I suppose I should start out by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the South Park TV show anymore. I used to like it quite a lot when they first started, but I think over the years they kind of shied away from hidden social commentary and clever entertainment in favor of fart and ass jokes to the point where I really don’t tune in any more. I can see their appeal. It’s just not for me. So I was thinking that I would jump in for a few minutes and play The Stick of Truth before passing it on to one of the reviewers to write up. That little thought happened at the beginning of an eight hour marathon play-session.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is at its heart, a really good role-playing game, one that actually makes fun of not only itself, but other notable RPGs and the genre in general. It’s a game that rewards strategic thinkers and problem solving, and one that won’t hesitate to own you if you go into battle without a solid understanding of your strategy. It also happens to feature all of the characters that made South Park such a hot TV show. In a way, it kind of rekindles that snarky, clever attitude that I think made most people really love the show to begin with. At least it did for me.
You play as a new kid who has just moved into town. You get to create your South Park character just like any other RPG by dressing them up in their default uniform, changing their hairstyle and adding bits of flair here and there. This can change rapidly and often during the game as you pick up wigs, facial features and new items of armor or clothing, so don’t get too bummed if you don’t like how you look at first.
Once you get settled, your parents kick you out of the house, telling you that you have to go out and make new friends. You quickly find Butters getting beaten up by a kid in an elf costume, and rush in to save him. This is your introduction to a massive live action role-playing game going on throughout South Park, with humans and elves battling over the mysterious and powerful Stick of Truth. The stick has no real power of course, though those who hold it are able to bend the rules of the game to their whim, so it’s a pretty good thing to have.
Cartman as the grand wizard controls the human faction of kids from an awesome fort in his backyard, and you are invited to play. Once you join up, you can select a character based on Cartman’s twisted world. These include Fighter, Mage, Thief and Jew. Yes, you can play a Jew and yes you get special powers like the sling of David when you do. Mages cast offensive spells and buffs. Fighters do what you think. And thieves get special powers like backstabbing and mugging, which I found to be pretty darn helpful. Some of the other kids have other classes and powers, like paladins who heal, bards that can put others to sleep and one princess who uses seduction to her, or should I say his, advantage.
Combat is turn based, a factor that Cartman makes fun of while he’s showing it to you. There are a surprising number of options, and more as the game goes on. Each turn you can take one non-combat action and one attack. A non-combat action could be healing a friend, buffing yourself with a potion or some special ability that doesn’t directly hurt your opponent. You can skip that phase if you want, but if you choose to just attack, it ends your turn. Attacking can be done with normal or special attacks, and almost always involves clicking at the right time, normally when your weapon flashes, to earn critical damage. Effects can be applied to weapons that hurt your enemy too, such as setting them on fire, causing them to bleed, stunning or nauseating them.
When attacked, you can choose to block by hitting a key at the last second. Blocking doesn’t stop all damage from getting through, but can stop a lot of it. If you block all an enemy’s attacks, you get to take a parting shot on them, getting a bit of damage even though it’s not your turn.
Combat, when used with special abilities, is pretty strategic. Certain abilities, like a thief’s backstab, can hurt the last person in a line, who would otherwise be protected by all the frontline troops. Ranged weapons too can strike anyone on the field and certain spells can affect rows or columns of enemies. There are also special pieces of gear like shields which block all damage for a certain number of hits, and special moves designed to shred them. In all, it’s a really balanced system that is quite fun to play. If you give your combat a lot of thought, you will likely be successful most times. If you don’t, then evenly matched combats are going to be frustratingly difficult, not to mention boss battles.
The plot of The Stick of Truth is pretty good, and involves many of the villains from the show like aliens, the government and random hobos. The interesting thing is that when you fight other kids, you can assume that it’s within the context of the D&D game. Nobody really gets hurt. But then you also drop into combat with adults sometimes, or even monsters and aliens. In those battles one has to assume you are really fighting, yet all the magical stuff like lighting bolts and all that still work just fine. I’m willing to chalk that up to suspension of disbelief, or just another fun thing the game does that will make you think it’s both weird and cool at the same time.
Those of you who love the show will be treated to a plethora of inside jokes. And just about every character I could think of makes an appearance or is alluded to in some way. But even if you have only watched South Park in passing, or perhaps not at all, there is no denying that this game is hilarious. It’s like seeing the world through the eyes of a child, albeit a very sarcastic and warped child. Case in point, when you first visit downtown with Butters, he introduces it as “Ye olde marketplace, where a hero can buy food, supplies, get a nose job or an abortion.” And sure enough, all of that was possible after I stopped laughing enough to resume my explorations. Just know that this is a mature game with mature themes, even if they are presented using nine year old kids. Like the show, The Stick of Truth is rated M for a reason.
The graphics are spot on with the TV show. So I have to give them a perfect score on that one. Not that the South Park TV show has the best graphics or anything, but they have a very recognizable style, and you get to be a part of that now. So too the voice acting is perfect, honed by years on the show. Cartman sounds like he should because it’s really him. Fans won’t be disappointed.
In the end, South Park: The Stick of Truth is a solid role-playing game that happens to be based on a show with a rich and comedic history, one that the developers draw on heavily and successfully to make the game even better. It earns 4 and 1/2 GiN Gems, and likely will draw in an army of happy players and fans.