Game Corner [South Park’s Anniversary]: South Park: The Stick of Truth (Xbox One)


South Park first aired on 13 August 1997 (yes, I know, I’m a day early but I have another post scheduled for tomorrow so sue me) and, since then, has seen a feature-length animated movie, twenty-five seasons (and counting), and a slew of awards and accolades. I remember, as a kid, staying up late to watch the first episodes on Channel 4 and the show’s crude humour, satirical nature, and endlessly quotable jokes and one liners have kept me hooked ever since, to the point where I would probably consider South Park to be one of the best and most consistently entertaining adult animated shows I’ve ever seen.


GameCorner

Released: 13 February 2018
Originally Released: 4 March 2014
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Also Available For: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360

The Background:
Back in 1992, Matt Stone and Trey Parker took some glue, construction paper, and an old 8 mm film camera and created The Spirit of Christmas, a short animated film in which four young boys accidentally bring to life a killer snowman. A Fox Broadcasting Company executive then commissioned the duo to create a follow-up short, Jesus vs. Santa, in 1995, which quickly became one of the first viral videos and led to the commission of a full series airing on Comedy Central. Originally entirely hand-animated, the duo (now joined by team of around seventy employees) soon switched to replicating their cardboard cut-out aesthetic using computers and managed to produce episodes within just a few days to stay right on the pulse of current events. Since then, South Park has expanded not just in its animation and cast but also into a whole host of other media, however South Park’s history with videogames has been…tumultuous, to say the least. Unlike previous games inspired by the show, The Stick of Truth was created with the direct involvement of Stone and Parker, who insisted that this new title actually mirrored the look of the show and would be a role-playing adventure game that utilised the duo’s script and ideas.

South Park had a number of videogame spin-offs, most of them ugly and pretty bad.

Unfortunately, however, the game ran into difficulties after THQ (who had agreed to help work on the game) filed for bankruptcy in 2012; the rights to the game were then bought by Ubisoft, who delayed the game’s release date to make significant changes to its direction. South Park: The Stick of Truth finally released in March 2014; although the game was heavily censored in Europe, it became the best-selling game available within its first week of release here in the United Kingdom and, by February 2016, had shipped over five million copies. Reviews were generally favourable, despite some criticism of the game’s mechanics, but the game performed well enough to earn a sequel in 2017. I, personally, first played through The Stick of Truth on the PlayStation 3 and loved its simple, yet surprisingly deep mechanics, its graphical fidelity to the source material, and its outrageous sense of humour so I jumped at the chance to cash-in a free download code for the Xbox One version to relive the original title in all its sardonic glory.

The Plot:
A new kid has moved to South Park and quickly finds himself drawn into a fantasy role-playing game the kids are playing involving control of the all-powerful “Stick of Truth”. However, after an alien spacecraft crash-lands in the small mountain town and toxic waste from the ship begins infecting citizens and wildlife, the new kid and his newfound friends suddenly find themselves embroiled in a very real fight for their very lives!

The Gameplay:
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a 2.5D, sidescrolling action/adventure game with heavy elements of role-playing mechanics and an emphasis on story, character interactions, side quests, and acquiring new weapons, armour, and buffs. When you first start the game, you’re tasked with creating your avatar, the otherwise-entirely-silent “New Kid”; here, you’re given a few options to customise the New Kid’s hair, skin tone, clothing, and other elements before you’re thrust into the game’s story and tasked with exploring the quiet little mountain town of South Park.

Customise your avatar and choose from four classes, each with their own unique abilities.

Luckily, you live next door to one of my favourite characters in the series, Butters Stotch, who introduces you to Eric Cartman and the game the kids are playing; a role-playing fantasy game very much inspired by the likes of Dungeons & Dragons. As a result, you’re quickly asked to pick from one of four classes: Fighter, Thief, Mage, and Jew. While each has its own specific abilities, positives, and negatives, weapons and armour and such aren’t limited to each class so you can pick a Fighter and still focus on Mana-based attacks like a Mage if that’s your bag. However, unlike in the sequel, you cannot switch or mix and match classes in this game so, once you pick a class, you’re locked into it for the rest of the game.

Be sure to explore thoroughly before a new day starts or else you might miss collectables.

