Many people (myself included) tend to be hard on licensed games. There’s good reason: most are garbage thanks to rushed production deadlines and indifferent developers whose interest in the licensed franchise doesn’t extend beyond the number of zeroes in the cheque they cashed. However, during last gaming generation the tide turned slightly. While most licensed games remain useless, a few genuinely great ones popped up like Ghostbusters and Arkham Asylum/City. The reason? Developers taking their time and hiring creators of the source material to help write and supervise the adaptation.
All of which brings us to South Park: The Stick Of Truth, a game that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have worked on for four years in an attempt to extend their satire/fart joke driven multimedia empire and also make up for all the horrible South Park games their fans have endured since the N64. This sucker was delayed endlessly so that the duo could retain artistic control while also cranking out seasons of South Park and a ridiculously successful stage musical simultaneously. The game has been a long time coming and the hype machine has been on overdrive. Well, it’s finally here and the result? Easily the funniest video game ever made. You might not agree with the genre Trey and Matt chose to slap South Park onto, but you’ll probably be laughing too hard to care.
Now, it is of course also a game. So gameplay matters as much as laughs and accurate animation. Weirdly, Parker and Stone opted to create a turn-based RPG, and this certainly is one with all the leveling up and strategy that implies. Some casual gamers interested only in the South Park-ness of it all will inevitably be disappointed by this choice and to them I extend a second “good day.” Yes, the patient gaming skills of the RPG genre and the ADD immature humor of South Park might seem like an awkward mix on paper, but in practice, it’s kind of ingenious. There are a couple of reasons why. For one, the low-fi animation style of South Park isn’t really suited to action games, shooters, or anything with three dimensions. So that limits things. More importantly, RPGs are naturally story-driven and filled with cut scenes, allowing the South Park guys to play to their strengths.
* * *
South Park: The Stick Of Truth isn’t a title that reinvents the possibilities of the RPG genre by any stretch of the imagination. Broken down to gaming formula, it’s conventional. However, as a bit of licensed gaming, it feels downright groundbreaking. This is a full on South Park experience that wraps everything that’s fun about the show into a single game and actually plays perfectly well. This is what every 90s kid dreamed they would get when they bought Chef’s Luv Shack. Never before has a game based on a comedy franchise actually been as hilarious as the source material and we can thank Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s years of dedication to the project for that. More than that, never before has a game designed to be funny not only packed this many laughs, but also broken so many taboos in the process (no, Leisure Suit Larry never went this far). It’s a ballsy game (at times, all too literally) and one that had me desperately playing to the next mission just to see what new hilarity was on the way. It’s unlikely that any other comedians or show runners will ever dedicate this much time to getting a game this right in the future, but it’s wonderful to know that it’s possible. Trey and Matt managed to conquer yet another medium, you guys. Let’s hope they’re not done with gaming. It would be nice to have to put down my controller to clutch my gut from laughing too hard again someday.
For Phil's full review of South Park: The Stick of Truth, check out the March/April issue of CGMagazine.