South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
South Park: The Stick of Truth is an extended episode of South Park with audience participation. That's important to keep in mind when you're considering whether or not to buy the game. Viewed purely as a game, it's a pretty light RPG with relatively easy Japanese RPG style turn-based battles, little distinction between classes, and a lack of meaningful choices for you to make. As a South Park production, though, it's incredible. Very few games based on television shows or movies have even come close to capturing the true look, feel, and spirit of the original property. A big part of The Stick of Truth's success has to do with the work of the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, on the game's script. Other games have featured stories penned by the writers of the shows they were based upon, but most of the time those stories were essentially new episodes for broadcast with a bunch of incongruent gameplay shoehorned in between cutscenes. Parker and Stone, however, get games and it shows in The Stick of Truth. They've crafted a true game narrative that will be an absolute delight for anyone who enjoys the show. In fact, the story is so well-crafted that it obviously served as inspiration for 2013's "Black Friday" trilogy of South Park episodes.
The Stick of Truth puts you into the role of a new kid whose family has just moved to South Park. Pushed out the door by your parents to go play outside and make new friends, you quickly find yourself in the middle of a live-action role-playing cosplay war being waged between the series' regulars. On one side is Cartman and Kenny of the KKK (Kingdom of Kupa Keep), on the other is Stan and Kyle of the wood elves, and what comes between them is The Stick of Truth, which in line with the nature of eight year olds is literally some stick which comes attached with a constantly changing complex set of rules that those who have it and those who do not must all obey. As is typical of South Park the show, this narrative serves merely as a general guide to the overall story which is wont to distractions, diversions, and general insanity.
Being an RPG, The Stick of Truth begins with you creating a character and selecting a class. Don't spend too much time debating the unseen merits and weaknesses of the mage, fighter, thief, or Jew; outside of four special attacks unique to each class they're all essentially the same and are all able to wield any weapon or wear any items collected in your adventures. The same goes for the look of your new kid - there are so many wigs, beards, and accessories to be found in the game that you will be changing your look several times an hour. And if that's not enough, then there's always Tom's Rhinoplasty.
Once you walk out your front door and into South Park you'll feel like you're watching an episode of the show. The game nails the show's construction paper cutout aesthetic, down to the paper texture and the occasional clipart and real photos used in episodes in the series (yes, the walls inside Tom's Rhinoplasty are plastered with photos of David Hasselhoff). The character voices are spot-on as well, because the show's voice cast including Parker and Stone themselves did all of the voice work for the game.
The Stick of Truth's South Park is jam-packed with references large and overt as well as small and subtle to episodes in the long-running series dating back to its very beginning (remember the expanding probe aliens crammed into Cartman's rectum in the series' very first episode?). Even the background music piped into places like Tweak's Coffee Shop or an office waiting room is drawn from the series' extensive library of original songs. If you've been watching the series as long as I have (forever), then you'll be in absolute South Park trivia heaven.
And then on the other side, if you only occasionally watch the show or have somehow missed it over the past fifteen years or so, you will miss out on a lot. The game certainly assumes that you're a South Park enthusiast, and doesn't bother to give you any kind of background information on any of the minor or major characters in the game. There's a South Park version of Facebook within the game which would have been the perfect place to put some basic background information on the residents of South Park that you friend during the game, but this opportunity is squandered. Also, if you're not used to the show's frequent scatological and deviant sexual humor, you will probably be a little shell-shocked because it is in maximum overdrive in the game. Just for starters, there are plenty of environmental puzzles in the game that involve lighting intestinal gasses with open flames and the game's entire magic system is based on projectile flatulence.
While you're making your way across South Park, you'll inevitably find yourself fighting wood elves, aliens, Al Gore, mutant rats, and the like. While the enemy party can include up to six attackers, your side will always consist of just you and a buddy. That buddy is usually selectable from a list of available South Park kids like Kenny, Butters, or Stan. Each buddy has his own class - Butters is a healing paladin, Jimmy is a bard, and Cartman is a flatulence wizard - and set of special powers - Kenny can mow down rows of enemies by summoning a horde of rats or by riding across the battlefield on the back of a rainbow unicorn.
The battles are turn-based and when it's your turn you can use an item such as a health-restoring snack and then unleash an attack (snack then attack!). No matter which class you are playing as you'll be able to use a special attack, ranged weapon, gas magic, or melee weapon when it's your turn to attack. Your buddies will be limited to just a special attack or either a ranged or melee attack. Once you select an attack you'll need to time one or more button presses while it's executing in order to maximize its effectiveness. Conversely, on defense you'll need to time one or more blocks to limit the damage you'll take. Oddly enough, the tutorials that teach you how to do all of this are ruthlessly unforgiving of the tiniest mistake on your part, but getting things right is a lot easier when you're in an actual fight. Blocking is always a little tricky, though, because there are so many different types of enemies in the game and they all have elaborate attack animations, which leaves it tough to tell when they are actually striking.
There are some tactical considerations in the battles such as enemies' armor, defensive stances, and a surprisingly wide array of buffs and debuffs. However, once you learn the basics of which attack to use in each situation the battles shouldn't give you much trouble and you'll probably only see the "Game Over" screen a small handful of times while playing the game.
The game has plenty of collectibles to hunt down, as well as hidden treasure and items that can be discovered by solving simple puzzles, so there's more to do outside of the quests than revel in South Park trivia. However, outside of trying to unlock all of the game's achievements (a couple are mutually exclusive) there's no motivation to play the game again. The player classes are very similar and the story doesn't provide any chances to make choices and affect the flow of the narrative. This will probably be more of an issue with the kind of RPG player who enjoys trying out different classes and stories with branching narratives than it will be with South Park fans eager for another story from the small Colorado mountain town they love. If you're in that latter group, enjoy, you're going to love this game. Everyone else should probably watch a couple episodes of the show first to determine if they can take about another fifteen hours of it.
Final Rating: 86%. It's not the best game ever, but it may just be the best translation of a TV show into a game ever.