Stick of Truth divides its story up into days, rather than chapters; you’re free to explore the town as much as you wish but certain areas and houses and such are either locked or barred off until you complete story quests, side quests, or learn new fart-based magic. As a result, it’s entirely possible to explore a good percentage of the town on the first day, meeting people and getting side quests going, uncovering loot and as much as you possibly can before night falls and you enter certain areas that can’t be revisited. This means it’s advisable to explore every inch of your environment in case you miss something because you might not be able to go back and grab it when the sun rises.

Combat is a simple, but surprisingly deep, affair.

The game has a difficulty slider for you to utilise but there are no Achievements associated with playing the game on a harder mode so the only reason you’d turn this is up is if you found the game’s combat too easy. And, to be fair, that’s entirely possible; as you explore, you’ll come up across fellow kids, rabid dogs, drunken vagrants, and Nazi zombies (you know, the usual) around town; you can easily bypass them but then you won’t earn experience points (EXP) or level-up. Luckily, though, you can strike them on the overworld to gain an advantage in combat. Battles take place on a traditional 2.5D battlefield and are entirely turn-based; you can wait as long as you like to take your turn without fear of being attacked, which is nice, and can select your character’s abilities or use an item as well as cast magic or attack, meaning you generally always have the advantage. Battles usually boil down to selecting an attack and pressing either A, X, Y, rotating the analogue stick, mashing buttons, or a combination of all of these elements to land attacks. Before you strike, your weapon will flash; pressing the right button at this time will unleash a stronger attack, or allow a combination of moves to be performed. It’s pretty simple to get the hang of and you can buff your attacks with equipment patches and farts to deal additional damage.

Each of your buddies has their own attacks and abilities to help you in and out of battle.

Generally speaking, though, combat comes down to how easily you adapt to the wheel-based menu (which can be a bit janky at times) and how accurate you are at pressing A; when an enemy attacks, you’ll have a small window to press A to defend yourself and reduce the damage done to you or keep yourself safe from status effects. This window can be very small at times so you’ll need to have your wits about you but, luckily, you are joined by a number of buddy characters in battle who have abilities and capabilities of their own (or act as a punching bag, if necessary). Butters, for example, can heal you without you having to waste an item, while Kenny McCormick continuously resurrects after death and Kyle Broflovski can increase your attack power. Additionally, you can switch your buddy at any time in battle at the cost of a turn, instantly allowing you to have a fresh buddy ready to lend a hand.

You can inflict multiple status effects on your enemies to aid you in battle.

Combat is simple to learn, easy to master, and fun to experience; with patches and perks, you can make your character incredibly overpowered in a very short period of time, dealing multiplier status effects to your enemies (such as bleeding, burning, and grossing them out), regenerating health (HP) or Power Points (PP), and dealing additional damage or upping your abilities or defences. It’s pretty easy to double up these effects with the natural abilities of your weapons to wipe out your enemies, even when they armour up or reflect and deflect your ranged or melee attacks.

Interact with your environment to take out enemies quickly and efficiently.

The New Kid has quite a few resources at his disposal to make things even easier as well; often, you can shoot or fart on objects in the overworld to either damage or defeat enemies and you can learn various types of fart-based magic to open up new areas or aid you in battle. These are sometimes cumbersome, however, as they require some tricky or imprecise movements of the right analogue stick to pull off and are made even more inconvenient by the fact that your Mana Meter doesn’t automatically refill after a battle like your HP and PP. This means that you have to buy and consume Mana-restoring food to keep it up (but not too high, lest you shit your pants in battle); luckily, though, as I said, HP and PP are restored and all status effects wiped away once a battle ends, allowing you to keep HP and PP restoring items for the more difficult boss battles.

Use your hard-found cash to buy weapons, armour, and other wares.

As you explore South Park, it’s recommended that you attack and interact with everything you see to find new armour, patches, weapons, items, junk, and cash. Fittingly, the game’s money is measured in small amounts; you’ll generally find a few cents lying around and resources only cost a few dollars or so but you can sell your useless junk or unwanted items to make more money. When you venture to Canada, though, you’ll have to contend with their higher prices and exchange rate but I never found myself strapped for cash or wanting for resources; if your inventory is full, you can usually return to the item chest or location and pick up whatever you couldn’t carry later on if you really want to.

