Do you remember that day you received your first video game console? How about that time you discovered a secret stage that none of your friends knew about? Those days of being so excited for the latest iteration in a long-running series, only to be disappointed or have your expectations exceeded beyond your wildest dreams. That is what the Video Gamer’s Experience is all about. Now lets take a trip down this electronic memory lane.
Where were you on February 3, 1998? That’s probably a hard question for many of you to answer (especially if you weren’t born yet). But I remember that date distinctly. On that day I was in my junior high/middle school cafeteria seeing a guy one grade higher than me wearing a shirt depicting this fat kid screaming the word, “Beefcake!” By asking my upperclassman I would come to find out who this kid on his shirt was and what cartoon it came from. One night later, I watched my first episode of “South Park” (the “Damien” episode that featured the son of Satan coming to Earth while his father threw a boxing match against Jesus to win a bunch of Christ-doubters’ money).
And from that moment on, I was a fan of what would become Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s (the show’s creators) most critically acclaimed body of work. Sadly for those that happened to be video game enthusiasts who wanted to enter the animated world of South Park, Colorado-turned-virtual, the idea didn’t pan out like many wanted. From first-person shooters to go-cart racers just didn’t capture the magic of what was seen on Comedy Central Wednesday nights. So when the announcement was made that another “South Park” game was being made, many fans rolled their eyes with visions of blocky-shaped cardboard cutout-like characters dancing through their heads.
Instead of just giving their license to a video game studio to create whatever they had in mind, Stone and Parker contacted Obsidian Entertainment with their idea of a role playing game based off of their infamous series. After five years since the initial conversation between creators of different forms of multimedia, the digital experience was finally released; and this video gaming “South Park” fan couldn’t wait to play the fruits of true labor.
Did I Complete “South Park: The Stick of Truth”
As noted above, the latest attempt at making a “South Park” video game looked to the favorite genre of the series’ creators to finally achieve greatness. Rather than choose one of the show’s main adolescents (Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman), the player is a given a chance to create their own character that is introduced to everyone as “The New Kid”; though you are given a chance to “change” the mostly silent character’s name before learning the point of your character becoming the focus of everyone’s attention. Doing their best imitation of “Game of Thrones” (a “South Park” season seventeen reference), the illustrious “stick of truth” once handled by the Cartman-led group of warriors had been stolen; and now it’s up to The New Kid to get the stick back.
You quickly get a chance to try out the game’s turn-based battle mechanics that are incredibly similar to the timed-based attacks of previous RPGs “Paper Mario”, “Legend of Dragoon” and “Lost Odyssey”. After getting a hang of what you can and can’t do in battle, The New Kid picks a “class” (Warrior, Mage, Thief or Jew) that he or she will be stuck with for the game’s majority while waging war across the quiet little mountain town.
And wage war these little troublemakers do. In the fourteen hours of my first play through, I had the chance to pretty much do everything. I completed the main story, finished all of the optional side quests, collected the various collectibles, befriended every available character and even reached the max level cap before the game’s third act began. With an achievement/trophy list that seemed relatively easy to complete, I started a new game and plowed through the story in a little over eight hours; earning all of the trophies and experiencing several small moments that I would’ve never known about without a guide. Pretty much I took “South Park” for all its worth.
Did “South Park: The Stick of Truth” Live Up to the Hype?
With the series’ creators at the helm of a reportedly extensive script, many fans of both video games and “South Park” the television series believed this would be the definitive virtual experience when it comes to recreating the Colorado town. And the work put in to create that aforementioned, yet hopeful experience shows in full when you crank up the game for the first time. “The Stick of Truth” looks just like an episode of “South Park” to the point that people who have seen a cut scene playing ask what episode I was watching. Not only that, but the actual town has been painstakingly mapped out so that you can see what the series has been building for years upon years (and beyond).
But visuals will only get you so far. Being comedic in nature, one of the biggest necessities when it comes to this game is that it has to be funny. And just like “South Park” the show, “The Stick of Truth” will force laughs out of you from the simplistic release of bodily fluids during battles to Eric Cartman’s not-so-subtle racism coming out to shine thanks to a foul-mouthed special attack during battle. Depending on what country you live it, “TSOT” is uncensored and goes above and beyond where the television show ever could; from dropping f-bombs to literally performing abortions. To cap off the absurd humor is a certain love letter to longtime fans who have enjoyed the television series from the beginning. Almost everything (be it characters, items, or longstanding storylines) is referenced one way or another. Seriously, there’s a side quest to collect underpants. For fans of “South Park”, you can probably guess why.
As noted above, the gameplay itself is strong by taking an inspiration from great RPGs before it. You can’t sleep your way through physical confrontations and hope to succeed thanks to the button-timed attacks and defenses that make the battle system what it is. As you move further along in the game and complete certain side quests, you gain new abilities and even summon attacks (remember that episode with Paris Hilton, and how Mr. Slave had to stop her from destroying the impressionable minds of young girls?). You can also add strap-ons and patches to your weapons and armor respectively in an effort to make your equipment more effective in combat (i.e. make an enemy vomit uncontrollably between rounds thanks to the “gross +15” strap-on).
But the battle mechanics aren’t completely polished. There are times when the blocking window varies and can cause you to get hit even if you’re paying attention. When also referencing the game’s battle system, one has to examine the class system implemented in the game. Quite frankly, the class system in “Stick of Truth” isn’t that impressive. Yes, depending on what class you pick you attain different special attacks, but that’s really it. Every class has the same perks (extra abilities to strengthen your character in battle), can equip mostly the same armor and weapons, and become a powerhouse no matter what. Without much of a challenge, the “The Stick of Truth” is a breeze to play through. While that might not read like much of a problem, for RPG fans this lacking difficulty (no matter the setting) can be frustrating as you’re never really tested, nor have to formulate meaningful strategies in hopes of surviving the game’s tougher battles. During my twenty-plus hours with the game, I only saw the “Game Over” screen once (curse you, Al Gore).
There are also user interface problems. You know all of those “love letter” items mentioned earlier? Well, there is no way to organize each item, causing the screen (be it “weapons”, “armor” or even “hair”) to become a cluttered mess where you will be skipping up and down a potentially gigantic list to find the item you have in mind. But there’s nothing more problematic with the game than an apparent lack of information. Following the quick opening tutorial, the player is thrown to the proverbial (and later literal) wolves with the belief he or she would take the time out to scroll through the text walls never acknowledged on the menu screen.
Beyond battle problems and a poorly structured user interface, “TSOT” doesn’t warrant a second play through unless you’re a trophy/achievement hunter or you really like hearing the same jokes again. In less than fifteen hours, the player can do practically everything and have no reason to come back for another round.
Should You Play “South Park: The Stick of Truth”
Though there are a few negatives attached to this game, “South Park: The Stick of Truth” is essentially the experience all of us “South Park” fans have wanted since day one. It’s funny, crude, obnoxious, clumsy, and even a little frustrating (especially when trying to figure out what’s the point of certain items). It has a pretty strong combat system that never gets boring even if the steep challenge seen in most games of the genre isn’t there. For longtime fans of the series, the game is a must-play even if you don’t like RPGs (I don’t know why, but to each his/her own). More than likely people who haven’t watched the show before or gave up on it years ago will find something to laugh at while exploring hobo-filled sewers while searching for talking feces. Do yourself a favor and head on down to South Park. I truly believe you’ll have yourself one incredible time (even if it is for a short while).