- Editor's Rating
- Wonderfully faithful to the South Park cartoon
- Classic RPG setup that's easy to pick up and play
- Gleefully irreverent
- Core systems and jokes start to wear thin by the game's end
- Some technical hiccups
- Very not-funny to the wrong person
Quick TakeSouth Park: The Stick of Truth is one giant episode of the beloved show, bolstered by a light RPG that holds its own. If you think series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are funny, you will enjoy what they've helped create here.
South Park: The Stick of Truth understands how to make good use of a license. Like the Batman: Arkham series before it, The Stick of Truth realizes that most of its players are in this for the property before the game. To satisfy those fans, the vets at Obsidian have crafted a simple, sturdy role-playing game that mostly stays out of the way and gives ample room for South Park creators/TSoT writers Matt Stone and Trey Parker to do their thing. And, per usual with those guys, it’s a riot.
The “game” part of The Stick of Truth is pretty straightforward. It’s very much a throwback to the classic RPGs that graced the Super Nintendo back when Stone and Parker were in college, like a cross between early Final Fantasy, Paper Mario, and Earthbound.
So, true to form, you create your own hero, and you get four separate starting classes to choose from. You fight in turn-based combat, level up, and traverse a world map filled with shops, inns, side quests and secrets. You fight enemies in a static battle arena based on the level you’re in, and you get a rotating party of allies, each with their own class and skill set. You find loads of ever-improving weapons and armor as the game goes on, and you upgrade that equipment with various stat boosters and status effects.
You use potions to heal and defend yourself. You use elemental magic. You debuff enemies. You call on summons. You get ‘limit break’-esque special abilities. You scavenge and sell loot. You fight bosses and sub-bosses. You spend a good deal of time in menus, optimizing your equipment. This is all familiar territory for anyone versed in the genre.
This isn’t some Mass Effect or Fallout sort of deal, where you’re given an action game as much as you’re given a role-playing one. This is a full-on, old-school RPG that isn’t shy about wearing its influences’ age on its sleeve. If you’re into all of this, you’ll like it here. That’s the theme for this game.
Now, Obsidian streamlines much of this formula – combat isn’t truly turn-based, for instance, and relies on timed button presses when you want to attack and block – and strips it down enough to make it comprehensible to most any South Park fan. There’s some light depth to tinkering with your loadouts, but this game is “tactical” in the loosest sense of the word – use heavy attacks to break enemies’ armor, buff yourself up, deploy a few of your allies’ super attacks and you’ll always be fine. It’s never particularly difficult either.
Taken on its own, it’s a pleasurable if unremarkable piece of role-playing. But this is still the kind of game that isn’t pumped out by AAA console publishers too often nowadays. It’s oddly refreshing in that way, despite its “RPG 101” format.
The Stick of Truth’s real hook, though, is taking this innocent, inoffensive setup and filtering it through the filthy, totally offensive madness of the South Park universe. Surprisingly enough, the show lends itself to this style of game very well. The whole thing moves in 2D, and you bounce along from one single, static room to another rather than traversing a more wide open map. That the game flawlessly recreates the show’s “digital construction paper” aesthetic helps too.
All of that works on multiple levels. It makes the game marvelous to look at, for one, since playing it is akin to watching one giant episode of the show. At the same time, Obsidian can create its Earthbound-esque classic RPG without having to mess with South Park’s trademark style and format. It’s impressive to see a game like this work in such harmony with the license it’s using.
But The Stick of Truth is still Stone and Parker’s show, and most of its magic comes from seeing just how they adapt different aspects of the South Park universe to Obsidian’s RPG mold.
The “Humans vs. Elves” conflict that makes up the core of the game, for instance, is really just a game of pretend between “Wizard King” Cartman and “Elven King” Kyle. Their kingdoms are just their backyards. None of the kids actually die so much as they just pretend to be knocked out. The weapons, armor and add-ons they use are things that they could actually get their hands on, stuff like football helmets and lighters and toy swords. They adhere to the turn-based rules of the D&D-style LARP they’re playing, but they still whine and tell you to hurry up when you’re taking too long to pick your move.
Towards the beginning of the game, Cartman gives you the option to choose one of four classes: fighter, mage, thief, and Jew (which focuses on long-range attacks and debuffing). Your allies range from Butters the Paladin to Jimmy the Bard to Princess Kenny. Your summons range from City Wok owner Mr. Kim to Jesus. Your quest givers range from Al Gore to Mr. Hankey. You use tacos and Cheesy Poofs as health potions. ManBearPig is an optional boss. Gingers are common enemies. Your main menu is a Facebook page. Your magic is farts.