The New Kid gains numerous abilities to help him progress further and access new areas.

The New Kid also gains access to a few additional abilities to help him out; when you’re abducted by aliens, you’ll get an anal probe inserted into you that allows you to access alien tech to open doors or teleport around the map. Later, when you meet the Underpants Gnomes, you’ll also gain the ability to shrink to access new areas, in addition to using the New Kid’s fart abilities and various buddies. This latter aspect was significantly expanded upon in the sequel and it can sometimes be unclear exactly what you need to do and with which buddy. The entirety of the town in accessible and faithfully recreated, though (except for Mephisto’s laboratory and the Mall…), which really adds to the game’s level of detail and fidelity and you can use Timmy to fast travel across the map (though I found myself running about the place more often than not to find more loot and level-up through battling).

Talk to, and befriend, everyone in South Park.

You’ll also gain EXP by completing the many and varied side quests that The Stick of Truth has to offer; at any one time, you can have as many as ten quests on the go at once, including those that are story-based, and you can keep track of these at all times using the New Kid’s phone and Facebook feed. Much of the game’s plot revolves around rallying others to your cause or making Facebook friends with the townsfolk so you’ll need to talk to everyone you see to gain followers and be given side quests to complete to earn EXP, get more followers, and even acquire certain iconic South Park characters as Summons to help you out in battle.

The story is as wacky and crude as you would expect from South Park.

The game’s hilarious and multi-faceted story, which involves all the familiar faces of the show and even recycles or addresses jokes and loose ends from the episodes, is just as wacky and insane as the show has become over the years; what starts as a simple (yet surprisingly elaborate) war between Cartman’s human forces and those of Kyle’s elf-kind quickly escalates into a battle against Nazi zombies and gun-toting government agents looking to destroy the town. After both groups are betrayed by Clyde, the New Kid has to travel to Canada to translate a message; this is where the game’s presentation takes a sudden and hilarious left turn as Canada is rendered through traditional 8-bit graphics, complete with an 8-bit rendering of “Blame Canada” and the Canadian national anthem. It’s a hilarious and mental detour that, sadly, doesn’t last as long as it could do (though, thankfully, you can return to Canada to fight Dire Wolves whenever you want). Ultimately, all of the kids you’ve befriended lay siege to Clyde’s elaborate dark tower and you end up having to disarm a nuclear bomb inside of Mr. Slave’s ass, battle a zombified Chef, and finally defeat Kenny after he claims the Stick as his own and transforms into a Nazi zombie himself.

Graphics and Sound:
The Stick of Truth is beautiful in its simplicity; in every respect, it looks exactly like an episode of the popular cartoon show, with the entirety of the town and its many houses, areas, and districts rendered in the finest cardboard cut-out-style 2.5D available. It’s literally like you’re playing an extended episode of the show as you’re able to visit the school, the houses of all the show’s popular characters, and the many businesses and iconic locations South Park has to offer.

The entirety of South park is recreated in stunning detail.

I honestly cannot gush about this presentation enough; too often, videogames based on cartoons (especially the South Park titles) slap an ugly, polygonal 3D effect on the presentation that ruins the game’s look and feel. Here, though, everything is just as crude and charming as in the cartoon; weapons and armour all look distinctly child-like, as though cobbled together by kids, and the way the game incorporates its more elaborate elements into the show’s aesthetic is impressive. Add to that the fact that the game not only uses music from the show but the voices of the entire cast and you’ve got a really special package and the result is a game adaptation that is more than 100% faithful to its source material, utilising so many jokes, characters, and words of dialogue that it’s actually quite mind-boggling.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you explore the town, you’ll get into fights with other kids and wild dogs in the game’s early going; these battles generally take place in a two-on-two format but you’ll face groups of about six at some points as well. Each of your enemies has similar abilities to you, meaning they can cast magic to slow you down, cause you to bleed, set you on fire, or gross you out but enemies will also enter a “Riposte” stance to automatically counter a melee attack or a “Reflect” stance to automatically parry ranged attacks. Enemies can also armour up and erect shields, which must be broken through with regular attacks before you can deal real damage, or have healers on hand to replenish their HP or remove status effects.

