There are a few things in this industry that rarely ever work well, and one is licensed games. Licensed games from comedies have fared even worse, with the likes of Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse bringing even decent titles like The Simpson’s Game down with it. When South Park: The Stick of Truth was announced back in 2011, it was met with skepticism. Matt, Trey and Obsidian were trying to convert all 15 years of South Park into a video game, and an RPG at that. All of this skepticism was compounded by multiple delays, publisher changes, and very little seen from it for two years. Against all odds though, Obsidian managed to fart-out one of the finest licensed games and RPGs I’ve ever played.
I’m just going to preface this with an obvious fact: If you do not enjoy South Park, you likely will not enjoy this game. It is South Park through and through. The game is written and creatively guided by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as well as designed to look and feel like you are in an episode of South Park. Obisidian designed a special engine that replicates the iconic style of South Park in every aspect. On top of that, all of the game’s cutscenes were animated by South Park Studios in order to really make it feel like you are getting the complete South Park experience. On my first day of playing the game, my brother actually saw me playing and asked which episode I was watching.
The story is a classic South Park tale, with the boys playing as fantasy warriors fighting over a stick that controls the universe. Obviously, since it’s South Park, this concept goes over the top very quickly. This battle becomes about more than just a play fight over a stick, but a real battle for the entire quiet mountain town. You play as the new kid in town, and set out to merely make friends. From there, you will decide the fate of the war between humans and elfs, and much, much more.
The story simultaneously satires both pop culture and video game traditions. From item shops before a boss, to the silliness of turn-based combat systems, South Park pulls no punches on the medium it now embodies. One small gripe with the satire is that I worry it can become dated quite quickly. There are frequent references to games like Skyrim, and pop culture like Khloe Kardashian. Some of these references feel dated today, but I understand them as the game has been in development since 2011. The game is far stronger when referencing its own history, than the world’s culture.
Stick of Truth is a love letter to 16 years of South Park lore. Every aspect of the game is a reference of some form to the TV show. If you have a favorite moment in South Park, it’s referenced here. Love the ‘Good Times with Weapons?’ Laughed too hard at ‘The Snuke’? Do you hate those god damn City Mongolians? Did you go Chinpo-crazy for Chinpokomon? They are all here in some form or another. Obsidian, along with Matt and Trey, put the story at the forefront, and if you are a fan of South Park, you will feel at home. The hardest part about writing this is that I want to talk about so many of the moments, but discovering them is half the fun. I’ll just say if there is a line, South Park crosses it, and then some.
Since this is a South Park game, it is freaking hilarious. Disgusting, vulgar, and childish at times, but incredibly funny if you love South Park. You’ll battle the likes of hippies, rats with penises on their backs, bacteria inside of Mr. Slave’s anus, and Underpants Gnomes. Yea, you just read all of those correctly. These humorous enemies are merely a supplement to the excellent dialogue from all of South Park’s normal faces. Mr. Mackey, The Prince of Canada, The Goths, and many more fill the world with hilarious dialogue at every turn. Like some recent episodes of South Park though, some jokes get run into the ground near the end of the game, but the inclusion of new bits kept things fresh for the nine hour story.
As I said earlier, This Stick of Truth is an RPG at its core. As such, you can choose between four different classes: a fighter, mage, rouge or Jew. Naturally, I chose the Jew. Each class is built to suit each different play style, while the Jew felt like a good mix of the other three. On top of your class choice, you will also be able to decide which companion you want with you during most parts of the game. Your companions are Butters, Jimmy, Kenny, Kyle, Stan and Cartman. Each of the boys has unique abilities all their own, that can complement yours. If you are a fighter you may want Jimmy, the Bard, to buff your attacks or put your foes to sleep. If you are a Mage you may want Butters, the Paladin, along with you to be a damage dealer and healer.
The combat is a Final Fantasy-esc turn-based combat system, which then plays out requiring real time prompts. For example, with each attack, you must time button prompts, or stick movements in order to do higher damage, or strike more than once. I personally have never played a game with such a unique battle system that I was just plain floored by it. I’m guessing some JRPGs have a similar system, but I haven’t played any like it. It felt far more polished then I ever was expecting, and created some of my favorite combat in a recent game.
