Adapting animated comedies to other formats is always tricky. The Simpsons haven’t always hit the mark, with only the likes of The Simpsons: Arcade and The Simpsons: Hit and Run being memorable as decent games in their own right, with the latter having involvement from the show’s creators and cast.
While the less said about any of the Family Guy games the better, today we focus on another series that has struggled with this same transition: South Park. Games from said franchise include the dull first-person shooter that had you throwing snowballs at rabid turkeys and the ill-fated Xbox Live Arcade efforts to name a few. It’s about time that the show’s creators stepped in to teach us about just what made South Park popular. South Park: The Stick of Truth has had a difficult journey, changing hands from THQ to Ubisoft, but how has it fared on its epic quest?
Needless to say that anyone who isn’t a fan of South Park’s crass humour should not play this game. Littered with risqué jokes, toilet humour, and all sorts of foul language; the appeal of the game’s comedy will only go as far as the show itself. If you are into the comedy of Trey Parker and Matt Stone however, you are in for a treat as they’re on top form with the writing.
Your player character has just moved to the quiet little mountain town in Colorado and is forced outside by his parents to make new friends. Shortly after meeting Butters and Wizard King Cartman in Kupa Keep (Cartman’s back garden), the Elves invade taking the stick with them. This seemingly innocent beginning takes a sinister turn after the first day, with the story constantly flipping between the two plotlines before finally merging them. For fans of the show, it’s the best adaptation of the show to date and one not to miss out on.
It isn’t just in the main narrative either as nods to the show are everywhere. Sub-quests also channel the show’s sarcastic humour, while the game’s social network contains brilliant conversation threads. Playing the European console versions does give you censorship title cards that describe missing scenes, together with a glorious image of the European Flag and face palming statue, which may be funnier than the scenes they’re depicting.
Still, they get away with a lot in even the European version, including probably one of the most “memorable boss” fights in centuries. It’s all in bad taste, but that’s the essence of the show in a nutshell. South Park: The Stick of Truth even throws in some bizarre set pieces that serve to unlock new in-field abilities, some of which are the best moments in the game.
What’s really nice is that it knows how ridiculous it is for all the kids to be playing the game fantasy game across town. Kids dressed as Elves populate the streets, they feign fainting when their HP reaches zero, and they run away should you try to attack them again. Classes include the archetypal Fighter, Mage and Thief classes, alongside “Jew” (in which Cartman states that you and he can never be friends) which acts like a Paladin/Monk-like class with elements of risk/reward gameplay. This has an impact on status effects as well, so instead of poison you have “Grossed Out” in which the affected character vomits after their turn.
Abilities themselves also keep in nature with this whimsical playground attitude to the combat, even poking fun at general RPG tropes such as PP, or magic being represented as farts. Yes, it is disturbing when Kenny commits to his role as the fair (yet slightly slutty) princess of the land by “distracting” the enemy, but everyone adopts the playground shenanigans, giving the game a huge amount of character as a result.
However, the gameplay itself is painfully basic. When you strip down the game to its bare essentials, it’s a minute Paper Mario clone at heart. You and a support character fight enemies in battle in a turn-based style, timing button presses in order to deal more damage or prevent recoil damage to yourself. Companions are unlocked as you progress through the 15 hour campaign, which can be even shorter should you decide not to undertake any side-quests.
As you can only choose one class for yourself, there is scope for multiple playthroughs, but you would be treading familiar ground. Even on a higher difficulty, battles are a breeze thanks to being able to equip badges onto your weapons and armour to grant you extra perks. If something looks remotely taxing, provided it isn’t a boss fight, you can just call in one of the adults to do the dirty work for you. The less said about the way Mr. Slave deals with marauding foes the better.
A Familiar Smell
Grabbing many friends along the way helps unlock perks that grant a passive bonus, further cementing the fact there is barely any challenge. Enemies seldom ever have any resistances to status effects, but when they do they only resist one, possibly two at most. Bleeding damage also ignores armour and can be stacked, making even supposedly tricky fights a cakewalk. When the most taxing fight in the entire game comes down to whether or not you manage to time one button press right, it becomes too difficult to ignore. Periodically there are also technical issues where the frame rate drops significantly, yet it isn’t completely clear what causes it.
Obsidian Entertainment have a lot to thank Trey Parker and Matt Stone for, as South Park: The Stick of Truth manages to nail the humour that the “poorly animated” series is known for. Narrative is engaging enough to suck you in, while certain scenarios are amongst the most surreal things you’ll ever see in an RPG.
But take away anything resembling work from these two visionaries and you’re left with a short-lived RPG that has agonisingly simple combat and minor technical issues. The caveat of “only really for the fans” sadly applies, but if you are a fan of the TV show then goin’ down to South Park: The Stick of Truth to have yourself a time, is far from a terrible plan.