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Published:March 24th, 2014 09:20 EST
South Park: Stick of Truth - A Short, But Funny RPG That Fans Will Love

South Park: Stick of Truth - A Short, But Funny RPG That Fans Will Love

By William Giorgio

 For the past month, I`ve been playing South Park: The Stick of Truth on my PS3.  As a huge fan of the show its based on, I was really anticipating the game`s release.

After all of the delays the game went through due to the game changing publishers, Obsidian and South Park Studios have released a game with a good sense of humor, a simple, but fun battle system, and it leaves the player wanting more. 

This game indicates the first time the South Park name has been attached to a major console release since the days of the PS1 and Nintendo 64.  During those days, the now-defunct Acclaim Entertainment released a trilogy of South Park games: a first-person shooter simply named South Park, Chef`s Luv Shack, a party game that combined You Don`t Know Jack with Mario Party-esque mini-games, and South Park Rally, an offbeat racing game that offered a variety of racing modes and had a large cast of characters.  Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker had no real input on any of these games aside from voicing the characters. Much like most of the gaming press at the time, the two hated the Acclaim trilogy (I actually thought Rally was OK) due to the lackluster gameplay in each game and their resistance to including more adult content.  

In response to a question given to the creators back in 2001 regarding the future of South Park video games, Matt Stone said that, "Acclaim did such a good job of f***ing up the games that now no one is really that interested in the license."  Since the Acclaim trilogy`s release, the South Park license was only attached to small, downloadable games for iOS and Xbox Live, such as Let`s Go!  Tower Defense and Tenorman`s Revenge.  Stone also said in that 2001 response that, "if we do another video game, it will be R-rated.  We wanted to do that in the first place, but everyone said it was impossible."

For this game, Matt and Trey sought out to make the "definitive" South Park game by talking directly to potential developers to make the game as they wanted it.  The creators wanted the game to look and feel like an episode of the show and a lot of time and effort would be needed to emulate the show`s crappy look.  Obsidian was chosen to develop the game, THQ was going to publish it, and the release date was going to be March 5 of last year.  However, THQ filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and sold the rights of the game to Ubisoft.  It was then going to be released December 2013 in time for Christmas, but Ubisoft delayed the game to March 2014 to work on the game to make it live up to gamer and creator expectations.  Finally, the game was released to the public on March 4.

The set-up of the game is that you`re the new kid in South Park and you`re sent to go make friends with the various characters again.  The kids are playing a fantasy-based game in which two factions, the humans and the elves, fight over the Stick of Truth (which is just a plain ol` stick) for control of the universe.  The simple game takes a twist when government agents find a crashed alien UFO containing goo that turns anyone who touches it into a Nazi zombie.  The goo naturally causes a Nazi zombie outbreak and it`s up to the new kid to stop it using his ability to make tons of Facebook friends really fast and the various feats he can pull
using his anal passages.

The game`s main motivation is to be funny and to provide South Park fans with little nods and references to episodes of the show.  The game contains everything you`d come to expect from the show: satirical jokes (primarily about video game tropes and social media), characters blowing simple things out of proportion, surrealist humor that is so bizarre that it`s hilarious, and tons of gross-out humor.  I found myself smirking frequently during the game, and it definitely succeeds as a comedy in terms of the quick and effective delivery and just the over-the-top surrealism that the entire game is built around.  I won`t reveal too much, since the game is best played when hearing these jokes for the first time.  For examples of video game satire, there`s a little joke making fun of the acronym for Power Points and your enemies and partner bugging you to select a move.  There`s also an area in the game modeled after an NES-era RPG, and it had a joke about classic RPGs I really liked.  There`s a house in the area where you can walk in on a couple having sex.  When you intrude, the husband shouts, "Who the f*** just walks into someone`s house!?"  There were one or two jokes that sort of hit the player over the head, such as one scene where a government agent blatantly says that Nazi zombies are overused, but those jokes didn`t pop up too much.

In terms of talking about the gameplay, the game has three difficulty modes and four classes.  For my playthrough, I picked the Jew class on the Normal difficulty. 

