South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
South Park: The Stick of Truth puts you in the shoes of the new kid in the titular town, a silent customizable protagonist who helps take a game of live action fantasy role playing, or whatever you want to call it, and escalades it into an adventure full of aliens, murder, Nazi Zombies, getting back a stick, and a load of references to the show. Upon thinking through the plot after putting in 20 hours with the game, I was honestly a bit turned off by how exactly it handled its excallation, almost as if the game was something of a mess at one point in development with several areas that were ultimately stitched together in order to ship the game. You are kidnapped and raped by aliens, go meet some throwaway characters to get an ability, head on over to a pretty one-note JRPG parody for what amounts to fetch quest that doesn’t make any sense in universe, and are apparently playing as a Marty Sue despite how your protagonist is never given much personality beyond being something of a poster child for potentially psychopathic RPG heroes.
Although the game could potentially be saved by the humor that the show has refined over nearly two decades, and it very much is. The absurdity of situations, dialog, and bits do help give the game a lot of appeal, but it also chooses to dig back into the series history and pull jokes from there in addition to creating new ones. Now, this is not a bad idea by any means, and is often done quite well with a lot of fanservice placed throughout the world. Unfortunately, a lot of the jokes are just references to jokes from the show’s past, inserted into the game clumsily, and fail to be endearing. It’s also worth noting that while I very much enjoyed most of the humor presented in the cutscenes, I really was not fond of the humor found in the game’s combat. It’s cute when a character comments on how you’ve spent a minute deciding your next action, but the frequency and repetition of these lines only grows to become annoying if you are not very punctual with your commands.
Oh, and this being a title undebatably heavily inspired by the Paper Mario series, which I personally love, commands are also a pretty major point of contention with the gameplay, as it’s turn based RPG combat is driven very heavily based on your timing with every move, but I was honestly a bit turned off by how this was handled. Basic attacks work fine, as you simply wait for a sparkle to appear on your weapon, and then you press the designated button to deal additional damage. However, it’s abilities that tripped me up, as you need to do a unique command for each and every one, and often they do not gel together as well as they should, in addition to not making much sense. For example, my most frequently used abilities were probably Princess Kenny’s rat swarm, where I needed to shake off flesh eating rodents through wiggling of the left stick, or as I quickly improvised, simply rubbing your palm on it, and Kyle’s archery barrage, which was a QTE where Kyle summons an army of elves from nowhere.
While useful in combat, these moves do not make much sense when you are in a man’s intestines fighting a group of soldiers who have shrunken down thanks to the power of… I have no idea. It all comes across as lacking in regards to both care for the world’s consistency, when I know that somebody at Obsidian had to have been losing their shit over this given their love of lore and story telling, and optimizing the player’s enjoyment. Just about every battle I had involved flinging fire drenched darts at enemies and then having another character use a multitarget move, the enemies attack, and then die from status effects, resulting in my victory. Health and PP are both restored after battle, and I continue with the game, ready to use the same strategy in most enemy encounters.
The only real times where I had to rethink my strategy were when I was ambushed by an enemy, and then had trouble with blocking its attacks, which I almost always had a good reason for. The animation of South Park, even in more recent seasons, has always been stylistically janky, so designing a game where you need to foresee and predict the animations quickly naturally houses a problem. Thankfully, the game places a grey shimmering circle beneath your characters, which you should look at instead of the enemies. Meaning that the gameplay rendered it a bad idea to look at the animations, and instead focus on the UI.
Another pair of aspects that particularly irk me about the combat are the summons and mana systems. Summons are daily assists you may call upon to attack an enemy or enemies once during the title’s… five, I think, days, but cannot be used during boss battles, and as such I only ever used them once, as I was curious as to how powerful they were. Mana, however, is interpreted by the game to mean fart powers, which involve annoyingly specific commands to use, and are limited by a status bar that you need to maintain, but be sure not to fill up too much, lest the new kid shits their pants and loses all of it. As such, I barely touched the thing, and due to some sort of bug, was unable to ever get a good idea of how much mana I had.
Exploration seems like it would be rather simple and easy to work with in comparison in combat, and while I did enjoy exploring the lovingly detailed recreation of the town along with new locals, the game throws in a few puzzles for the sake of variety. Ideally, I would be totally fine with these, but your abilities feel very arbitrary, as you can shrink in size to suit your mood, use arbitrarily placed alien diderydongs to teleport across the screen, or send your partner to interact with something, which I believe is only done about ten times the entire game. It all feels a bit out of place, and comes across as padding that was thrown in to prevent the game from being too linear and rely too heavily on its combat.
One thing that should have become apparent just by looking at the accompanying pictures is that Stick of Truth does a wonderful job at emulating the look of the iconic show, or at least as best it can with a consistent camera angle. It truly does show a level of dedication, as the cutscenes are pretty hard to distinguish from clips from the show, and I cannot recall any assets that looked inconsistent with the established art style, which was clearly the intention. I suppose that I could mention how the town map appears to be a bit inconsistent and tiny even given how South Park is suppose to be a small town, but there are far larger nits I could pick.
It’s become apparent to me that I have a tendency to fixate on the negatives in any given review, partially due to how I find it easier than praising a positive aspect, but also because of how glaring they can be to me in many games, and Stick of Truth is no exception. I certainly did have a good deal of fun with it and going about its story, but it ended up dragging on for a bit too long, and ultimately ended up as a flaccid slightly disorganized tale that I can’t help but look at with a raised eyebrow. It’s something I would only recommend to fans for a slew of reasons, and for people whose burning desires for a Paper Mario 3 are not intense enough.
Not the best of its class, but ultimately a good game that may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but proves to be enjoyable despite some difficult to ignore issues.