Each turn, players can use one item, and one attack. This allows for you to take big damage, but still survive in some of the game’s more difficult combat sections. Your attacks can be standard strikes or abilities, which can either buff your party’s abilities or damage your enemies. These abilities are imbued with the South Park humor, with names like Circumscthye and Jew Jitisu just for the Jew class alone. Naturally, as you level up you can choose to put skill points into one of your five abilities, but if you play as a Jew, put as many as you can into Cicumscthye, it becomes incredibly valuable in the late-game.
The final, and most powerful, weapon in your arsenal is farts. Farts as your power feels like such a natural fit for South Park that you will find yourself accepting the generally silly idea very quickly. The farts work as a supplement to your abilities, and can unleash some of the most deadly attacks on multiple foes. Farts can also be used to add extra strength to your normal attacks, but the fart meter does not recharge inbetween battles like the HP & PP meters, so use it wisely.
Being an RPG, players can choose between a litany of weapons and armor. These range from condom caps and Samurai armor, to Man-Bear-Pig Claws and Canadian Halberds. All weapons and equipment can also be equipped with “straps-ons”. The strap-ons give your weapon bonuses like being able to skip through a portion of an enemies armor to dealing burn damage on a perfect attack. They add an element of strategy to the your equipment choices, as different enemies may be more resistant to some elements. These are a common trope in RPGs, but calling them strap-ons still makes me giggle a bit whenever I read it.
My primary gripes with the game came in the form of its mini-games and puzzle solving. Often, due to the 2D nature of the world, it was hard to figure out how I was supposed to advance in a level. You have to carefully remember to use things like open flames combined with your farts, or searching for areas to shoot your bow at, to move forward, or else you’ll be sitting scratching your head for 15 minutes like I was. The mini-games had an over-reliance on button mashing. I won’t spoil what the mini-game was, but I had to watch a rather gruesome scene for nearly 20 minutes as I just could not mash the A button enough during a 10 second period.
The town of South Park is the hub world of the game. Players can explore the entire town, from Stark’s Pond to the community center, and all the way to Tweek Bros. Coffee. The town is chock full of references to the show, like Asses of Fire 2 3D playing in the theatres, Vote or Die playing in the lobby of the Photo Dojo. Players who search can find side missions galore, as well as the hunt down all of the Chinpokomon dolls. By completing the side quests, and just talking the town’s folk, you will gain more friends on Facebook. When you unlock more Facebook friends, you gain perk points, which work as passive upgrades for your characters. The Facebook pause menu also adds more references to South Park‘s rich history, oh and they’re all hilarious (especially when you befriend everyone’s favorite Vice-President).
Each line of dialogue was recorded by Matt, Trey and the rest of the normal South Park team, continuing to give the game a classic South Park feel. I also want to highlight the game’s score, which is surprisingly amazing. The overworld theme that plays as travel through the world is a beautiful mixture of Tolkien-esc fantasy with South Park mannerisms. In an honest surprise, I encountered no real technical issues. For anyone who has ever played an Obsidian game, they are normally horribly buggy, only partially working wrecks. Over the course of my 9 hour playthrough, I had no technical problems. Other sites like Kotaku have reported problems, but my Xbox 360 copy worked perfectly.
If you love South Park, then stop reading this review and go buy The Stick of Truth. It is the pinnacle of South Park games, and easily one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a good long time. The novel combat system, combined with a story crafted by Matt and Trey themselves creates a hilariously filthy experience. I want to go into more detail of just how raunchy the game can get, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Just don’t have any kids around while playing this one. If you don’t enjoy South Park’s humor though, you will not enjoy this game, plain and simple. I’m grading this game on the basis that I am a South Park, and RPG fan though, and at that, I cannot recommend the game enough.
Final Score: 5 out of 5
Editor’s Choice Award
By, Bobby Marquardt
Full disclosure: I completed this game in roughly 9 hours on Normal difficulty. I completed multiple sidequests as well as explored for collectibles. This review was completed on a retail copy of the game purchased from Gamestop for the Xbox 360.