The game is set up like a traditional turn-based RPG.  If you`ve ever played Super Mario RPG, the first two Paper Mario games, or any of the Mario & Luigi games, this game is basically just an adult version of those games.  During the battles, one of the South Park kids will act as your partner, and each have different abilities.  The battle system, much like the Mario RPGs, places a heavy focus on using timed button presses and stick movements to increase the damage of player attacks and to block enemy attacks.  I always liked this system because it felt satisfying to have some input in hitting or defending something.  Unlike a lot of turn-based RPGs where you just command players to do something, you actually get to pull the moves off yourself.  Players like to feel like that they are the ones winning the battle, and this system helps strengthen this idea.  The way the battles are initiated also take a note from its primary inspiration, as all of the enemies can be seen on the map, and you can attack and run away from them, rather than being a victim to random encounters like in other RPGs of this nature.  Though the game more or less rips its battle system from another series, it`s nonetheless a good battle system, and it`s cool that PS3, Xbox 360, and PC players can now play a game that features it.  

The equipment system is a combination of the overall equipment system from the Mario & Luigi games and the badge system from the Paper Mario games.  Throughout the game, you`ll find a large assortment of costumes, accessories, weapons, patches, and strap-ons in chests and at shops.  Each piece of equipment has its own level of offense/defense, its own extra effects and perks, and can only be worn if the player is at a certain level.  The patches and strap-ons are modifiers to your weapons and costumes that yield additional perks, such as more damage on a perfect attack.  It`s kinda  The game gives the player a lot of options, and they won`t get through all of them in one playthrough.  There`s enough for any player to find and adapt to a particular strategy or playstyle.   

There are some other key differences between Stick of Truth and its inspirations, however.  For example, the game puts a lot more emphasis on status effects than the Mario RPGs, which mostly focused on basic attacks more than anything else.  Nearly every battle you fight will have someone either bleed, get knocked out, or get grossed out (there are more status effects, but these three are the most common.)  Another big difference is that the game lets you use items and attack enemies on the same turn.  Most RPGs only let you do one action per turn, but Stick of Truth gives the player a little more leniency.  Some game enthusiasts might not be a fan of this be cause it breaks a long-standing game tradition to give the player more leeway, but considering my characters would lose a lot of health and PP within a few turns, I actually found this to be helpful.

The game also has a social media feature in which you make Facebook friends with the characters.  You can do this by either just talking to them or doing quests for them.  The best part about this concept is the status updates the characters make on Facebook when you friend them.  Many of them make fun of the typical posts you`d actually find on your feed, such as ones fishing for likes, ones made by people who think that Facebook is a personal diary, and relationship statuses.  It does have a practical use in the form of the game giving the player perks for every 10 friends they make, such as inflicting more damage on enemies with certain status conditions and stat boosts from using certain attacks and items.  They do help, but none of them will exactly change the tides of any battles.      

The game`s overworld, when compared to other RPGs, isn`t that big, but the focus wasn`t really to make it massive, but to make it a proper representation of the town of South Park.  One of the central focuses of the game was to depict the town as a living, breathing area that the player could interact with and explore.  When I first played the game, I ignored the missions and spent a good amount of time just exploring the various houses and landmarks of the town.  Doing this allows the player to not only get extra items, but it also allows them to catch references to the show they would have otherwise missed.  Searching every drawer and bag in the game will yield a lot of items from specific episodes of the show.  There are also spots in the game that are made specifically for fan service.  

For example, you cansearch through each kid`s closet to find items and costumes they had in various episodes, such as Cartman`s closet storing his sleeveless Beefcake  shirt from Weight Gain 4000,  his Myrrh album that he won in Christian Hard Rock, and his Coon costume from the various superhero episodes (and that`s just a small sample.) There`s also a lot of audio taken directly from episodes that play throughout the game.  Some examples include every television in town playing episodes of Terrence and Phillip and every business building playing the show`s songs, mostly ones performed by the late Chef, who was played by the late Isaac Hayes.  They`re nice little nods and I found myself staying in game areas for longer than usual just to hear the songs.  In general, the show references are well-executed and it`s cool to see that every season, even the early ones, is given a good amount of representation.

In terms of completing overworld challenges to progress the story, most of them don`t take very long and aren`t very challenging.  The overworld gives the player a lot of visual hints as to what to do.  The most common ones being that items that need to be hit with a projectile sparkle, and that open flames need to be farted on.  Every now and then, you have to use an ability of one of your partners to progress (spoiler alert: Kenny`s is the funniest.)  You don`t really use them all that much, and the game always tells you when to use them by having the appropriate partner wait for your command (or have your present partner tell you to switch to the correct one.)  There are a few indicators that are more subtle, usually ones that lead to bonus items or help complete side quests, but the ones in the main story are really just there to waste your time for a little bit.