Enemies soon become hilariously ridiculous.

Later in the game, the townsfolk become infected with alien goo and become Nazi zombies; unlike other enemies, these guys will resurrect after a few turns, meaning you need to either end battles against them quickly our utilise attacks that hit multiple foes to clear their corpses from the field. When you reach Canada, you’ll have to contend with Dire Wolves, Bears, and Snakes, all of which are a bit more formidable than the town’s usual foes and can infect you with “Dire AIDs” if you’re not careful. Generally, though, battles against common enemies are pretty much a foregone conclusion; you’ll be so overpowered and have mastered the battle system so well that even groups of difficult enemies will be no match for you with the right setup.

Watch out for your Dad’s swinging balls when you’re battling the Gnome Warlock!

Of course, you’ll also have to take part in a number of more challenging boss battles throughout the game’s story. Stick of Truth’s boss battles involve a lot of variety compared to regular battles and have you performing slightly more complex actions, such as resisting the sleeping effects of Jimmy Valmer’s stuttering limericks, keeping the Hallway Monitor from calling your parents, and dodging the swinging testicles of your father as you battle the Gnome Warlock.

Al Gore is a serious pain the ass as both a character and a boss.

One of the game’s more difficult and annoying bosses is former Vice President of the United States Al Gore; after a long side quest involving Gore’s vendetta against “ManBearPig”, you’ll enter a lengthy and difficult battle against Gore and his bodyguards where the former Vice President will try to put you to sleep with a presentation on global warming, up his attack and regenerate his health, and bombard you with rapid slaps all while his constantly-respawning bodyguards take shots at you. It’s a tough fight but one that can be completely avoided (though you’ll lose out on Achievements if you do skip it) and made easier by having Jimmy as a buddy. You’ll battle Al Gore again later on, this time when he is under the guise of ManBearPig, but this is a walk in the park compared to the first fight.

Despite the censoring, Stick of Truth goes above and beyond to shock and entertain.

Things continue pretty smoothly until a breakout of the Nazi zombie virus as the Unplanned Parenthood facility; here, you’ll have to battle a gigantic Nazi zombie foetus, which has a staggering amount of HP and comes alongside an umbilical cord that leeches your HP. Because of this, it is absolutely essential that you destroy the umbilical cord first and remove it from the battlefield, avoid trying to gross the foetus out (as zombies are resistant to that), and focus on chaining bleeding and burning multipliers while swapping out your buddy.

The Sparrow Prince can present a real challenge.

Later, when you venture inside of Mr. Slave, you’ll have to face another annoying boss: the Sparrow Prince. As a spirit, the Sparrow Prince is immune to the bleeding status effect and is accompanied by constantly-respawning globs of Nazi zombie bacteria. It’s not an impossible battle with the right class type and setup but it can be frustrating since the Sparrow Prince’s attacks deal high amounts of damage and hit quite quickly, making it difficult to defend yourself in time.

In the finale, you’ll run a gauntlet against Nazi zombie versions of your friends and allies.

The game’s finale sees you run a gauntlet, of sorts, of tough enemies in Clyde’s fortified tower and then a number of bosses, the first being against a reanimated, Nazi zombie Chef. This isn’t much of a hassle, though, and you’ll eventually face off with Kenny in quite a long-winded battle that sees your damage carry over between Kenny’s different phases and you automatically swap between buddies as the story dictates. It’s not especially difficult (especially compared to Al Gore or the Sparrow Prince) but it can get frustrating as you’re right at the end of the game but Kenny keeps getting back up and regenerating until you fart on his balls and bring the game to an end.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As an RPG, you obviously have access to a wide variety of weapons, armour, and power-ups to aid you in your journey. Levelling-up generally allows access to battle abilities rather than affecting your stats and the game caps your level at fifteen, though by the time you hit that you will be massively over-powered if you have equipped the right gear.

Attack up close or from afar, buffing your weapons with various patches and abilities.

You have access to two weapons: a melee weapon (swords, staffs, crutches, dildos, and the like) and a ranged weapon (dodge balls, darts, crossbows, and so forth). As you explore, you’ll find more powerful variations on these weapons, or you can buy them from various merchants about town. Each weapon comes with various buffs (such as causing an opponent to bleed, leeching HP, or powering up your abilities) can be assigned up to two equipment patches to increase your buffs further (this can add additional damage, leeching, or regenerative properties, among other options).

