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South Park: The Stick of Truth Review

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For many years, I refused to watch South Park. It appeared crude, poorly drawn, and uninspired. However, sometime during college, I actually sat down and gave the show a chance. Now, some of my original reservations unsurprisingly did not change -- South Park is without a doubt crude and poorly drawn. However, its coarse façade hides one of the most creative, well-written, and hilarious shows on television. Naturally, the announcement that South Park’s creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were devoting themselves to producing South Park: The Stick of Truth, a real South Park game, not like 1998’s and 2000’s games with South Park skins, filled me with anticipation and some concern. After all, while Stone and Parker have certainly excelled in one medium, there were still questions of how well that world would translate to another.

Following the events of season seventeen’s Console Wars trilogy, The Stick of Truth tells the story of the war between the humans of the Kingdom of Kupa Keep and the Drow Elves of Zaron. Their war focuses on control of a powerful relic that will grant its wielder absolute control over the entire universe. This is one accurate description of the game. Another is that the children of South Park are waging an imaginary war with cardboard weapons and ordinary objects for control of an old twig. It is one thing to captivate an audience with a story of knights and wizards engaged in a heroic adventure against the forces of evil. It’s a completely different challenge to draw in an audience, spark their imaginations, and make them feel immersed within an imaginary game within a game. And yet, The Stick of Truth does an exceptional job of this. This undoubtedly benefits from the rich imaginations and ridiculous adventures that Kyle, Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and their friends and neighbors have been dragged through over the years. Players take on the role of “The New Kid” whose family has recently moved to the quiet mountain town. Rather than sitting at home, their father tells them to go outside and make new friends. Before long, Butters invites them to join their game, and from there, the task of meeting people and making friends is soon forgotten and replaced by the quest to secure the titular Stick of Truth. The game only really takes players out of the imagined adventure for a quick interjection of hilarity when random bits of reality are introduced -- like the first time Butters wallops an enemy (did Butters just deck that kid with a hammer (the type used on nails)?), the first time they revive an ally (did I just raise Kenny using a taco?), or whenever they find a new weapon (am I about to start attacking enemies with a flaming dildo? I think I am. Sweet~). However, true to form, the game never takes itself too seriously. In one of my favorite episodes, Pandemic and Pandemic 2, the kids travel to Peru while giant Guinea monsters invade the world and threaten to conquer everything. However, the kids are not there to save the world, but rather to stop Peruvian flute bands from taking over their town. And as they repeatedly find clues that Craig is the key to solving the problem, Craig refuses to go along with them, insisting on marching back to South Park. It’s those type of twists and tones that one expects from South Park and The Stick of Truth never strays from it. Mysterious government organization comes to town and starts dealing with a strange green ooze? The denizens of South Park aren’t upset about any of that, but that their kids are being kept out of school and running amok around town.

In an era where games are becoming more and more realistic, The Stick of Truth is probably the least graphically intensive game to come out in recent years. And yet, it’s exactly what fans would have imagined and wanted in a South Park game. In the past, South Park games have tried to take current-gen graphics and dress them up to look like South Park. The Stick of Truth manages to maintain South Park’s iconic style while also offering a (mostly) smooth and fluid gameplay experience. The characters and environment look like they are all (cheaply) made of paper cutouts and characters don’t really run as much as they hop along. The character designs are largely inspired by ones first seen in season nine’s The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers. However, the game also makes copious references to events that have occurred throughout its seventeen year tenure. A number of side quests directly reference events that have occurred over the years in South Park (such as Al Gore’s obsession with man-bear-pig and the town’s infestation of homeless people) while others make more subtle allusions for long-time fans (like being sent to Mr. Mackey’s storage locker and being reminded that he is a compulsive hoarder). The game is actually littered with souvenirs for fans to reminisce.

Fans who have watched South Park over the years will inevitably feel the town grows and shrinks as necessary to fit the needs of a particular episode. It has had a pioneer village, an amusement park, and even an orphanage for crack babies. In developing The Stick of Truth, Matt and Trey expressed that they were forced to actually lay out the city of South Park, not just jump from location to location. While the town doesn’t line up perfectly with previously established maps of the city, it’s nice to have some sense of continuity between at least some of the locations. Players can finally see where Kyle and Stan’s houses are located, search Cartman’s room, visit Kenny’s house (on the other side of the tracks), wait at the Bus Stop, traverse the halls of South Park Elementary, scour Professor Chaos’ lair, and even work their way north to Canada. While some fans will inevitably feel that the game does not include their favorite location from the show’s seventeen year history, The Stick of Truth does a satisfactory job of providing a number of key and memorable locations and offering scenes to reward fans (like the aforementioned lair of Professor Chaos). Much of the town is immediately accessible, but additional areas are opened up by progressing through the story and gaining access to a number of abilities. Players travel the world with one of the franchise’s four main characters (or Butters or Jimmy) in tow. As they pass random landmarks, these characters describe random events that have occurred in the town (usually involving Butters getting beat up).

