South Park has always been a dubious franchise for video game adaptation.
By Samantha Emann, special to the Times-Herald
In 1998, Acclaim Entertainment attempted to capture the popularity of the series in a game simply sharing the title of the show. That game was a first person shooter (FPS) that had some traction, but ultimately only among the South Park fandom.
Over a period of 13 years, four more games followed: a party game called Chef's Luv Shack, a racing title called South Park Rally, and two others. They were tough sells, with the possible exception of South Park Let‚Äôs Go Tower Defense Play!, which would have been a hard game to screw up because it was a tower defense title.
When South Park: The Stick of Truth was announced, fans were anxious. Would it become the first truly good title in the series, or would it fail like the others?
The Stick of Truth is the franchise‚Äôs first foray into the role-playing game (RPG) genre, and the first title to heavily involve showrunners Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It blends addictive turn-based party combat and open world exploration with all of the humour and insanity of the television series.
The story is relatively simple. The player takes on the role of the New Kid, an individual who has just recently moved to South Park with his family and, like many video game protagonists, suffers from amnesia.
The New Kid quickly falls in with a group including Butters, Kenny and Cartman, and joins in on their game, which is an imagined quest to protect the titular Stick of Truth from an enemy kingdom of kids including Kyle, Stan and Jimmy, called the Drow Elves.
My personal favourite character, Cartman ‚ÄĒ whom I quote more regularly than I should admit ‚ÄĒ is the leader of the group.
But the game quickly spirals out of control, and soon the stakes become much higher for the citizens of South Park.
Gameplay is relatively simple. The New Kid explores the game world, consisting mostly of South Park and its outskirts, but also a brief foray into Canada in an open world view.
When the New Kid and an enemy character interact in the open world, they enter turn-based combat reminiscent of any Final Fantasy title. Actions performed in the open world can also impact combat, including ‚Äústunning‚ÄĚ enemies or removing them from the field entirely.
More than a video game, Stick of Truth is an interactive instalment of the television series ‚ÄĒ and this reviewer is fine with that.
The New Kid is assisted by an ally in combat, selected from a pool including characters like paladin Butters and Princess Kenny. These characters come with their own skills and abilities tied to their class.
The simplicity of the combat system (and the game in general) is a welcome feature at first because it allows players to become immersed in the story. But that simplicity also hinders it as you get further into the game and expect it to get more challenging.
The Stick of Truth is as satirical an entry into the South Park canon as any episode of the series, and equally as violent and hilarious as the 1999 film. In that respect it‚Äôs worth playing for the story alone.
However, as the story expands and the emphasis is placed more heavily on the impact of gameplay to the narrative, that formula quickly becomes repetitive.
Also, there aren‚Äôt enough skills available to individual classes, and too linear a storyline, to make Stick of Truth truly replayable.
Still, the game is well constructed and entertaining on a first pass, and well worth giving a look for fans of the television series or old-style RPGs such as Final Fantasy.
I think this is the first game where I actually laughed out loud and looked forward to the character interactions and scenes a little bit more than actually playing the game, at times.
I am normally one to champion very detailed and flashy graphics but the basic animation the show is known for works just as well in the game format and enhances the game rather than lessens it.
More than a video game, Stick of Truth is an interactive instalment of the television series ‚ÄĒ and this reviewer is fine with that. I think fans of the long-running show will be too.
You can reach Samantha Emann by e-mail.