, Colorado. You’re then tasked with making friends in the new town, which isn’t easy given that your protagonist is mysteriously silent throughout the game. Before long, you’ll find yourself involved in a real-life role playing game with the other kids in South Park. There are two factions – The humans, led by Cartman, and the elves, led by Kyle. Both factions fight over a stick – the titular Stick of Truth, which supposedly possesses the power to control the universe. Throughout your journey, you’ll encounter numerous (and often ridiculous) obstacles and hazards and meet a tonne of infamous characters from the South Park franchise and an even greater number of references to events that have occurred in the TV show.
Fans of the series who have seen the South Park episode “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers” will find the setting very familiar. As in the episode, the characters don costumes representing their class and/or position (including a cross-dressing princess Kenny) and are deeply engrossed in their roles, but they do occasionally have to break out of character in order to satisfy their real-life commitments, which more often than not involves the parents telling them that it’s time for bed.
The game itself resembles other turn-based, quick time event (QTE)-heavy RPGs such as the fantastic Paper Mario and the fucking nauseating Costume Quest. Battles aren’t random, but rather are usually initiated by walking into an enemy (a la Chrono Trigger). During each battle, you’re given a party of up to two characters (your main character and a character that you can choose and switch between). Each character has its own unique set of attacks and abilities. For each action that you choose, there’s an associated QTE action that you have to perform perfectly in order to maximise the effect. This often includes pressing a certain button at some point in time, mashing another button, spinning the left control stick or some combination of the above. Unlike in Costume Quest where the timing of these was very lenient and forgiving even if you happened to miss it, this game requires you to be on your toes. The window of opportunity for pressing these buttons is fairly strict, and the consequences of missing button sequence can lead to severe consequences. For example, one of Kenny’s special abilities involves him calling a horde of rats. Once the rats appear, you’re required to rapidly and repeatedly pull your left control stick to the left and right. If you succeed, the rats swarm your enemies for significant amount of damage. Should you fail however, the rats will literally eat Kenny alive. When it’s your opponents turn to attack, you’re once again given a small window to press a button in order to defend their attack, which results in reduced damage or prevention of a negative status effect. Overall, actively pressing buttons at the correct time matters in this game, which adds a level of intensity to every battle. It’s a fantastic combat system that forces the player to be actively involved, rather than continuously mashing a single button and hoping for the best.
Also adding a layer of strategy to battles is the element of positioning. Several characters have attacks/spells that hit a bunch of enemies in close proximity, whilst others may hit an entire row or column of enemies.
The game allows you to pick from several different classes as shown below. Whist fighter, mage and thief are as cookie-cutter and self-explanatory as can get for RPG enthusiasts, “Jew” is a bit more cloudy. Sadly, I picked the thief class and spent the rest of the game wondering what on Earth possessed me not to pick the only class that seemed interesting.
Whist outside of battles, your character is freely able to roam around South Park, gathering quests and looking for loot (equipment, potions, cosmetic items or junk to sell), collectables (i.e. Chinpokomon) and even more friends to add to Facebook, which helps to unlock perks which will assist you in battle. Completing side quests usually rewards you with equipment, friends or even “summons” that you can call to battle when things get rough. The Mr. Slave summon ability literally causes him to violently shove an enemy up his backside for impressive but disturbing results.
The game also gives you access to certain abilities that you can use to solve simple puzzles that are strewn across the game. Whilst some of these puzzles have to be solved in order to progress, many of these merely offer you an easier way to deal with enemies without actually fighting them in battle. If there’s a rock sitting on a ledge above your enemy, you can shoot it with a slingshot and have it drop on your enemies, which avoids the necessity of combat entirely. There are many more examples of manipulating the environment in order to gain an advantage or avoid combat entirely, but I’d hate to spoil the fun of discovering these for yourself. Overall, it’s a very refreshing and unique mechanic that’s highly welcome in a game where things may otherwise get stale.
Overall, the game took me around 11 hours to complete. After completing the story, there are plenty more things that you can do for achievement purposes, but most of these activities are glorified fetch quests. I’m glad to say that after 11 hours, I was satisfied with the experience and moved back to bigger (smaller, actually) and better (lower-budget, indie) games.
Visually, the game beautifully replicates the aesthetic that the show is famous for. It’s not mindblowing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just the way any fan of the show would want it to look.
More importantly, the developers, in conjunction with the creators of South Park, have done a wonderful job replicating the world of South Park. Every building in town can be entered and interacted with. The game is chock-full of characters and/or references to characters or events from the series. The voice-acting is on-point, with the original voice actors of the show providing the voices of the characters. Characters have context-sensitive remarks. If Cartman is in your party and you walk into Kyle’s house, you bet he’ll mutter something about Jews and/or make a derogatory remark regarding Kyle’s mother. Ultimately, the game does a tremendous job at making you feel like you’re a part of the world that is South Park, and fans of the show really couldn’t ask for anything more than that. With that said, if you’re not a fan of the show or think it’s too vulgar, please turn away now. This game pulled no punches in vulgarity, and even as a long-time fan of the show, there are certain segments that I think are a little bit too disturbing or distasteful. Your mileage may vary.
After numerous delays, I’m happy to say South Park: The Stick of Truth is a tremendous title that successfully replicates both the humour and personality of the show, whilst providing a refined, tightly-controlled and satisfying combat system to boot. Whilst it’s a solid game in its own right, your enjoyment of the overall experience will be very heavily influenced by just how much the humour that the show is famous for actually appeals to you. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone that hates the show, but would recommend it without question to anyone that is a fan.
HotdogbitchfaceThe Hotdog Bitchface is a 27-year-old medical doctor by day and enthusiastic video gamer at night. He tried really hard to be a hipster and spent a long time forcing himself to listen to terrible indie rock, before he eventually realised that he owned a pair of ears, and that this wasn't good for them. He then turned to indie gaming, and curses the day that the third dimension found its way into video games.
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