Weapons and armour can all be powered up to make battles a walk in the park.

Similarly, your helmet, armour, and gloves can be equally powered up by equipment patches to make your avatar quite the formidable fighter; thanks to patches and buffs, you can combine status effects and other buffs to ensure you always have the edge in battle and you can even customise the colour scheme of your equipment with various dyes.

Learning new fart magic can be a tricky task to master.

Completing side quests also nets you the ability to use Summons; while these can only be used once per game day and are useless in boss battles, they can turn the tide further in your favour if you’re struggling against certain enemies. As the story progresses, you’ll also unlock additional fart powers to use in and outside of battle; these can be awkward to learn and to use in the field, requiring vague movements of the analogue sticks to pull off, and frankly are nowhere near as user-friendly or as prominent as in the sequel.

Additional Features:
South Park: The Stick of Truth comes with fifty Achievements for you to earn, the majority of which are pretty standard fare (defeating certain numbers of enemies, completing story-based tasks, using certain attacks and so forth) but others can be easily missed or will require a bit of preparation on your part. There’s one that requires you to wear a bald cap and a goatee or ginger freckles to battle certain enemies, for example, another for completing the game without selling any items or wearing certain outfits, and even one for finishing the game without a single buddy being knocked out.

You’ll need to search high, low, and all around to find all thirty Chinpokomon.

The game is absolutely packed full of content but, unfortunately, most of this is confined to the main game rather than the post-game; as many areas become inaccessible after you complete them, you may find you have to restart from a previous save (or start a new game entirely) to find everything you need or befriend everyone in town. Scattered throughout the game are thirty Chinpokomon for you to find, for example, and 121 people to become friends with on Facebook. Talk to the wrong people at the wrong time or fail to explore your surroundings properly and you may find that you miss your one and only chance to tick these off your to-do list, meaning you’ll have to start all over again.

Side quests will take you all over town and even to the chilly mountains of Canada.

There’s so much to do around town thanks to the game’s side quests; you’ll be finding kindergarteners in a game of hide-and-seek, tracking down Mr. Hankey’s lost pooplings, ferrying messages between South Park characters, attacking Mongolian children on behalf or Mr. Kim, and you can even have surgery performed to look like David Hasselhoff! Jimbo and Ned send you on a side quest that sees you battling a number of option bosses as well, such as a rabid dog, the iconic mouse-penis, and the Canadian Barking Spider of the Queefing Caverns.

The Summary:
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a great little RPG; it’s not especially difficult, and this will probably turn off hardcore RPG players, but there’s a surprising amount of depth to its simple presentation and battle system. There’s a lot going on in the game but it never feels like you’re overwhelmed or can’t remember how to do stuff; it’s very intuitive and user-friendly, for the most part, and the story is hilariously crude and quite long.

The game won me over with its many quests, outrageous humour, and fidelity to the show.

The game’s length is padded by the sheer amount of side quests and things to do, see, and collect; it’s easy to waste a lot of your time veering away from the main story mission to beat up homeless people on behalf of the Mayor or transport messages across the length and breadth of Canada. Battles are quick and fun, requiring a bit of strategy at times but nothing that’s going to cause you game-breaking frustrations (with the possible exception of learning the “Sneaky Squeaker” from Randy Marsh), and I never found myself bored while playing. Quite the contrary, in fact, as I constantly found myself being immersed in the South Park world thanks to the game’s toptier presentation. For as long as it is, though, the game is quite short but, thankfully, the sequel offers more of the same, expanding and improving upon it where necessary and, between the two of them, both games really exemplify the right way to adapt cartoons into a videogame.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on South Park: The Stick of Truth? Did you enjoy the game or do you prefer a bit more challenge in your RPGs? Which character class did you choose, and did you side with Cartman or with Kyle when the story asked? Which parts of the game were your favourite, or least favourite, and which of the two did you prefer? Perhaps you prefer a different South Park videogame; if so, what is it, and which South Park character or episode is your favourite? How are you celebrating South Park’s anniversary this year? No matter what your thoughts on South Park: The Stick of Truth, or South Park in general, I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below.

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