Way back in the distant time of December 2011, we were first teased with a glimpse of South Park: The Stick of Truth, an RPG that would potentially be one the few cartoon-to-game translations of this generation to excel beyond the norm, to become that rare licensed game that actually captured the source material perfectly, down to South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone (themselves being hardcore gamers as well) being personally involved.
Cut to now. After numerous delays and issues with the game’s production (which were even poked fun at by the show itself), The Stick of Truth’s tale of the legendary New Kid in South Park and his role in the war to gain the Stick’s power can finally be told with the game’s release last week. Does it live up to the standards set of by both the show’s legacy and the years of hype? Grab some Snacky Cakes and proceed forth to find out…NSFW material ahead, though, so proceed at thy own risk.
The Hella Lame Bits
2. Certain Control Issues And Bugs
Despite coming from the same company responsible for such RPGs as Fallout: New Vegas, The Stick of Truth seems to actually share more of its DNA with the Paper Mario games, believe it or not. Several parts of the combat & specific in-game events revolve around getting timed button presses just right in order to pull something off successfully, and while we’ll get into more of that later, there are definitely some moments where it just doesn’t work as well as it should.
One of said moments seems to have become infamous amongst gamers already for being tediously difficult, a moment in which you have to resist an anal probe going up your ass (you knew this was a South Park game, right?) by pressing the S key repeatedly in order to fill a meter. It’s a part that’s already been criticized as near-impossible and one of the game’s major annoyances, but what ticked me off even more were the moments where you learn new ways to use fart magic. Every case is the same: You’re given instructions to hold down the left mouse key, press A and D in order to find the correct frequency, at which point you press the right mouse key. More or less to me, that translated more as “mash A and D in different combinations and pray you stumble on to a ritual that summons the frequency somehow in order to get through already so you no longer have to hear the same three lines over and over again godammit.” And the insulting part is you don’t even castthe spells that way (save for one), so it just feels like a pointless exercise.
But this pales in comparison to accessing your inventory in battle. More than a few times, my partner has fallen & I had to use a Revive potion (a.k.a. “taco”) on him, but I couldn’t see it in my inventory screen. Now, one could think you would just have to scroll down or click the obvious arrow signs in the screen to get to the rest of the inventory, but the arrows just appeared to be for show. So how do you scroll through your inventory? Click on one of the items in the inventory, then use the arrow keys to navigate through it. Note that this is never told to you at any point. The only way I found about it was by asking around how the inventory worked, and finally I found someone who would explain how it worked to me…if I gave him three-fiddy.
That’s when I realized that these kinds of controls only make sense to the minds of giant lizard monsters and the like, and not actual human beings, so I had to figure this out through trial and error. Now, you may have deduced through my sophisticated lingo back there that I was playing the PC version of the game, so in fairness, I don’t know if the console versions are actually better or not. And given how buggy the game is reported being (an Obsidian game with bugs in it? Noooooo, really?), I can’t even say if that was an error or not as well. Either way, that should not have been. Outside of that, though, the only bug I ever encountered was a graphical glitch that I solved by simply reloading, but again, there is no excuse for so many bugs. And sorry if this was lengthy, by the way, but this game doesn’t have much wrong with it, save for the fact that…
1. It’s Short
…Well, for an RPG, at least. For those of you who saw the Fallout connection above and envisioned a massive 30-hour quest or so, well, prepare to be disappointed a tad. Not that we expected a game that takes place in a small town which prominently features such a massive amount of penises and cramming to be a gigantic, sprawling epic (well, some of us may have), but it really does feel like it ends too suddenly. Three in-game days pass, and poof, it’s over. A mere fifteen hours and it’s done, and that’s even with all of the side quests handled as well. I can’t seem to find any notable post-game content (yet, at least). And this all springs up on you after insane amounts of customization and strategy when it comes to decking out your kid in equipment and weapons, meaning just as you’ve felt you mastered it all…it’s over.
