South Park: The Stick of Truth Review (PlayStation 3)
Despite all of the setbacks that hit South Park: The Stick of Truth in its development, it is finally here, and boy, does it deliver. With enough on-screen content to count as the eighteenth season of the animated series, The Stick of Truth does not hold back in delivering the infamous, over-the-top, satirical comedy we have come to know and love from 'South Park.' So let's join Cartman, Butters, Stan, Kyle, Timmy, Clyde, Mr. Garrison, Jesus, Mr. Slave, Randy Marsh and the rest of South Park's citizens and see how well Obsidian did in bringing this insane town to life.
Building upon the J.R.R.Tolkien-inspired episode, "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers," the boys of South Park, Colorado are once again draped in their homemade fantasy wear. Building on the "Black Friday" trilogy that ended the 17th season of the series, the boys have decided to abandon their quests for next-gen gaming consoles and are relying on a make believe story about a wooden stick acting as the ultimate weapon in the war between good and evil, which is originally set between Cartman's team of human warriors against Kyle's band of elves. Fans of the show should recognize that whenever the 'South Park' boys start things off with a simple children's game, things escalate to an R-rated, otherworldly adventure, and The Stick of Truth itself acts as this adventure's catalyst.
The most amazing thing about South Park: The Stick of Truth is just how much it adheres to the source material of the television series. While it easily could have just regurgitated jokes, exact locations and dialogue from the show's massive 17 seasons, in order to cash in on cheap laughs, The Stick of Truth does not. Instead, it expands beyond the show's familiar territory into something that feels like an organic, living and breathing version of the kooky town where anything can happen. Sure, we've seen the school, the playground, the houses, Canada and the rest of the locales featured on the show plenty of times, but everything in this game felt completely new while still capturing the essence of the series.
A great surprise is how well your voiceless, main character perfectly fits into the show's mythos. Due to the boys' juvenile personalities, your character never has the chance to speak, which perfectly taps into the 8- and 16-bit eras of role-playing games which featured silent protagonists. The silent protagonist trope is just one of many nods that South Park makes towards classic RPGs which Obsidian completely embraces, utilizes and parodies throughout The Stick of Truth. For example, the turn-based combat system is explained by Cartman by saying "that's how people used to do it back in the day," which is more of a direct nod towards old-school RPGs themselves instead of medieval/fantasy warfare. What's even more surprising, is how in-depth these RPG mechanics actually are, which builds into an intricate combat system that utilizes many old-school nuances. Surprisingly, the closest RPGs The Stick of Truth's mechanics remind us of are Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and the Paper Mario series. Now just imagine those classic styles of role-playing laced with ‘South Park's’ maniacal wit.
When we say that South Park plays like Paper Mario, we mean it - even the fighting and exploring both play like Mario's fantasy-based adventures. For example, if you seek to melee attack an enemy, you must press a corresponding button at a precise moment in order to maximize your character's damage. You even get a single companion which you can switch out before and during battle. While staying true to classic RPGs is one thing, like the show's gags, South Park runs with a small idea to the point of absurdity. In this case, it'd be its tribute to the role-playing genre. For example, the amount of jokes revolving The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim alone are numerous and hilarious. Nothing beats walking down the streets of South Park and finding out that the outside world's theme is Cartman singing a parody of a Skyrim-esque song with racial slurs mixed into it. Later on, you start being called "Dovahkiin," with the signature ‘South Park’ emphasis on forcibly mispronouncing the last syllable. Surprisingly, the magic spell aspect of The Stick of Truth is "Dragon Shouting." The hilarious part is Dragon Shouts are really farts, but with varying types, such as farting into your hand and throwing it at someone. One ongoing joke that had us dying was the "Gentleman's Code," which had a strict emphasis of never farting directly onto another man's genitals.
The best thing about The Stick of Truth's comedy is that you do not have to be a strict fan of the series in order to enjoy its jokes. If you're a longtime fan, you'll find yourself smiling and laughing at the plethora of references and Easter eggs filled throughout the game, such as Chef's songs on the radio to the “magic” story Butters tells us about Cartman's mom. The script's writing is so clean (wit-wise, not actually clean) that the jokes have enough context from the game's events so players who never watch the show would still be able to laugh, just as long as they're open to clever, ridiculous potty humor and raunchy, racist jokes. Surprisingly, the story of the game itself is original, visiting narrative areas that the show never did while making it fit ‘South Park's’ over-the-top lore perfectly (such as including Nazi zombies as enemies).
The controls and mechanics of South Park are solid enough to keep us thoroughly entertained even if this was a straight face RPG without the ‘South Park’ brand attached to it. Whether you want to play as a warrior, magician, thief or the fourth class (which we'll let you find out for yourself), the gameplay of South Park forces you to experiment and to try a little bit of everything for the sake of progression. Just because you chose a warrior class doesn't mean you should skip out on mastering your Dragon Shouts or try using a bow -- certain enemies have specific weaknesses which should be exploited for the sake of progression. The Stick of Truth does not take kindly to button mashers or people who think they can get through RPG fights by exclusively spamming melee attacks without changing up their methods.
Melee, archery and magic attacks all matter outside of combat as well. Projectiles can be used to destroy background items on the field screen that your character can't reach, your dragon shouts can set off explosions to clear paths or destroy enemies without resorting to combat and melee attacks are used in rather intuitive ways. By the time you reach the latter end the game (which takes roughly 15-18 hours depending on your sense of exploration and how good you are at the RPG mechanics of the combat system), the field use of these abilities remained fresh. You can also use your companions to help you in the world as well. Nothing had us laughing as hard as watching a cross-dressing Princess Kenny flashing his boy-chest at someone who didn't know any better about the female anatomy in order to distract them. Like the show, The Stick of Truth is very much out there and strictly intended for adults, despite the youth of the stars of the show.
By the end of The Stick of Truth, we were instantly clamoring to restart the game, choosing a different class and seeing how different the next playthrough would be. There are a multitude of Easter eggs and secrets to be found. While some of these are as simple as the plethora of junk items referring to the countless events of the television series, others are just completely out there for random laughs and cringes, such as opening a house's front door just to find a man committing bestiality with a horse. The randomness of South Park's comedy is completely unparalleled -- it is the funniest video game we have ever played, topping even Conker' Bad Fur Day and Deadpool.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of South Park: The Stick of Truth for PlayStation 3.