Somebody pinch me. This isn’t a world we live in, is it? South Park, that show I watched religiously in high school, that redefined what it meant to “push the limit” of what was allowed on television, is 17 years old? Does this mean that I, too, am old? I can’t even begin to process this information. My failing youth aside, I feel it necessary to focus on just how revolutionary South Park has been over the years. At it’s surface, it’s easy for those on the outside to dismiss it as an immature series that focuses more on vulgarity and gross-out factor than it does having a message or being “important television”, but dedicated fans will be more than happy to correct that incorrect assertion.
In the near two decades since comedic geniuses Matt Stone and Trey Parker brought us into the deranged world of their minds and their vision of the remote Colorado town in which the duo grew up, they’ve revolutionized the art of satire. By focusing on a blistering turnaround time for episode production and recording, the less-than-a-week-long production of each episode allowed Stone and Parker to create the most relevant scripted satire show this side of a live broadcast, such as a show like Saturday Night Live. Combining this schedule with the foul-mouthed cast of characters that make up the town of South Park made it an instant success that has only grown over the years.
Which is why the 2011 announcement of South Park: The Stick of Truth, an Obsidian-developed RPG based on the series, was such a huge deal. That Matt and Trey themselves wrote and were heavily involved in the development was all that fans needed to become feverish at their demand for the game. Which made the constant delays the game saw, including the closing of the original publisher THQ, even more painful for fans.
But now, after 3 years of waiting, a change in publisher to Ubisoft, and more than a few last-second delays, The Stick of Truth has been released to the masses, and I can happily report, the wait was more than worth it. South Park: The Stick of Truth is the most true-to-form realization of a licensed product that I’ve ever seen. Everything in the game just screams “South Park” and does so with hilarious intent.
The game follows the story of you, the new kid in town. As the mute protagonist, you immediately step out of your newly purchased home and are met with familiar sites in a fresh new way. This comes at the hands of Trey and Matt themselves, as it’s been highly publicized that this game was the first time the creators of the series had sat down and actually looked at the geography of the town they made. It’s a unique experience, finally seeing the layout of South Park, who lives where and where each iconic location stands in respect to the rest of town, and it all makes sense for the most part. Of course, Kyle, Stan and Cartman are next door neighbors, I don’t know why it never occurred to me that the reason these three, along with Kenny who we’ll get to in a moment, would becomes best friends is because they live directly next door to each other, but it all makes perfect sense once you see it. As for Kenny, he’s not far away either. Hilariously though, the McCormick home which is known for it’s impoverished state, is literally on the wrong side of the tracks, as it’s tucked away in the corner of town, bordered by a nearly hidden railway.
As for the story, immediately, you are brought into the war between friends as the children of South Park are engrossed in a very detailed game of fantasy, and a battle over the infamous Stick of Truth, which allows the owner to “control the universe”. One of the most endearing aspects of Stick of Truth is it’s empowering of children’s imagination. With everyday household items, these kids have carved out two warring factions of humans and elves, complete with wooden swords, bath-robe cloaks and a class system based on “magic” (see: farts) and heroism. You begin the game allied with Eric Cartman and the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (yes, that is abbreviated to the KKK, classic Cartman!), as he informs you of the war with the devious Drow Elves, led of course, by Kyle and Stan.
What follows is, and I say this without any intent of hyperbole, the most bat**** crazy video game story I’ve ever seen, complete with elves, humans, bum fights, aliens, talking poo, Jesus Christ, a homosexual BDSM enthusiast, paranoid parents, Mongol hordes, corrupt government, goth kids, bitchy girl feuds, 8-bit Canadians, former Vice Presidents with grudges against mythological creatures and much, much more. Or, everything you’ve come to expect from South Park. Much like the movie based on the series, the biting humor of South Park is made even more hilarious by the removal of censorship bleeps and black bars, allowing the player to see and hear everything Stone and Parker have written, which is a deviation from the Comedy Central series. Everything in this game pushes the limits of acceptable humor, and comes out side-splittingly funny on the other side.
In fact, many have called The Stick of Truth the funniest game ever made, and I cannot argue that claim even for a second. For long-time fans of the series, the jokes consistently nail the same level of satisfaction they’ve come to expect, and every aspect of the game has a reference of hidden joke for us to decipher. From the bedroom closets of every kid in town having treasure troves of referential visual humor, to RPG attack summons featuring iconic South Park characters and quests, both of the mainline story and side-quest variety, everything drips with comedic genius.
The game itself is of the same high quality as well. Obsidian took a Mario RPG approach to the mechanics of Stick of Truth, though even that wasn’t safe from mockery at the hands of Cartman, as one character complained about having to wait their turn to attack in this turn-based setting, Cartman quips “this is just how they used to do things, it’s stupid and slow but that’s how we’re doing it!”, which is actually anything but true. Yes, the turn-based RPG hasn’t carried favor with me in the past, but the integration of action and timing similar to the Nintendo and Square developed Mario RPG series gives the normally stale attack system a needed level of interactivity to keep fans interested.
Finally, it’s easy to see why this game is being touted as “just like the show” in terms of appearance. It is as close as we have come to getting a game based on a series that looks identical to the show. From character animations to the graphical style, everything has been painstakingly recreated to perfectly match the appearance of South Park, and aside from the closer camera angle during cut scenes, everything about the game is flawless in this area.
Combining everything with the game’s layout, story, humor and combat with the level of detail that’s here, as well as the few groups of collectible items that games have become known for to extend the life of a game, and you have the complete package any RPG fan could ask for. The length may leave some wanting more, though fans of the show could look at 14 hours of South Park as the perfect amount, which is what I see it as. Additionally, the game features a few minor annoyances in the form of momentarily frame rate bumps, though with the the true-to-series choppy animation style the game takes, it’s a little less annoying, and at times I had to force myself not to attempt to move my character too quickly out of a menu or looting as it would lead to me moving in the wrong direction, but these annoyances are minor at best.
South Park: The Stick of Truth isn’t a game for the overly sensitive, and is best suited for fans of the series. Luckily, I’m neither sensitive to offensive material and have spent the entirety of my adult life watching and laughing at Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Cartman, and am happy to say that this is the game I’d always imagined Matt Stone and Trey Parker creating as their masterpiece.