Upon joining the game, players are able to select one of four classes for their character, Fighter, Mage, Thief, and Jew. Each class is different and possesses different benefits and flaws, but these only affect combat and do not have any drastic impact on the game. The game’s battles will feel very similar for those who have played the Paper Mario franchise. Making contact with an enemy will send players into turn-based battles where the player’s character and their partner trade blows with their adversaries. Similar to the Paper Mario games, combat is built around simple QTEs. Attacks are more powerful if the right button is pressed before an attack and damage can be reduced or avoided if a button is pressed before an attack connects. Players can choose from melee or ranged attacks, perform magic attacks, use items (one per turn), and have access to a number of abilities based on their class as do the support characters. While many of the player’s abilities are useful in combat, the other characters’ abilities draw from various events that have occurred throughout the show’s long run. Cartman can light his farts on fire, Princess Kenny can ride a unicorn, and Butters can transform into Professor Chaos (which somehow never managed to get old). Players can also summon a handful of characters from the series for especially difficult fights (but not bosses). These summons essentially swoop in, perform a ridiculous attack against one or many enemies, and then scare any survivors away. At the end of each battle experience is rewarded and the player’s party is fully healed. Players can upgrade their abilities with each level and can unlock additional support abilities based on the number of friends they have acquired.

The Stick of Truth also maintains South Park’s distinct sense of irony. For instance, it is a video game that puts players into a game that the children of South Park are playing because they did not want to rely on video games to dictate their entertainment. The game also takes a number of jabs at classic RPG features and tropes. The new kid is a silent protagonist, something that the denizens of South Park, including his parents, repeatedly notice and question. The game’s combat tutorials (turn based because that’s how they did it back then -- although, it’s worth noting that the game never explains why the myriad of enemies not playing the game also follow these rules) item usage (Cartman wanted five items, but they compromised on one a turn) and other aspects are explained so humorously, it’s almost hard to imagine going back to the simple and dry explanations so many other games employ. At the same time, it also draws from many RPG norms and relies on the players’ familiarity with South Park to hide the fact that many of quests are simple fetch quests or involve traveling to a location, killing a foe, and then returning for a reward. One quest in particular tasks players with hunting down a number of strange creatures around South Park. Each creature is drawn from a specific episode or reference, but for players who haven’t watched the show so thoroughly, I wonder whether such a quest felt like anything more than a hassle.

While no one doubted that The Stick of Truth would be hilarious, going into the game, there were questions about how South Park would translate from twenty-two minute episodes into a game, specifically an RPG. The answer is twofold. The content of South Park translates phenomenally. Yes, the game does reuse a lot from the show, but it also has a lot of hysterical new material to keep things fresh. Unfortunately, while the content of South Park is well polished and delivers, the gameplay dimension falls far shorter. Given the game’s numerous delays, many players (myself included) were sorely disappointed that the game is plagued by crippling lag and a variety of unexplained flaws. While playing through, I had the music randomly cut out a number times, had a save file vanish, had my character stop moving normally (he just kinda slid along the ground rather than hopping) and had one boss fight where the action dial froze and I wasn't able to select any actions apart from attack. While I didn’t have this problem, a few of my friends reported that their game inexplicably crashed on them multiple times. Additionally, some of the tutorials, specifically all the ones to learn new farting abilities, do not appear to be programmed correctly. The icons that are displayed on the screen during each tutorial did not correspond to what the game was telling me to do or to what directions I moved the joysticks. However, these problems pale in comparison to the crippling lag that randomly afflicted the game. As I mentioned earlier, The Stick of Truth is by no means a graphical juggernaut. It’s probably one of the graphically weakest games to come out in recent memory (not a bad thing given what it is, but just stating a fact), so it’s shocking how terrible the lag can be at times. The lag is not only restricted to the world map though, and there were times that I was unable to pull off the QTEs during battle as a result. The game is also plagued by long load times when traveling between areas. While there are some large areas that justify the hassle, these are greatly outweighed by the number that do not. For the most part, there does not appear to be so much going on or so much detail that these massive load times are justified. It also is worth noting, The Stick of Truth is surprisingly short for an RPG. Then again, given its delays, it should come as no surprise that a number of quests and battles teased in the early trailers and promo images have been cut.

Should you pick up The Stick of Truth? I’m honestly torn on this one. On one hand, the game delivers a side-splitting South Park experience that both long-time and casual fans should not miss. However, the myriad of flaws that plague the game cannot be ignored. Earlier, there was a bit of a debate over the “correct” price for this game in the thread here on BG. Obviously how much you’re willing to pay will depend on how attached you are to the South Park franchise. Personally, I feel that $60 is asking too much for this game, and that’s coming from someone who has watched almost every episode of the series, many multiple times. If you can catch it on sale (maybe around $40) or if you’re a die-hard fan, I strongly recommend picking up The Stick of Truth -- although, if you’re in the latter camp, I imagine you already have. I question how much folks who haven’t watched the series will enjoy the game, but South Park Studios makes almost every episode available for free, so really, it’s not that hard to get caught up. For the most part, the game feels like a ten to fifteen hour episode, and in the end, what more can fans ask for? A Coon and Friends game? Ok, fine, you win this round..

Goin’ down to South Park, gonna have myself a time ♫

All images owned by South Park Studios, Ubisoft, and/or Obsidian Entertainment.


  1. Byrd -
    Byrd's Avatar
    Holy cow, I'm glad you commented on the issues with the "training" sessions with the new farting skills. I thought I was going out of my mind; the one with Randy in the bathroom had me pissed off enough I put the game down and went to bed. Glad to know I'm not the only one.