by Josh Vollmer
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have essentially won television. Since South Park‘s inception in 1997, it’s earned Emmy nominations in the double digits, and has gone on to win roughly half the time. It’s been on scores of ‘Best Television Show’ and ‘Best Cartoon’ lists, from Time, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone, just to name a few. It didn’t take them long to move on to the silver screen, acting in BASEketball, and writing, starring in and producing multiple cult and commercial hits such as Orgazmo, Cannibal! The Musical, and Team America: World Police. The inevitable South Park movie treatment was largely successful and even nominated for a ‘Best Original Song’ Oscar. In more recent years, Trey and Matt have even met with accomplishment on Broadway. Their smash hit The Book Of Mormon went on to win numerous Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Trey and Matt hope to bring that success to the video game arena next by bringing their fictional ‘quiet mountain town’ to life on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in the recently released South Park: The Stick of Truth.
That’s not to say that The Stick of Truth is the first game based on the show. In the early years of the series, a few South Park titles were released for the Nintendo 64. However no one would really call them successful. Admittedly, Trey and Matt didn’t have a hand in the development of those early efforts, and as gamers themselves even they were unhappy with the ‘cheap licensed games’ these third party developers were producing. They decided to put the game thing on hold for a while, and when they were ready to give it another go they did it their way. Instead of waiting for a developer to present a good idea to them, Trey and Matt approached Obsidian Entertainment to talk about making the South Park game that they wanted. It seemed a perfect fit. Obsidian has a long history of developing RPGs based on licensed properties, notably Fallout: New Vegas, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, and the PC exclusive Neverwinter Nights 2. One caveat that was important to Matt and Trey was that the game had to retain the show’s 2D representation and animation style. When Obsidian showed a proof of concept that they could achieve such, the first South Park game with a script penned by the show’s creators themselves took shape and development began.
And it was quite the troubled development. This game could very well have never seen the light of day. Many titles that faced the trials and tribulations that the The Stick of Truth did would have been canceled; difficulties including but not limited to the bankruptcy of THQ, the company that was originally signed on as publisher. Luckily Ubisoft was able to acquire the publishing rights in an auction of THQ’s properties, and believed in the product enough to continue development. The game was finally made available nearly a year after the originally scheduled April 2013 release.
If you consider yourself a fan of South Park on any level, the end product is absolutely worth the extended wait. The game is as satirical and funny as the show (not to mention as offensive and crude; it is South Park after all). The writing and voice work is spot on, and the plot, which includes live action role-playing, aliens, Taco Bell, and Nazi zombies is as ridiculously entertaining as anything done on the show.
Graphically, seeing The Stick of Truth in action really is like watching an episode, pause screens notwithstanding. If it took an unaware bystander several minutes to realize that a game was being played instead of a cartoon being watched, it would be absolutely understandable. The 2D animation style lends itself well to the old school RPG game play which pulls out all the tropes from turn based combat to powerful summon abilities like Mr. Hankey’s uh, well we’ll call it ‘Number 2’ Storm.
As far as the environments go, they are well realized, and crammed with fan service. From the voices coming from Stan’s closet, to junk items like the Okama Gamesphere, the game is saturated with over 15 years worth of South Park canon. There are thirty Chinpokomon to collect scattered around town, and a slew of side quests too. Whether you’re fetching Mr. Slave’s package-shaped package from the post office, helping Al Gore track Manbearpig, or just exploring town (some of those people should really lock their front doors by the way) there’s plenty to keep any South Park-phile busy for quite some time.
The game’s not perfect. Some of the scenes requiring you to demonstrate your mastery of the uh, gastrointestinally based magic system can be frustrating to get through due to poorly timed on-screen cues. Luckily some of these demonstrations can be skipped, which in turn only begs the question of why some of them can’t. The flaws that are present don’t detract too much from the overall experience. Even so, the game could be a perfectly bug free technical marvel, and it still wouldn’t appeal to everyone. If you don’t care for South Park the show, South Park: The Stick of Truth isn’t going to change your mind. Parker and Stone’s sense of humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If it is yours though, hoo-boy, it’s your lucky day. Look for it at your local Slackers today.