South Park: The Stick of Truth Retroview

(NB — Publication date is estimated)

Freemium Isn’t Free

Licensed games have a bad reputation for a reason: while the occasional Knights of the Old Republic pops up, cheap cash-ins unworthy of anyone’s attention such as Ghostbusters on NES are far more common. South Park experienced a few of those early in its lifespan, and such examples as Chef’s Luv Shack or South Park Rally demonstrated that this property was quite vulnerable to the licensed game curse. South Park: The Stick of Truth fulfills the promise licensed games rarely achieve, complementing the experience of watching the show and being a blast to play. While it’s true that this game will have zero appeal to anyone who steers clear of South Park, everyone who is part of the fanbase and hasn’t yet experienced The Stick of Truth ought to do so at the earliest opportunity.

A new kid has moved into South Park, and is commanded to make friends outside by his father. This instruction promptly brings him into contact with Cartman, who is recruiting talent in a fight with the army of elves around town. The new kid, swiftly dubbed Douchebag by Cartman, gets to wander around helping Cartman’s forces to escape from after school work and detention. Along with these hijinks, events involving alien abduction and a sinister government cover-up under the auspices of Taco Bell also take place. Where the bizarre happenings would immediately draw attention in most other places, in the quiet mountain town of South Park they don’t feel too special.

The Stick of Truth‘s narrative covers three days in the new kid’s rapidly growing relationship with everyone in South Park and beyond. It manages to feel exactly like an extended trip through the show, crawling with references large and small to South Park‘s past. While the writing will not impress anyone who has never cared for South Park, it retains all the strengths of its license and is guaranteed to please all the existing fan base. Only quibbling about relatively minor use of certain characters is possible in terms of criticizing the plot developments, and staying raptly engrossed in what is happening on screen is a strong possibility until the game ends with the player thoroughly satisfied. One of its more noteworthy aspects is showing even more in the way of potentially offensive situations than the show without garnering the Adults Only rating kiss of retail death.

Surprisingly, there is no Hippy class for Cartman to reflexively hate.

Combat takes the form of turn-based encounters with considerable benefits for performing simple controller motions at the right time, similarly to numerous Mario RPGs. Regular enemies are visible while exploring and can be avoided, while mandatory encounters are also visible and often come with a means of using the environment to knock out adversaries before battle begins. The new kid is joined by one of an eventual six characters from the show such as Jimmy and Kyle, each of whom will help pass the time by commenting upon delays in selecting the next action if it is not rapidly undertaken. An unusual touch is the ability to use an item prior to attacking during a turn, along with having no defense option — instead, properly timed input will decrease damage from a strike. Surviving in combat demands reasonably reactive reflexes for pressing the correct button to enhance an attack or counter enemies, but at the lowest difficulty the game will be merciful. The difficulty can be changed at any time, and certain bosses put up a good fight even at the lowest challenge.

One aspect of The Stick of Truth that could be emulated by other high-profile games is its fairly short length. Completing everything possible in the game will take around fifteen hours, though a replay using a different class for the new kid is quite interesting, and several points allow choices to be made with entertaining consequences. The Stick of Truth throws new scenarios and opponents at the player constantly, never letting any locale last long enough to get boring. This is a slight drawback for some areas with unique finds that can never be returned to, but frequent saves can ameliorate the issue. Combat varies throughout and a host of interesting diversions appear, from getting a makeover to having an alien teleportation device lodged in a bodily orifice.

Its interface is another strength of the game, allowing quick and easy access to all necessary functions via the controls. Necessary information is displayed when considering any new equipment or upgrade, and all options in combat are clear about their purpose and best method of use. The only annoyance comes from a tendency of fallen enemies to drop usable items such as Chipotle burritos, because the game places a limit of ten on anything that can be deployed in a battle and going above that number is easy. This annoyance is minimal when items that cannot be held remain on the screen until the player can come back for their retrieval.

Taking advantage of Butters for personal gain and/or pleasure is also possible.

Four classes are available at the game’s start from which the new kid may select, and the choice made affects how the protagonist plays a great deal. Each class comes with unique special moves in battle, and the enormous gamut of weapons to be found often come with their own unique effects. The Stick of Truth‘s version of magic comes courtesy of farts, which gain great power as the narrative progresses and provoke a reaction from everyone in whose presence they are deployed on the street. In addition to the profusion of usable equipment, even larger quantities of appearance-altering items such as freckles and bald caps will be found. These do nothing except alter how the new kid looks, but the amount of aesthetic alteration on offer is impressive.

Looking like South Park may not be a great graphical achievement, but this game nails its license’s visual presentation. It looks exactly like the show in its environments and characters, while the new kid and every other fresh face fit in perfectly. The wealth of customization options for the new kid are all represented with a unique visual, and the variety of combat animations is captivating. It may not strain current hardware to deliver visuals in the show’s aesthetic, yet rare is the licensed title that so effectively represents its source.

Every bit of voice acting in The Stick of Truth is performed by the show’s cast, and it heightens the verisimilitude. Most of the music is also taken straight from the show, with the indoor ones appearing in the form of short tunes and excerpts from TV and movie moments heard throughout the show’s run. Outdoors the music is mostly from the Black Friday trio of episodes, though a particularly effective rendition of an Academy Award-nominated song from Bigger, Longer & Uncut shows up. The original combat compositions are effective at energizing the player, though they are often (by design) outshone by frequent amusing vocal interjections from the participants.

While I can’t see it swaying the views of anyone who has never liked South Park, this game’s existence refutes the notion that all licensed titles are quick cash-ins. I actually got every Achievement for The Stick of Truth, a feat I had never before accomplished and am unlikely to succeed at in the future. The Fractured but Whole is on the way, and the most recent seasons of the show have given plenty of extra material for future games beyond that one. Provided the same care that went into this title is used again, I see no reason South Park can’t continue indefinitely.

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'Excellent' -- 4.5/5

Completely nails the license

Worthwhile, engaging combat

Keeps introducing new, crazy things

Easy to miss some bits

Unlikely to appeal to non-fans

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