South Park: The Stick of Truth

Did anyone think this game would turn out well? Delays, the THQ bankruptcy, the nagging fact that just about every single South Park game has well and truly sucked (though I do have fond memories of multiplayer in that N64 FPS). All signs pointed to lame on this one, so it’s genuinely surprising that it wound up being a great game, and probably one of the best “tie-in” games ever made.

The Stick of Truth follows a LotR-style fantasy as seen through the imagination of the kids of South Park. Kyle, leader of the elves, is locked in an ongoing conflict with Cartman, king of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, over control of the Stick of Truth, a mystical stick that grants its owner absolute control. The player controls a silent protagonist whose family moves into South Park at the peak of this conflict, and over the course of three days becomes the most important figure in a conflict that will decide the very fate of the town.

…So you might have noticed Cartman is the king of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep, or KKK. That in itself is a good indicator of how you’ll feel about the game. If you dislike the show or find it at all offensive, you are just not going to like this game, at all. It’s a perfect representation of the show (itself an accomplishment) except even more offensive in some ways than the show itself can manage to be on TV.

If you enjoy the show? Man are you in for a treat, because as mentioned previously, it’s the perfect representation of the show. It just couldn’t be done better than this. It looks like the show, characters animate like in the show, the voice acting is the same as the show, the humor is just as sharp. This is a 12-hour episode of South Park, filled with hilarious new writing and tons of references to the show’s (terrifyingly) long legacy. It’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to be an absolute superfan, either, as the tons of references still land as funny even if you’re not familiar with where they originated.

Gameplay-wise, this is a JRPG through and through. Turn based battles, attacks, magic and items, multiple characters. It’s a very accessible JRPG, though, playable by the casual gamers who are only in this for the South Park side of the experience, while also having the depth that a core gamer will be looking for. It’s a balance that is often sought after yet extremely hard to achieve, and it’s rarely nailed this well. For the hardcore, it may not be much of a surprise as Obsidian Entertainment (Star Wars KOTOR 2, Alpha Protocol, Fallout: New Vegas) clearly knows their shit, but even so, it’s crazy that the combat is so refined in a game that had the odds so significantly stacked against it.

The only real trouble with the gameplay is that the combat mechanics aren’t explained enough. Beginners can still make their way through the game without much trouble as the difficulty is not very high, but it’s not an excuse for many aspects (particularly status effects and fart magic) aren’t explained nearly as well as they should be, making mastery of the game something that requires a bit too much trial-and-error. (Also, did I mention that this game has fart magic?)

Though the gameplay consists largely of JRPG battles, the real star of the game is the world itself, the first fully-realized map of South Park. Though you’re doing the standard RPG thing, wandering into random houses and thoughtlessly stealing their occupants’ possessions from drawers, the world feels more like a story-driven point ‘n click game due to the staggering amount of original writing there is to be found. It isn’t a long game, but almost every nook and cranny you find within is filled with something you won’t find anywhere else.

12 hours is short by JRPG standards, but as there’s no grinding required and nearly everything you’ll be seeing is original content, it’s the perfect length for the game. The only situation in which it’ll overstay its welcome is if you’re going for 100% and you don’t manage to do it in one playthrough (protip: look up a list of missable items to collect).

The Stick of Truth is a resounding success, perfectly translating the humor and world of the South Park franchise into video games and bringing along a satisfying combat system with it. And you can fart on people, which somehow never gets old.

arbitrary rating
five out of five stars

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