You probably want to hear about the jokes, references, and humor in South Park: The Stick of Truth. Surprisingly, however, it’s a game that demands to be taken seriously, despite being hilarious, and it’s much more complex than its crudely nuanced aesthetic lets on.
To me, South Park is best when it’s satirical. Seeing the world through the eyes of a bunch of Denver kids liberates us from the adult perspective, and although under-equipped, the South Park kids have always proved to have a grasp on reality through the minds of Matt Stone and Trey Parker far above those of the adults, often hyperbolic depictions of some of the dumbest people in today’s culture. My main concern with South Park was that, like the games before it, it’d be nothing but a bunch of South Park references designed to be funny because these things are from the show and oh that’s cool, but I have been left pleasantly surprised.
Quality RPG and quality South Park are bound effortlessly together to forge something both sides should be proud of.
My fire spell is just a fire-cracker blown into people’s faces, setting their hair on fire.
Stick of Truth is an RPG… a real RPG. Much to my surprise, it includes character creation, its own battle system, an upgrade tree, various character battle skills, and even attributes (sort of) to be upgraded throughout the game. What’s more, it’s actually a pretty hard game. The turn based combat system features a Final Fantasy 8′s Squall style gun-blade reaction system, where you have to press ‘A’ on your gamepad (or whatever key on your keyboard) to perfectly block, or land, attacks. This is really quite difficult in places and keeps the turn-based combat pretty hands-on and interesting.
For my character (who I couldn’t resist being ginger knowing Cartman was running the joint), I created a mage. You can, if you’re so inclined, also create a character in the ‘Jew’ class, but since I figured everyone would be doing that I wanted to see what would be different being a standard class. The classes themselves don’t change a huge amount, other than the special skills you have in battle. You can still use swords, bows, and Alien ‘probes’ or ‘Mongorian Bow’s’ and so forth. Being kids playing a game, things start off a little janky at first – my fire spell is just a fire-cracker blown into people’s faces, setting their hair on fire.
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to explore every little thing, or do every little quest in an RPG before
Whilst the game starts about as innocently as a South Park episode starts, things begin to get a little out of hand as the town are abducted by aliens, and Nazi zombies start taking over South Park. I’m glad that happened, because the first couple hours trudging around South Park, although useful to explore, get side-quests, and learn the hub-world, weren’t all that interesting. This, however, was split up by well-written, hilariously funny cut-scenes which play out as though you’re watching the show. Stick of Truth has clearly been created to give you the feeling you’re just watching a season of South Park, and it pulls it off brilliantly.
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to explore every little thing, or do every little quest in an RPG before, but playing through the game and seeking out the characters from the show to watch some cut-scenes rendered with the games engine (not pre-rendered, thank Jesus), is a real treat for South Park fans. There is an absolute ton to explore, from secret locations, to hidden items, and even the ability to collect all of the Chinpokomon — but you can miss these, unable to return, so keep an eye out.
The games user interface is all skinned in a Facebook like GUI, as you walk around the town collecting friends. Collecting everyone you meet unlocks upgrade points, which you can use to improve your skills. You can also level up your character to improve his skills, but don’t worry about doing this for your whole party, they take care of themselves.
Matt and Trey’s direct control of the game really shows in how they use the show’s assets. For instance, you can apply an object in battle which will clear the screen of enemies — a consumable used only once. For completing the City Wok quest chain, I was given a consumable which activated a cut-scene where the City Wok guy did his battle-dance, seen in the show against the Mongolians, to set a bunch of kids on fire and kill them. I almost blew a lung.
I highly recommend doing everything you can possibly do
Randy Marsh is equally funny, as his paranoia about a Taco bell causes him to teach the player how to distract enemies with his farts. Just about every asset is used with its own story line — nothing really appears just for the sake of it, and that’s something very, very rarely seen in tie-in games such as this. There is a wealth to watch as you play, and I highly recommend doing everything you can possibly do, from Jimbo’s hunt to searching for Man-Bear-Pig with an awkwardly clingy and totally irrelevant Al Gore.
