One of the very first things I did when I received my copy of South Park: The Stick of Truth was sit down on the toilet, triggering a quick-time event which, when completed successfully, awarded me with a “turd nugget” – an item which could subsequently be thrown at enemies in combat to give them the “grossed out” debuff. From this point onward, I had a strong feeling that South Park: The Stick of Truth and I were going to get along famously.
As you could probably have gathered from my opening paragraph, this may possibly be the very first NSFW review I have ever written, simply due to the nature of the game and its source material. You have been warned.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is not just another South Park game. Rather, it is the South Park game which we have all been waiting for. Yes, there have been other South Park games in the past, but in the end they were mostly just FPS’, racing sims, or platformers with South Park characters slapped on top of them. The Stick of Truth, on the other hand, is South Park. Right from the get go, I felt as if I was playing out an episode of the show.
It’s all the little things, disguising those classic RPG tropes (such as Timmy’s wheelchair being used for fast-travel, Cheesy Poofs being health potions, and “magic spells” being farts) that really make it feel less like a fantasy RPG, and more like children playing at a fantasy RPG. Although, that’s not to say it doesn’t suck you into it’s world. As I progressed through the game, I found myself more engrossed with the storyline the kids were weaving; feeling as if I was apart of something bigger than just a game of make-believe. But then Cartman’s mom would come in and tell everyone to go home because it was Eric’s bedtime, and then I would be hilariously jerked back into reality.
As well as evoking feelings from the show, it also evoked feelings from my childhood, when my friends and I would actually do stuff like this (though, not to the crude, violent, over-the-top level that the South Park boys go to.)
Of course, during the later half of the game, it does go completely off-the-rails in true South Park-style, but the kids (and Stan’s dad), as always, continue to maintain that childlike ignorance of the situation’s severity.
The game’s writing is completely spot on, in my opinion, and portrays Stone and Parker at the top of their form. As well as the laugh-out-loud cutscenes of the main game’s story, all of the side-characters you encounter along the way are superbly written. Then, there are all the in-combat quips from your companions and your enemies that never seem to grow old, especially, anything that Butters says. There’s also more than a few hilarious “meta” references to video game tropes that long-time gamers will appreciate, such as an audio log in the alien abduction level that laments why anyone trapped on a space ship would stop to make lots of frivolous log entries.
A huge amount of attention-to-detail has been placed on something that the majority of RPGs pretty much skim over: the “junk” items that you loot from unsuspecting people’s houses and sell for cash. Whereas in a normal RPG, the junk is just, well, junk, almost all of the junk items in Stick of Truth are little references to the show, complete with full descriptions. The Okama Gamesphere, Phil Collin’s Oscar, the Antonio Banderas Blow-Up Doll, and “Faith +1’s Greatest Hits” are among the many pieces of South Park memorabilia I picked up and vendored. What is even more amazing is that the devs have made the effort to try and make sure the items actually make sense considering where you find them. In Mrs. Cartman’s dresser draw, for example, is a full collection of dildos.
Other items, such as weapons and armor, are all things you could imagine kids thinking up. Wooden swords, suction cup arrows, bicycle helmets, stop-sign shields; each of which can be enhanced by attaching “stickers”.
The playable classes are Warrior, Mage, Thief… and Jew. To no surprise, I chose to play as a Jew, but your player class isn’t quite as significant a choice as it is in more traditional RPGs. Any class can use any weapon and wear any armor, and everyone has the ability to learn all the magic fart spells, so the only thing that varies between classes is the five “power point” (or pee pee) abilities. As a Jew, I had the Sling of David, Jew-jitsu, Circum-scythe, the Whirling Dreidel of Doom, and the Plagues of Egypt. Combat in the game is a “turn-based time-sensitive” affair, in which you still have to wait for your turn and select your abilities individually, but when performing or blocking an attack, you have to press a button at the right time to maximise damage done/minimize damage taken. Anyone who has ever played any of the Mario and Luigi RPGs will be instantly familiar with the concept.
In my opinion, It’s a really solid combat system that is deceptively fun; even if it is somewhat simple. I could choose a single “buddy” to accompany me throughout most of the battles, each with his own special abilities and attributes. For example; Butters, the starter buddy, has a kind of “global taunt,” in that enemies are much more likely to attack him (because everyone wants to hit Butters), as well as the “healing touch” ability, in which he literally comes up to you and pats you on the back, restoring your HP, whereas Princess Kenny can “charm” opponents by showing them his “breasts”, and Jimmy, the bard, can buff his allies with the “ballad of your mom.”
As I moved around the town, I collected collectibles (such as the fabled Chinpokomon), interacted with townsfolk, and did some exploring all of the locales from the TV show. The “quest log” is just Facebook, where I added all of the people I met along the way as friends, unlocking new perks when hitting certain friend milestones. There’s nothing quite like getting a friend request from Al Gore (who, obviously, tasked me with finding Manbearpig), accompanied with a message stating “Hello my young friend! This is Al Gore! That’s me, in the big profile picture! I am talking to you now”. It all works quite well… provided of course you’re not using a keyboard and mouse.
This is where my biggest real complaint of the game is. The PC controls are not very intuitive at all. Menus are absurd to navigate, making inventory management somewhat of a chore, as I could sometimes just push a key but sometimes had to click things manually with my mouse, and the “timed button presses” in combat are bound to the mouse buttons, which doesn’t really feel natural. There’s also no option to rebind the keys to something less stupid. I plugged in a controller after a while and found that everything suddenly felt a lot better. This is definitely one to get on PS3/Xbox 360, or at least, have a 360 controller handy if you’re going to play it on a PC.
The other thing that did kind of get on my nerves was just how much the game showered me with items and money. After a few hours, I already had more money than I knew what to do with, was unable to pick up additional potions because my inventory was full, and I was completely upgrading my gear after every few battles. Yes, you need a sense of progression and advancement in an RPG, but finding a cool new item doesn’t feel very satisfying if you replace it within five minutes. At one point, I ranked up to “Commander” Douchebag, and Cartman bestowed upon me some pimpin’ new Jew robes… which I proceeded to instantly replace with the better gear I already had. Turning up the difficulty to “hardcore” does help a little, but most players will still breeze through the game with little resistance. However, in saying that, none of these issues hurt the overall experience.
Initially, I was just expecting an extended South Park episode thrown haphazardly around yet another shoddy game, but what I got honestly surprised me with how polished it was, and how fun it was to play. Whenever I was starting to get bored with the game, it would move on to something else and keep me hooked. It looks like all those delays in development happened for a reason, making this one a no-brainer for anyone with even a passing interest in South Park. It is a game we can whole heartedly recommend, just don’t forget to bring a towel!