I keep getting the sneaking suspicion (especially after looking at earlier trailers) that some notable chunks of the game sadly had to be cut out after THQ went bankrupt, or possibly via other circumstances. All of this leaves the game feeling fun, but a bit hollow. Like it could have and should have been a whole lot more. Speaking of fun, I suppose I should actually begin talking about the good parts already, so let’s go…
The Freakin’ Sweet Bits
5. It Nails The Show’s Look And Feel
Maybe you chalk this one up to the show’s simplistic style being easy to recreate, but it certainly does capture the look of the show perfectly. One of the key components of a successful video game adaptation is to actually make you feel like you’re a part of the show/movie/etc., and The Stick of Truth basically is a playable episode of the show in every way, right down to the familiar banjo twang as a game you loaded begins. All your favorite characters and voices are present, and despite some repetition of their lines now and then, get it all just right. Characters even walk around with the same “bobbing” motion like in the show. It does a lot to convince you that you are deep in the center of the South Park universe, and it succeeds. Though not as well as…
4. The Continuity Porn
Oh lord, where do I begin? How about I just put like this: I think it just might be very true that every singe episode of the show (well, up to a recent point) is represented in the game in one way or another. Now, I’m certain some dick with too much time on his hands will find a way to prove that wrong, but whatever the case, you get what I mean.
You can walk around the entire town and visit locations such as Tom’s Rhinoplasty and City Wok, hear various songs by Chef and Sexual Harassment Panda being played over loudspeakers, collect various collectibles from battle such as Alabama Man action figures and Faith + 1 CDs to barter with in shops, use dodgeballs and combat staffs from the Breastriary in Nippopolis as weapons, makes friends with Damien and Mr. Hankey’s kids on Facebook (bonus points for the Facebook-style inventory and menu screen, by the way)…and that’s only scratching the surface. I once thought the old Virtual Springfield game was the height of interacting with a virtual TV world, but The Stick of Truth is just so much more. It is basically a South Park fan’s wet dream…one only hindered by ending prematurely, as stated above. Like so many actual wet dreams.
3. The Exploration Opportunities
As stated earlier, the titular South Park is, to quote the film, a quiet, little, pissant, redneck, podunk, jerkwater, greenhorn, one-horse, mud-hole, peckerwood, right-wing, whistle-stop, hobmail, truck-drivin’, old-fashioned, hayseed, inbred, unkempt, out-of-date, out-of-touch, white-trash, kick-ass mountain town!! And a small one at that. So it’s incredibly impressive that there’s a whole lot to see and do in it. Compared to most RPGs where you visit vast lands across great distances, here we have a bunch of kids playing make-believe around town, so exploring for once doesn’t feel like trying to find the quest needle in the haystack of exclamation mark-headed people, but rather a fun stroll about town as you go about your (not-so-) childhood games.
While finding everything I mentioned above might seem like a collect-a-thon (particularly the optional part where you collect all 30 Chinpokomon), it definitely does easily lure you into wanting to find every secret quite easily, and it honestly feels pretty fun. Like I said, a joy of the game is just being able to walk around and experience South Park, and doing so leads to find little puzzles and environmental obstacles to conquer to reveal even just a little bit more of the town until the point where you know it like the back of your hand. By setting things in a small town, exploration somehow feels quite intimate yet big at the same time, and it creates a terrific journey all around.
…Well, except for the parts in the sewer. I know scatological humor is inevitable in a South Park game, but if I could go back in time, I’d find the man who first said “Hey, you know what would be fun? Running around a giant maze-like area designed to be filled with crap with bland, brownish colors where everything looks the same so you can’t get your bearings easily!” and bash his head in with a hammer until he is eradicated from the universe.
2. The Combat Is Nice and Simple
As I mentioned earlier, The Stick of Truth has a lot in common in several area with the Paper Mario games, especially in combat. And considering that I think that The Thousand-Year Door was one of the best RPGs ever, this is definitely a good thing. Minus the inventory bit from earlier, combat is simple and turn-based, with some special maneuvers you can pull off with attacks to deal more damage.
