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   South Park: The Stick of Truth - Review  

Sweet, Guys! Seriously!
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PC
BATTLE SYSTEM
4
INTERACTION
5
ORIGINALITY
4
STORY
4
MUSIC & SOUND
5
VISUALS
3
CHALLENGE
Easy
COMPLETION TIME
Less than 20 Hours
OVERALL
4.5/5
+ Everything a South Park fan could hope for.
+ Great, interactive environment.
+ Lots of customization options.
+ Great use of music.
- Might be too crude for some.
- A bit too easy.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Much like the beloved TV show, South Park: The Stick of Truth is ridiculous, over-the-top, and crude. It's also painfully funny and just a little bit poignant. South Park has taken its shots at the world of video games before, but never with this kind of reverence. At the same time, the game is a celebration of seventeen seasons of the show, drawing references from fan favorites across the entire span of its run. Amazingly enough, the South Park stuff aside, it's actually a really good RPG as well.

   South Park: The Stick of Truth puts players in the role of the new kid in town. He and his parents just moved to the quiet, Colorado mountain town in order to get away from some bad thing that happened that he has conveniently forgotten about (just the first of many RPG tropes to get skewered in the name of satire). After being shooed out the door by his parents and told to go make some friends, he discovers that the children of the town are embroiled in what has to be the most amazing LARPing session of all time, all to decide who controls the miraculous Stick of Truth, which gives its bearer control over the universe. He naturally gets drawn into the game, but behind the scenes, the weirdness of South Park is at an all time high. Aliens, secret government organizations, underpants gnomes, nazis, zombies, nazi zombies, and Al Gore all threaten to bring the town to the brink of destruction, unless the new kid can become cool.

   It should come as no surprise that Stick of Truth looks and feels just like an episode of South Park. The game begins with a terrific character customizer that allows players to generate their own nine-year old kid in the South Park style. Some players may be disappointed to learn that only male characters can be created, but there are story reasons for this, and rest assured, the girls of South Park get their day in the sun as well. Similar to Fallout 3, the appearance of the new kid determines the appearance of his parents as well. The town of South Park has been faithfully recreated, including the vast majority of landmarks seen throughout the show's seventeen-season run, including Jimbo's Guns, Skeeter's Bar, City Wok, South Park Elementary, City Hall, and even Canada. The story possesses unique elements, but also draws from the show's history for events, side quests, and even the miscellaneous junk items that are scattered across the town. Players can discover weird keepsakes like STANground scauses, Okama Gamespheres, and if one ventures into the bedrooms of parents, a disturbing variety of adult toys. There's humor to be found in just about every corner of the game, and exploring the town is half the fun.

Whosoever holdeth the Stick of Truth controls the universe. Whosoever holdeth the Stick of Truth controls the universe.

   Of course, exploring South Park isn't as easy as it looks. There are a number of places the new kid won't be able to get to, at least not right away. There are locked doors that require keys to open, and rooftops and small spaces that require special abilities to access. In fact, the interactivity of the environment is one of the game's strongest aspects, and even plays a role in combat. By using the various special abilities at the new kid's disposal, as well as the special abilities of his friends, players can find multiple routes through the game's areas, and even make combat easier by defeating enemies beforehand, sometimes in surprisingly ridiculous ways. Of course, players can also choose to just fight the enemies head on, but doing so tends to be much harder than typical battles, and there's no tangible benefit to doing so, since players still gain experience regardless.

   Stick of Truth's combat involves simple but engaging turn-based battles reminiscent of the Paper Mario series. Near the beginning of the game, players can choose one of four classes — the fighter, the mage, the thief, and the jew — and each class has its own special skillset. Each class learns five special moves that can be used by consuming power points, and can spend points earned each level to upgrade their power. In addition, the new kid can also summon powerful beings like Jesus and Mr. Slave to assist in battle, and harness the magical power of... his farts. He can also bring a single ally into battle, though they can be switched out on the fly at the cost of a single turn.

   Once battle begins, combat takes place turn by turn, "just like in medieval times." The new kid and his ally can perform one healing ability and one attack ability each turn. All attack skills require some sort of timed button input to perform effectively, though they are mostly very easy to perform, and the ones that require a bit more finesse are still plenty powerful even if the player fails. Players also have to guard against enemy attacks by pressing the A button at the right moment, and although guarding tends to be a bit more difficult than attacking most of the time, it is thankfully also less important overall. Players can also utilize a number of highly useful (and very unique) status effects during battle. Unlike most RPGs, these status effects are easy to apply and many even work against bosses.

   Unfortunately, the game tends to be rather easy most of the time. This is partly compounded by the ease of which players can gain experience. The game caps out at level fifteen, and if players are ardent about completing side quests and exploring the town, the new kid will reach this cap well before the end of the game. The game is much more challenging in the first few hours than it is later on, despite an adjustable difficulty setting. That said, the ease of play is still dictated by successfully performing attacks in combat, and a string of bad inputs can quickly change the tide, right up until the end of the game.

The unfortunately named Kingdom of Kupa Keep. The unfortunately named Kingdom of Kupa Keep.

   Players can also collect a huge assortment of weapons, armor, augmentation items, and accessories like wigs, make-up, and glasses to further customize their character. The number of customization options are mind-boggling, so players should have no trouble making their character their own. Players can also get permanent passive bonuses to various combat functions by earning perks. Perks are earned by gaining facebook friends in the town; there are over a hundred characters to befriend, and finding them all can be a challenge in and of itself. Characters the new kid has befriended will even leave messages to read on Facebook, an additional benefit to finding them all.

   One of the most surprisingly excellent aspects of South Park: The Stick of Truth is its audio. The fantastic voice talents of Trey Parker and Matt Stone are certainly wonderful on their own, but an even greater surprise is the music. Not only are there some terrific orchestral pieces that help set the tone, the game is filled to the brim with the goofier songs from the series' history, often playing on radios scattered throughout the town or during particular battle sequences. Players can expect to hear classics like "Let's Fighting Love," "The Ballad of Lemmywinks," "Taco-Flavored Kisses," and even an 8-bit rendition of the Canadian National Anthem. Surprisingly, there's even a song from the latest season of South Park which only finished airing last fall.

   Some players may wish to be cautious, however, as even by South Park standards, Stick of Truth is particularly crude. Not since the 1999 film South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut has South Park pushed the boundaries of good taste as far as they have here. Players will engage in battle beneath the bodies of two people making sweet, sweet love, perform an abortion, and delve deep inside a man's rectum. There are alien anal probes and just about every bodily function imaginable, and anyone who is even remotely offendable should stay far, far away. (Editor's Note: In the EU version of the game, some of this content has been censored.) But despite that, the game takes a lot of terrific shots at the gaming industry and RPG trends, and just like Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was written to push the MPAA to its limit, Stick of Truth seems determined to put the ESRB through the same paces.

   But the best thing about South Park: The Stick of Truth is the little things that help bring the town to life. Fans of South Park are definitely not going to be disappointed, and fans of RPGs won't be either. Although the game is fairly short, clocking in at fifteen or sixteen hours on the high side, the quality of the experience is undeniable, and the humor and multiple classes give it a fair bit of replayability as well. And as Obsidian games go, it's also one of the most stable. I encountered one odd bug that caused characters' faces to disappear, but apart from that I didn't have a single issue. It took a while to get here, but the wait was well worth it: South Park: The Stick of Truth is sweet.

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