Prior to the game`s release, Matt and Trey promoted the fart magic as one of the key aspects of the game.  It`s primarily used on the field in various ways, such as the aforementioned farting on open flames to blow stuff up and using puffs of gas to distract guards.  The best humor that comes from these spells is the training sessions you go through to learn them and seeing how your partners react to them. You can also use them in battles at the cost of mana, but I never found myself using them that much.  Its main purpose is to gross out the enemies, which causes them to throw up and lose health every turn.  There were two reasons why I didn`t use fart magic that much: 1. I always considered keeping my health and Power Points filled up to be on a higher priority than my mana, and 2. 

I found it more effective to inflict bleeding on the enemies.  Using weapons and moves that inflict bleeding not only require easier action commands, but the blood-inflicting weapons cost nothing to use.  The only advantage inflicting gross-out on the opponent is that it prevents the enemy from healing, which they seldom do.  One good thing about the fart magic is that you can use it in conjunction with throwing weapons, so the player can add gross-out damage to whatever other effects the weapons have, and allows them to use mana more conservatively.  As a field weapon, the fart spells work well and incites a few chuckles, but as a battle weapon, I only really found use in the conjunction spells.

The main narrative as a whole is not very long.  While I said that I played the game throughout the month, I didn`t play every day.  In fact, it took only three-four evenings to get through the whole story.  I was disappointed when it seemed like the story was ending so soon, but the climax that followed gave the story good comedic closure.  The short game was also made possible by the abundance of potions in the world and that it`s really easy to get money from hitting objects, looting enemies, and selling the junk items you come across.  There is some replay value in the game if you decide to start a new game to try out the different classes, difficulty levels, and weapons you didn`t get to experience the first time around.  However, that ultimately depends on if you like the battle system and you`re a believer that jokes are better the second time you hear them.

Matt and Trey finally got the R-rated South Park game they always wanted, but for some international ratings boards, this was a liability.  Some of the game`s sequences were censored for the European and Australian releases (except for the European PC version for some reason.)  Scenes depicting anal probing and the new kid performing abortions are cut and replaced with pictures of either a facepalming Michelangelo`s David or a crying koala depending on what region, along with a text description of what the scene was.  Matt Stone said that while he acknowledged that there was a double standard, he and Trey didn`t really care about the omission of 40 seconds of gameplay as long as they could make a joke about it.  Matt also stated that even though they could easily air scenes of anal probing and abortions on television, they couldn`t do the same thing in a video game because of the interactivity of the medium. 

Personally, I don`t see what the big deal is.  (Spoilers:)  The only interactive portion of the anal probing scene make the player fight against being probed, and all of the scenes of the player performing an
abortion is played for laughs and none of them have the player actually aborting a fetus.  In fact, every human that gets the procedure is male.  You could argue that these scenes allude to controversial subjects, but the interactive portions do not exercise any form of gray morality and the non-interactive portions are nothing that fans of the show haven`t seen before (unless they primarily watch the edited syndication versions that play in the afternoons, and I don`t know why they would.)  In short, I think the censorship is pointless given the comedic nature of the cutscenes and the audience this game is marketed to.  Nevertheless, this won`t stop Europeans and Australians from looking up the deleted scenes on YouTube.        

Finally, I`ll talk about more superfluous stuff.  One thing that always bugged me in the game`s cutscenes is that whenever the camera cuts to or away from a shot featuring your character, he`ll sometimes appear a split second before or after the cut.  I understand that he`s overlaid onto the cutscene footage and I`ll concede that there might not have been a lot the developers could have done about it, but it was always distracting and took me out of the scene.  I also ran into some glitches during some parts of the game.  There was one point where the game had trouble rendering the text.  Some letters would be black, some would be replaced with black boxes, and some would just disappear entirely.  I don`t know what caused this glitch, but I was able to fix it by exiting and re-entering the game.  There was also a few fights in the abortion clinic that had no music playing until I used Butters` Professor Chaos transformation, in which the battle music started playing after the attack was done.

Overall, as an RPG, the game is fun, but the easy difficulty (on Normal at least) and the short length goes below the expectations of the genre.  As a South Park game, it`s everything I could ask for.  The game was never meant to be a deep, ground-breaking game with a long, thought-provoking story that`s going to shake up the industry, it was meant to be a game that South Park fans would find fun.  In that regard, the game succeeded.  The game succeeds in capturing the show`s humor, characters, and setting while also having a fun battle system to keep you busy.  The attention to detail given to the town and the presence of just about every resident that`s ever shown up on the show will be more than enough to satisfy the desires of the fans.  Matt Stone has said that a sequel to the game is possible.  If it were to happen, all I`d ask for is a longer story and more partners.