The special attacks are a particular hoot, ranging from being able to summon Professor Chaos in battle to reign terror upon your enemies, having Jimmy sing a ballad about the enemy’s mom to lower their defenses, or just the classics such as kicking Ike at their heads. Speaking of which, you can swap between partners easily in order to utilize each one’s unique set of skills, as well as each one’s unique bits of dialogue. And I haven’t even gotten into the aforementioned weapon and equipment customization yet, which has you attaching stickers and patches to your combat gear to allow for certain effects. Would you rather attach a Zippo lighter to your wooden sword to deal more fire damage, or Buckyball magnets to gain more money from battles? The choice is yours.
There’s not a whole lot else to say about the game’s combat; it’s just really solid, executed well, and of course, is just damn fun. Especially when you use a laser pointer to have Sparky the Wonder Dog chomp on a guy’s balls.
1. It’s Funny as Hell
So a game based on a animated comedy is obviously going to have to rely on a great sense of humor as a strong selling point. And where previous South Park games have faltered in this area, The Stick of Truth exceeds in spades. As a custom-made new kid having newly-moved to South Park, simply dubbed “Douchebag” or “New Kid” by everyone else, you are drawn into the fantasy war between the humans & elves (a.k.a. Cartman & Kyle) and get to experience first-hand all the twisted, insane glory that goes on like clockwork in this town. The game the kids play is a simple one about trying to wrestle the titular Stick of Truth from each other, but of course, things escalate quickly. And much like in classic episodes such as “Towelie,” the kids couldn’t care less about the bigger stakes; they’re kids, and all that matters is their game. And in both cases, though…hoo boy, does it get quite funny. The dialogue is sharp and witty as usual, shots are taken at various video game tropes (Skyrim being a particular target…Obsidian pissed off at a Bethesda game? Can’t imagine why!), the black humor nicely hits the ink bottle in a coal mine levels…it’s all just a riot.
The only problem is that when a game’s biggest strength is its humor and one of its biggest flaws is a short length, it’s hard to share the funniest moments without spoiling anything. So as a compromise, I have collected some of the game’s funniest and most audacious moments on the next page (yes, a second list of sorts within another list; please keep all Inception jokes to yourself). None of them are any real spoilers when it comes to the story, but nonetheless, there will be at least partial spoilers on the next page, so advance at your own risk.
But for those of you ending things right now, I guess I should answer the ultimate question…is South Park: The Stick of Truth a good game? Well, the obvious answer is “yes,” but as mentioned earlier, it deserved to be a much better, much bigger game. So I guess I would still definitely recommend checking it out, if only to see all the crazy shit you wouldn’t believe happens, but whether or not you’ll truly get your money’s worth may vary. But let it be known throughout the land that any game where you summon a magical talking piece of poo to summon a giant tidal wave of feces to take out a pair of hobos while dressed in a bear hat and wielding a vibrator…is definitely a game of the highest caliber.
Notable Moments In The Stick of Truth…
– The Return of Princess Kenny (complete with unicorns this time).
– Nazi Zombie Cows.
– The Ability to Summon a Gay Man who can Cram One of Said Nazi Zombie Cows up His Ass, Causing the Others to Run Away.
– Having to Cram Yourself up Said Gay Man’s Ass and Journey Through it Later on (and Yes, the “Lemmiwinks” Theme Plays in the Background).
– Midget in a Bikini, Always Welcome.
– The Goth Kids’ Challenge of Having to Take Picture of You With a “Fuck the Conformists” Sign at a PTA Meeting…Which in True South Park Fashion, None of the Adults Notices or Cares About.
– Getting Shrunk by the Underpants Gnomes and Having to Battle Them to Return to Normal Size…and Said Battle Takes Place Underneath Your Parents. While They’re Having Sex.
– Playing a Makeover Mini-Game and Having to Crossdress as Part of a Mission to Get the Girls to Help You Out.
– Fighting the Giant Aborted Nazi Zombie Fetus of Khloe Kardashian.
– All of Your Journeys Into Canada…Actually, I’m Not Even Gonna Remotely Spoil This One. You Have to See It for Yourself.
Previously by Kyle LeClair: