Wednesday, April 2, 2014

South Park: The Stick of Truth


Though I don't watch it regularly (due to just generally being bad about watching TV) I like to consider myself a South Park fan, since I greatly appreciate the hilarious but insightful social commentary and criticism, as well as it's expert use of low brow humor in a way that is actually quite funny in addition to usually being soul-crushingly shocking; in short, the writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are actually very good at being offensive, unlike 90% of the shock comedians out there. In fact I would go as far as to call the writing duo our time's equivalent to the likes of Voltaire and Jonathon Swift, except with cut out animation.

Ramblings about the show aside, this particular title has been a rather infamous one long before the time of its release due to delays it suffered; this game was teased way back in late 2011 and originally slated for an April 2013 release, however that was shot down due to it's publisher THQ going out of business. Fortunately the rights were picked up by Ubisoft and it would seem that the game was back on track, right? WRONG!!! The game was delayed no less than four times after that, prompting many people to ask if we were even going to see the confounded game, to the point where Trey and Matt made a joke about it in the finale of a three part episode of South Park satirizing the Game of Thrones HBO series (and Black Friday). But now as of March 4th, we have finally seen the game's launch, so was it worth the wait?

You are the new kid in South Park, your parents and you have moved here in an effort to lead a quieter, more normal life...HAH! While out exploring you stumble upon a dressed up Butters Stotch being beaten up by another kid dressed like an elf, after saving Butters, he takes to you the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (Cartman's backyard) where the Wizard King (Cartman) indoctrinates you into his army to battle the evil Drow Elves and recover the stolen Stick of Truth. However, not even child's play in South Park can go on without potentially world shattering events occurring around it, and you must fight your way through not only enemy children, but a bevy of other dangers.

The plot honestly makes for the best (and longest) South Park episode that I have seen in a while, mostly thanks to this game actually being written by Trey and Matt as opposed to the usual tradition of licensed based games with none of the property's creative team behind it, save for a voice actor or two. While this game's plot does lack the underlying cultural criticism that makes the show an enduring figure of satire, it more than makes up for it with it's excellently offensive jokes, call-backs to previous episodes, and its hilarious satirization of video games in general. I really want to talk about some of the great, and hilarious moments that happen in this game, but I'm too frightened of ruining the experience for someone else, since like most South Park episodes, this game is all the more shockingly hilarious when you don't know whats coming.

Art Direction
Artistically, this game IS the show, as it replicates the cut-out animation flawlessly...not that it's a technical marvel or anything, but it really shows the care that went into making this game as much like its source material as possible, which is shockingly rare in video game adaptations of TV shows and movies. Though if I do have to complain about something, this game seems to run poorly at times, though never to the point where it ruins the game

The game only uses a few pieces of music from the show with the soundtrack consisting mostly of music parodying RPG/fantasy soundtracks and are a bit forgettable. And since the voice acting is done by the show's creative team, it perfectly captures the nature of the show even further.

Stick of Truth is a turn-based RPG that can mostly be compared to the first two Paper Mario games, since the combat involves your created character, and a single partner character from the show's main cast battling hordes of enemies using attacks and defensive moves that require certain button inputs to perform. Characters get one quick action, in which they can use an item, or a unique ability such as Butters' healing ability, or Kenny' appeal; this doesn't use up a turn, and intially seems cheap, as the game progresses, you'll find it to be a quite necessary tactic to survive. Actions are your usual attack, special, etc, but with the added twist of timed button presses determining the effectiveness of the attack, and reducing damage from enemy attacks ala Paper Mario which naturally makes the turn based combat a bit more engaging for people who are not a fan of the genre. Battles do also take quite a bit of thought and strategy, such as using light attacks to wear down shields, strong attacks to break armor, and ranged attacks to hit riposting enemies without fear of a counter-attack, though admittedly, defense can be a bit overly difficult, since the timing seems off which makes guarding attacks with multiple hits very difficult.

While you do level up in a rather traditional way, most of your combat effectiveness and abilities will be determined by your equipment, and add-ons. Even playing as a mage (like I did), you can still wield "swords" and other more melee oriented weapons without worry of your special attacks dropping in power. And there are tons of weapons and armor to find in game, each with various unique effects that can be combined to form devastating strategies allowing you to customize your character to suite your favorite play-style.

For the first time ever, the town of South Park has been definitively mapped out, and is available for you to explore, if it's been a location in the show, then you can most likely visit it, such as the various kid's houses, the school, City Wok, etc. While most don't have any relevance to the plot, they are where most of the games sidequests come into play, where you must do a favor for the many denizens of South Park such as helping Al Gore track down Manbearpig, and finding Jesus, these are all very funny and rather rewarding to do since they grant valuable experience points, and result in several usually funny moments.

Stick of Truth is a surprisingly good license based game, but it does have a few issues holding it back from absolute greatness. First of which, the difficulty spikes in this game are fairly intense, and come out of nowhere, and while a good game will present a challenge to even the most experienced player, some of these are pretty jarring; these moments are mostly boss fights, but there are a few easily lost context sensitive mini-games that can kill you off quickly as well if failed. Controls for certain abilities are rather wonky as well, especially for the mini-games and the..."magic" attacks that require strange uses of the right control stick, and never really seem to work right. Finally, the game is really only 13 hours long, even after doing the sidequests, and there is absolutely no post-game content or New Game+ option, which means that the only thing that can make your playthroughs "varied" is playing as a different class, but even then the classes are not varied enough to radically alter the game in subsequent playthroughs, and there is only one moment in the game's plot that will be altered based on player choices.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a prime example of how even licensed based games can be excellent if they have an effective creative team behind them, especially the creative team behind the license itself. It preserves everything that makes the TV show great, and delivers a great RPG experience. If I may be so bold, I have to end this review by saying, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a better RPG than ANY of the recent Final Fantasy games...let that soak in, and try not to be depressed about that.



  • Great humor
  • Looks and sounds EXACTLY like the show
  • Surprisingly deep RPG elements and equipment system
  • Non-linear progression 
  • A bit too short
  • Little replayability
  • Slightly wonky controls in battle and mini-games
  • Frequent frame-rate issues
  • Difficulty spikes

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