As a fan who boasts watching South Park since it first aired back in 1997(seriously, I haven’t missed an episode on airdate since “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride”), South Park: The Stick of Truth was the game that I had been looking for since my 8 year-old self started imitating Cartman’s voice 17 years ago. After a decade of failed attempts at capturing South Park for the video game audience, The Stick of Truth was announced and seemed to be the approach that would finally live up to represent the show. The first person, snowball-throwing game was an abortion that came to life, and games like Chef’s Luv Shack and South Park Rally just didn’t do the franchise justice. In 2009, South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! was released, and it was arguably the first good game in the series’ history, but it was pretty shallow in terms of content. Finally, after 17 years, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (creators of South Park) worked on and released a game capable of living up to their standards for the show. Because of Matt and Trey’s heavy involvement in development of the game, The Stick of Truth is one of, if not the, best licensed games ever created.
The game begins as you, the new kid, move into town. Your parents share some discourse about why you have moved to the “quiet little mountain town” and they urge you to go make some new friends. Immediately, the world shows that it is South Park. The cutscenes look and feel exactly like the show, and even gameplay looks like the show with the camera pulled out a bit. As soon as you wander into town, you meet Butters as he battles with another child on the street. Punching the kid in the back of the head will save Butters and he will befriend you through the in-game Facebook equivalent. The entire Facebook-esque menu system is integrated as a way to upgrade your character and change his equipment. You’ll then follow Butters to the Kingdom of Koopa Keep aka Cartman’s backyard, where you will meet Cartman and begin to learn combat and choose your character class.
Combat in the game will feel very familiar for RPG players, but the tutorials help to explain it to those who have never touched the genre. This isn’t complicated Action-RPG stuff like in a modern Final Fantasy, but rather calls back to the battle systems of old RPGs with a bit of an active system in place. Your core attacks are launched and executed with timed button presses, while spells and farts are done in a similar fashion. If I had to compare the system here, I’d say it’s a nice blend of Final Fantasy, Costume Quest, and Fallout in some ways. Adventuring through the game will grant you new patches and strap-ons for your armor and weapons. These little patches will power you up and provide new ways to attack. For example, I ran through a decent part of the game with a dodge ball that had a fire patch on it. This allowed me to bounce a ball off of multiple enemies and leave them burning for several rounds lest they healed. There are so many combinations of weapons, secondary weapons, patches, and strap-ons that will change your character’s abilities as much as you can customize their look.
In addition to your own attacks, the game houses a buddy system that allows you to use a friend in combat. The further you go into the game, the more variety you have in choice of who to bring in, and you can swap them in and out at the cost of a turn in battle at any moment. These aren’t just any friend you make, but rather one of six core characters in South Park. They each have their own abilities that provide unique combat and more referential humor. Butters can transform into the all-powerful Professor Chaos, modeled as his appearance in “Good Times With Weapons.” Stan can call on Sparky to pee on the enemies. Kyle can “kick the baby” (don’t kick the goddamn baby!) and send Ike flying into the opponent. Each character has their own uses, and after some trial and error, I found myself sticking to a few who suited me best. There are also four summons in the game that you can unlock by doing sidequests. I won’t spoil them all here, but the one that has been shown off often is Mr. Slave. If you retrieve his package from the Post Office, you can gain his summon. Once per day, you can call that summon into battle, and in the case of Mr. Slave, he will launch into the air, pull down his pants, land on your opponent and swallow them into his ass- just like Paris Hilton.
Summons like Mr. Slave are just a taste of the endless references to the South Park lore. Everywhere you go, be it a house or a building or a random alley in town, is filled with a piece of South Park history be it blatant or obscure. I was elated when I opened Cartman’s closet to find his AWESOME-O costume, the Okama Gamesphere in a living room side table, a copy of “The Poop That Took a Pee” in Butter’s house, and Tom Cruise in Stan’s closet. Even casual fans should find humor in their findings, but someone like me will be blown away at the attention to detail throughout the game. Random weapons like the Batdadarang or the Mongorian Bow are just scratching the surface compared to how much fan service is in the game. Scuzzlebutt is inside of Jimbo’s Gun Shop, complete with Patrick Duffy leg. Alabama Man and Cyborg Bill dolls are found in garages. A complete Crab outfit can be found alongside the Crab People. Even more, every area feels appropriate to the characters and nothing is out of place. Kevin’s room is filled with Star Trek stuff. Token’s attic houses a bass guitar. Mr. Slave’s bedroom has monogram pillows for Big Gay Al. There are Chinpokomon hidden as collectibles everywhere. Again, I am barely scratching the surface here. Every building you enter has something from the show just playing in the background. In houses, the TVs will be playing the audio from “Terrance and Philip in Not Without My Anus” and shops around town are shuffling through songs like “Love Gravy” from the show. Not only is the combat solid, and the story great, but the level of detail and self-reference is the highest I’ve seen in any property ever. Ever.
The story in the game is much like any episode of South Park. The boys are playing an innocent game of what is essentially capture the flag with the titular stick, while something larger is looming in the background that winds up pulling the children into something they don’t understand. I feel like I can’t describe anything that happens without ruining a great moment in the game. And that’s what makes this game so perfect. There is no filler at all- at least for those who are fans of the show. Every moment is there for a reason and every little thing that happens makes so much sense both for the story and for the show. Even little jokes that make fun of how ridiculous video games can be are so fitting and will make you chuckle. I cannot take audio logs in games seriously anymore.
I think this game is exemplary for how to take a property and bring it into the video game medium. Even original game properties should look at this title as a reference on how to incorporate elements of a world to make it feel alive and real. Fortunately, South Park has 17 years of history to fill their world with, but they don’t do it in stupid ways. Everything here makes sense for the world. This is where the review gets difficult. I can’t say much else without ruining what is a wonderful experience. There are some lines of dialogue that will repeat in the background, and yeah there’s a hitch here and there while you wander about, but those things are so insignificant compared to what the rest of the game is. I can’t stress enough how perfect this game is. It’s really fun to engage in combat- or find new ways to avoid it entirely. Discovering hidden areas or finally seeing what Canada looks like is a joy. It’s almost difficult to pick a favorite scene because they are all so great.
I’ve hit the point where I’m rambling, and this review has lost its focus. I could go back and edit, and fine tune this and make you think that I’m some sophisticated guy with interesting opinions. I’m not doing that. This is the best representation of the show in video game form to date, and something that every property should strive to achieve. This game is what fans like myself have wanted for the show since we first started watching- to feel like the new kid in South Park, with all of its weirdness and charm. This is South Park. The only reason you shouldn’t play the game is if you absolutely hate the show. And well frankly, we don’t take kindly to your type around here.