Showing all the hallmarks of a quality South Park experience
South Park can either be really stupid, or really quite intelligently witty. There’s often a lot of satire in the best episodes, and I was worried this game would be primarily references and fart jokes. Whilst there are a lot of fart jokes, there’s some really, smart, dark humor thrown in too. The ‘Hold B to Skip’ joke on Jimmy is an example of how the game uses gamey things to its benefit, and moments like a girl tugging on a Justin Bieber doll only for it to silently vibrate are examples of the game being smart, dark, and showing all the hallmarks of a quality South Park experience.
The humor and use of assets are just perfectly spot on, and this takes me to the game side of things. As an RPG, expect to collect quests and walk around the town. The game shares the same 2D aesthetic as the show, which makes walking around South Park itself an inherently 2D journey. This doesn’t look great, admittedly, because in the show fast, erratic movement is usually what’s going on – not lengthy trudges through the snow. There is a lot of running back and forth, but thanks to Timmy there’s a fast travel system running throughout the town, and new unlockable areas open up all the time so it never really gets old.
The combat system is frankly outstanding. Nobody expected it, but it’s really well designed. The enemies scale well with you as you go through the game, and new items with appropriately silly labels and attributes help you along an otherwise really pretty tricky system. You can pick from one of your two weapons, and each weapon requires taping, or pressing, one of the buttons when prompted by a ping, ting, or action. You have to have really fast reactions, because without getting it perfect every time you’ll find yourself dying pretty quickly.
To block, too, you need to hit A right as they’re about to strike, for every attack, not just special attacks. Your mana, aptly named ‘PP’, can be replenished with water — a consumable can be used once every turn before an attack — and there are other consumables and powerups you can use along the way. You might find yourself using health ‘potions’ (food and junk) almost every turn. The enemies are, as you’d expect, hilariously relevant to the South Park universe. From aliens, to Nazi zombies, lobster people to hobos and ginger kids, South Park: The Stick of Truth has it all.
Things in South Park aren’t there just to be funny, everything funny also serves a viable purpose
Stick of Truth bizarrely has some of the best progression I’ve played in an RPG in terms of the amount of weapons, gear, and skills you get as you go on through the game. I found myself finding much, much more powerful weapons quite regularly, and this really kept up a sense of pace. There are also a ton of hidden enemies and areas to loot, and getting the tin-foil hat which ‘keeps out the Chinese and aliens’ was pretty neat, since it added +armor to my character with every battle. Things in South Park aren’t there just to be funny, everything funny also serves a viable purpose pertaining to the games mechanics, and that’s tantamount to genius game design.
I must admit, after long sessions of play the South Park elements did wear off a bit… how much can a person binge on South Park? It’s difficult to get engrossed in the story, and it’s not as though you really do invest in the characters — even your own. You’re in it 100% for the laughs, but the challenge and solid mechanics and game design carry those laughs. However, once the humor wore off during the longer sessions, I found myself getting bored and needing to take a break. I was more than happy to pick it back up again for more larks each time, but just like Arrested Development on Netflix, it ain’t that smart to binge on solid, well written comedy.
It might have one too many fart jokes for me (even as a South Park fan), but Stick of Truth is a surprisingly well made game. It is a legitimate RPG in its own right, and if you stripped it down to its core, covered it in classical RPG attire and called it Dragon Age: 2D, we’d have a world of people playing it as though it was just another proper RPG. Take a decent RPG and coat it in South Park’s intelligent satire, outrageous humor, and independent attitude, and you have something genuinely wonderful — a real gem.
In some ways it’s a shame it doesn’t have multiplayer, but if you’re a fan of the series, and a fan of RPGs, Stick of Truth is something you absolutely need. If you’re not a fan of South Park, you’re pretty screwed, because although solid, the mechanics aren’t enough to carry it alone. It could be seen as a little shallow in places, but there’s a seemingly never ending opportunity for cut-scene hunting, secret locations, and stupidly funny world-bosses to find. I’m hard pressed to think of another tie-in game that even comes close to South Park: The Stick of Truth.