Before South Park: The Stick of Truth was released; I saw numerous comments about how it looked like it could end up being one of the best licensed games ever made. This statement was almost always followed by someone saying “Yeah but that isn’t really saying much.” I just can’t agree with that second point. It’s common to knock licensed games but people forget just how many great ones there are. Duck Tales, Goldeneye, Rescue Rangers, Chronicles of Riddick, Aladdin (both the SNES and Genesis versions), the majority of the Tiny Toon games, Ninja Turtles 2-4, the Arkham games (with the possible exception of Origins), The Walking Dead (the ones from Telltale, not that other….thing), and the list really goes on and on.
I say this because when I state that South Park: The Stick of Truth is indeed amongst the best licensed games I’ve ever played, I don’t want you to take that lightly.
Up until this point, the South Park games have been prime examples as to why many people knock licensed video games to begin with. It’s not even that they haven’t been great; they’ve almost all been actively terrible, with the possible exception of Let’s Go Tower Defense Play. I remember picking up South Park on N64 and being a little stunned that I spent the first couple of hours throwing dodge balls at turkeys and doing almost nothing else. The Stick of Truth had everything working against it as well with numerous delays and even a bankruptcy thrown in there, but miraculously they pulled it off and we have the South Park experience to end all South Park experiences.
You take on the role of New Kid, your typical silent protagonist whose perpetual silence actually factors into the story. Right off the bat it’s refreshing to have a game where characters openly acknowledge how strange it is that the main character refuses to ever talk to them. Immediately upon arriving in South Park, you are swept into an epic game being played by the kids in town where the humans and the elves are facing off over the titular Stick of Truth, which grants the user control over the entire universe. Things quickly escalate from there but I’m certainly not going to reveal any of the directions the plot ends up going.
Using the fantasy game being played by the kids is the absolute perfect way for The Stick of Truth to both pay homage to and poke fun at the fantasy genre. All of the swords, shields and consumables are simply everyday items a kid may find lying around and just given an awesomely fantastical name to make it part of the world. It’s well executed and surprisingly adorable, so long as you don’t take into account that the random battles are simply you kicking the shit out of other children who are playing the game.
The Stick of Truth captures the South Park aesthetic flawlessly, looking identical to an episode of the actual show. Characters move in the same crude fashion, locations are ripped directly from their respective episode and game play segue ways into cut scenes seamlessly, really completing the illusion that you are in fact watching the cartoon itself. There’s nary a load time to be found during the transitions either, everything flows perfectly.
Being able to fully explore the town of South Park is an absolute joy. Once the game opens up (which doesn’t take long) you are free to wander just about everywhere and I happily spent my first few hours of play completely ignoring the given quest and simply investigating every nook and cranny available. You can enter every character’s house, every business and essentially every building in sight, with only a few exceptions for areas you won’t be able to access until certain abilities are acquired. There are side quests to be discovered, loot galore, and dozens upon dozens of references to the show. It’s the most fun I’ve had exploring a video game environment in a long time.
Once I stopped exploring and was ready to experience the game proper, I was surprised at the amount of depth the battle system and overall mechanics offer. Anyone who has played any of the Mario and Luigi RPG titles should be familiar with the general battle system here as it relies on a similar idea of timing based attacks and defenses. Being able to nail your moves within the timing window takes a couple of fights to get used to, but it hardly takes any time before it feels completely natural. You can also use Fart magic (something I admittedly didn’t use very often at all), a variety of special attacks that use up your PP and several Summon attacks which are just…just incredible. There are also status effects you can employ on the enemy, having them bleed out, puke or be set on fire.
I also briefly mentioned the insane amount of loot in this game but I really need to stress that again – there is a LOT of stuff you can pick-up in this game. There are dozens and dozens of different kinds of weapons and armor you can collect. In fact, I don’t think I ever had the same piece equipped for more than maybe a half hour as something bigger and better was always right around the corner. There are also tons of patches you can add to your equipment which gives them a variety of perks such as increased damaged, defense, etc. Finally even the junk items whose sole purpose is to be sold are great as they are almost all items that are recognizable from the show and each comes with their own humorous description. Very rarely do I spend a good chunk of time simply reading through the descriptions of all my items, but it’s absolutely worth your while here.
The one problem with having all of this stuff is that once you get the hang of the battle mechanics, there isn’t a whole lot of challenge. About halfway through the game I had it set-up so that by the end of the first turn, every enemy was suffering from all status effects, usually resulting in quick deaths across the board. Aside from one boss battle, that is completely optional for the record, I hardly ever failed in battle, as by that point I was virtually unstoppable. Granted this also is affected by how I played the game since so much early time was spent exploring and doing side quests, I was plenty leveled by the time I was ready to dive into the story missions. I imagine this is how many players will do things though so this likely will be a similar scenario for most.
This should go without saying but I’ve seen enough people around the Internet pose this question that I feel I should still address it – no you should not play this game if you’re not a South Park fan, especially if you actively dislike it. This isn’t just a game that uses South Park as a general theme, this IS South Park through and through. It’s full of the standard gross-out humour the show is known for. If you need proof, one of the very first actions in the game is hammering the ‘A’ button so that your character can take a shit. Afterwards you can pick the shit up out of the toilet, and then later proceed to hurl it at your enemies in battle in order to gross them out. That’s a tame example of some of the shit this game will throw at you so if you’re not a fan, there is nothing for you here.
The other point of contention that needs to be addressed is the overall game length which seems to be a huge sticking point for many people. Because this game has the “RPG” genre attached to it, people have expectations that this is going to be a 40 hour epic. It is not. It took me about 15 hours to get through the game, and that was taking time to explore everything. Granted I didn’t get all the collectables and a few side quests remained unfinished so there are still things left to be accomplished. I really found this to be the perfect length though. There is absolutely no padding to this game. You never have to grind out levels or backtrack or do a series of monotonous fetch quests. What’s here is varied, fun and constantly changing. It’s a lean game and personally that’s how I prefer. In terms of replay, I will revisit this game the same way I revisit some of my favourite episodes of the show. There are also different classes to try (definitely have to do a second run through as the “Jew” class), and achievements which encourage multiple playthroughs so this is definitely one I personally plan to revisit down the road.
The Stick of Truth is South Park done perfectly, to the point where unless it’s a direct sequel, there is really no point in ever trying to do another South Park game because nothing will compare to this. It stays loyal to the show while also managing to be a great game. If you’re a fan, there is absolutely no reason not to get this. This is what licensed games done right looks like!