“South Park: The Stick of Truth” review

It’s not easy thinking about where to begin when talking about a game like “South Park: The Stick of Truth.” The humor? The gameplay? The story? Best to just dive right in, to be honest. That being said, this review might be a bit scattered, but it should hopefully be as comprehensive as possible.

For those looking at this title and thinking, “I’m not sure how to categorize it,” the best way to do so is to compare it to a title that is similar if not quite so vulgar and hilarious. For example, the only other game that comes to mind when playing “South Park” is “Paper Mario.”

From the introduction, there will be no question that this experience will be anything short of a full “South Park” experience. Character creation is detailed, in the only way that “South Park” characters look and dress, and the dawn of your character’s first day in the quiet, little Colorado town is anything but quiet.

Ousted out of your new home by your father, your first mission is to get some friends. Unfortunately, the first person you come across is Butters, so he’ll have to do. From then on, you’re paraded across the town by Cartman and his Knights of Kupa Keep, on their quest to win back the Stick of Truth from the Drow Elves led by Kyle and Stan.

Essentially, this is a continuation of the story-line that occurred on Black Friday last year, except now you’re playing an integral part. There isn’t much I can say about the story without giving it all away, but I can assure you that it is straight out of the series when it comes to humor, offensiveness and creativity.

Ranged weapons are useful for hitting enemies in cover.

Gameplay, as mentioned before, is extremely similar to “Paper Mario.” It employs a turn-based combat system with interactive offensive attacks that can chain and do more damage if executed correctly. Defense is also interactive and players can block attacks to decrease the amount of damage taken. One item can be used before attacking, so there’s even some strategy involved beyond kitting your adventurer out with a lead pipe that lights people on fire or makes them vomit.

Item modification is almost essential in the late game due to the increased variety of secondary effects that special abilities have. Modifications come in the form of “patches” that can be put on weapons to increase sick damage, frost, fire, electricity, and bleeding.

Each party member has their own unique skills. Butters can heal you with his paladin powers while Stan is a damage-dealing whirlwind. Cartman’s magic is almost as important as his mid-fight taunts and Jimmy’s bardic songs are hilarious and effective. Not only that, but the characters that players can summon during battles are equally awesome and side splitting. With this level of tactical thought put in, it’s almost like this is a “serious” game of the “Final Fantasy” variety. The fact that it’s humorous makes it that much better.

Speaking of the humor, it’s apparent why some of the game is censored in certain nations. Obviously there is the common “South Park” fare of double-entendres and silly quotes from characters like Cartman, but there are instances where the game had me dropping my jaw and laughing out loud at how out-there it could be. Some of these moments last for a few seconds, while others are interactive and really take up some screen time.

Not only that, but the game is acutely aware of itself and many of the characters will make jokes directly referring to the fact that this is indeed a game and you are holding it up. Taking too long in a menu or just sitting idle might prompt your party member to ask if you’re tweeting your friends or texting someone important. Some cutscenes will even reference the skip function and tell you how pointless the scene itself is. Not only that, but almost every citizen is on their cell phone staring straight down at it. It’s eerie and decidedly spot-on.

Obsidian knew what they were doing with this game by making many of the items you can sell at vendors be easter eggs of content to those who are die-hard fans of the television series. From character dialogue bringing up the record Stan’s dad set on the toilet, to a stuffed Scuzzlebutt in Jimbo’s hunting shop, to finding the Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka as a lootable item in certain detritus sitting around town, there is literally no end to the amount of references that a real fan can find and enjoy.

Side-quests will really stretch out a player’s experience with this title as well. There are a variety of fun little stories playing out all over town that will make people laugh and cause tons of frustration. Some of them won’t be able to be completed until after a certain point, but that’s very typical for a game like this. Just try not to get bogged down in it and too angry.

Exploring the town can be just as fun as working through the story, too. Finding Mr. Slave’s house, stepping inside Tweek Bros. Coffee, wandering over to Stark’s Pond, and even entering Professor Chaos’s lab will make the fan inside squee with delight.

So, the good has been mentioned and the hilariously ugly parts too, but what about the bad? “South Park: The Stick of Truth” does suffer some pretty bad framerate issues when transferring from screen to screen whilst exploring. It didn’t occur much in combat or cutscenes but it was apparent in almost every single transition. The skin on my character did alter at one point to have a static-looking quality, as if his entire face was suffering from five-o’clock shadow, after one transition very late in the game. But it righted itself when I went inside a building.

Cartman’s base leaves something to be desired.

There were no game-breaking or save-corrupting bugs that I found through my playthrough, so I will say that no one should worry about that. I’m just interested in why a game like this, with very little graphic intensity considering the art style and side scrolling method, had such frame-rate issues. Whether it’s the game-populating non-player characters or items or what-have-you, it is definitely noticeable. But, that may just be the PlayStation 3 version of the game that I reviewed. I don’t know.

So, is “South Park: The Stick of Truth” worth your time? It certainly is. All twenty-plus hours of it. It’s not overly long, it’s enjoyable, and it’s definitely a fan’s game. The gameplay is easy to get into and difficult at the times it should be, without being overly frustrating and rage-quittingly hard. The references are solid and not too heavy-handed, and the story itself makes you feel like a pivotal character in this well-recognized universe. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the money, and it’s not something you’ll regret.