Yes, the amount of fan service here is off the charts. Go into Cartman’s room and you’ll see his AWSOM-O robot suit and Faith +1 myrrh album. Head into Tweek Bros. Coffee and you might hear “I’ve Got Something In My Front Pocket” or Jennifer Lopez playing in the background. The references might as well be endless, but they’re all woven into different aspects of the game in a manner that doesn’t feel forced.
Everything still plays like a traditional RPG, but seeing how The Stick of Truth‘s tropes get South Park-ified is half of its fun. It successfully replicates the show’s trademark blend of cuteness and vulgarity — this really is South Park, as simple as it sounds.
If you’re one of the millions who tune into the show every week, you’re going to be in heaven here. That’s a testament to both the South Park team for finding a way to tie so much of the series’ history into the game, and to Obsidian for creating a functional underlying framework that allows that content to shine.
Let’s be clear, though: If you’re not already buying what South Park is selling, The Stick of Truth really, really isn’t concerned with changing your mind. Free from any Comedy Central-imposed restraints, Stone and Parker are at their bawdiest here, taking you everywhere from a spaceship loaded with anal probing aliens, to an abortion clinic infested by zombie fetuses, to the insides of at least one character’s sphincter. You do things here that just aren’t done by most, if any, other games.
It’s all self-consciously absurd, and the game’s willingness to obliterate any and every social taboo had me howling numerous times. The language is foul and the scatological humor is frequent, but as with the show, the jokes almost always have a thoughtful edge to them.
Stone and Parker are still going after everything and everyone under the sun, and as someone who likes the show, this all worked for me. Watching The Stick of Truth tee off on the normalized inanity of gamey cliches like the silent protagonist (your created character has literally no personality), collectible audiologs, and quick time button presses was particularly delightful. There’s genuine soul and insight to be found in the midst of this madness — a quality that, again, echoes the experience of watching South Park, the show.
But this isn’t going to fly with everyone. The people who already don’t find Stone and Parker funny are going to actively hate them by the end of The Stick of Truth‘s 10-12 hour runtime. The game underneath all the irreverence is good, but it’s not good enough to save the easily offended from being easily offended. It’s really that black and white.
In general, those who aren’t familiar with the show and its world just aren’t going to get everything that’s going on and why they should be laughing at it. Watching Butters yelp “oh hamburgers” when he’s defeated makes me cackle without fail, but it’s not going to make as much sense to the unfamiliar. Such are the ups and downs of creating a piece of fan service.
There are some minor nitpicks to note. The game moves quickly and is paced about as well as it could be, but its brevity (relative to most RPGs) starts to feel like a necessity towards its end. Your quests eventually turn into a stream of “go here and find X” fetch quests, and overpowering your way through battles gets easier and easier as the game goes along. Once you near the game’s level cap, the combat’s sense balance dies out, and you’ll have found a formula that lets you blow your way through every fight.
From a technical standpoint, there’s some pretty consistent hitching when you’re traversing the map too quickly. The main menus could stand to be a little more streamlined too; as it is now, you’ll spend too much time manually equipping and unequipping items and scrolling through your marginally helpful world map.
Like any good South Park episode, the plot here has its twists and turns, and it manages to weave in just about a staggering number of characters from the series’ decades-old history. The jabs at everyone from the CIA to Twitter to Taco Bell are funny and pointed, but they’re expected if you’re familiar with Stone and Parker’s take on the world. And ultimately, this is a story that could be told in a third of the time.
The central joke – you’re a fourth-grader playing make-believe – is charming, but it gets hammered home repeatedly. So do the farts. (You’re going to hear a lot of farts.) You get the feeling that The Stick of Truth relies more and more on the novelty factor of “being in South Park” as everything else starts to run out of steam.
None of that is enough to derail what The Stick of Truth is going for, though. As hackneyed as the phrase is, this is the ultimate “fans of the series” game – if you like South Park, everything here is functional, fun, and funny enough for this to be a dream come true. If you don’t, you’re going to be disgusted by the third time Randy Marsh’s anus is probed. And if you’re in between, you’ll get a breezy RPG that will make gag and belly laugh in equal order. Either way, The Stick of Truth is a game that’s true to its source.
South Park: The Stick of Truth was reviewed with a pre-release copy provided to NotebookReview by Ubisoft. It is currently available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.