Over the years, the "South Park" franchise has not been well received in the video game universe. While the show continues to thrive on Comedy Central after 16 seasons and counting, several licensed game releases have left a bad taste in players' mouths. The first "South Park" game, a first-person shooter released for Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation, didn't offer enough entertaining gameplay. The following two games, the cart-racing "South Park Rally" and party game package "Chef's Luv Shack," turned out to be even worse. Lately, Microsoft has seen mixed results from "South Park" games, between the interesting "Let's Go Tower Defense Play" and the somewhat lacking (and difficult) platformer "Tenorman's Revenge."
However, after all these years of ups and downs with the franchise, publisher THQ and developer Obsidian Entertainment are finally looking to make things right for "South Park" fans with its upcoming "South Park: The Stick of Truth" game. First announced with a Game Informer cover reveal in December 2011, this project deviates from previous game releases, instead going with a more traditional role-playing adventure. It's also the first game in the series to feature direct involvement from the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Not only did they provide the game's script, but they're providing character dialogue, as well as creative input.
Instead of controlling Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny (as in previous games), "The Stick of Truth" puts you in charge of a new kid who has moved to South Park. Not even a few minutes after getting everything settled in the house, your parents decide to celebrate their own special way -- with sex -- forcing you to go outside and try to make new friends. You wander around the neighborhood only to find series regular Butters, who is more than eager to introduce you to the gang.
Cartman and the others are still taking part in a role-playing game, one that was first introduced with the 2002 episode "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers." He's bestowed himself a wizard upon his throne (more like a beat-up recliner) and offers to let your new kid into his ranks, provided you're ready to prove yourself. With that, he bestows the rank of "Douchebag" upon you (even if you choose a new name), and also provides the option to increase your class level. (The second level? "Butthole," obviously.)
For "The Stick of Truth," Parker, Stone and Obsidian had quite a task ahead of them when it came to its design. The creators never really needed to create a map that shows where the kids' houses are located on the show, but in "Stick of Truth" you can actually walk through the neighborhood, discovering familiar locations and even going up to knock on doors. A word of advice, though -- do not disturb your parents.
For the art style of the game, Obsidian has come up with an engine that actually replicates what you'd see on the show. Along with recreating popular locales from the show, it's also adapted its animation style, crude and with skips. So when you see Cartman and the others walking around, they do so without moving their legs or arms -- something both Parker and Stone were delighted with.
That's just one small factor to the design. In "The Stick of Truth," you're also able to customize your character in a number of ways. You can modify sex, appearance, skin tone, and even dress your character up with accessories, from fake mustaches to cowboy hats. Furthermore, as you progress in the heat of battle, you'll level up and earn additional goods that will help with fights later in the game.
The gameplay is divided into two parts, both traditional to the role-playing scheme. The first allows you to explore the town and certain objects within it, such as a "Pool of Vision" (essentially a kiddie pool, one that you can kick) and dwellers hanging around Cartman's compound. This part of the interaction provides some humorous dialogue, so don't be afraid to explore.
The second aspect of gameplay relies on battles. You'll team up with allies and face your enemies in turn-based fashion, deciding which tactic works best to damage them while trying to avoid their incoming strikes. Sometimes you'll use small items when it comes to hurting someone, such as pulling out a sparkler and making them run off before they take excessive damage. Other times, you'll need to call on something a little more drastic such as Cartman's thunderous fart, which shoots a crude, hand-drawn flame across the screen, torching everyone in its path.
THQ showed CBR News two battles in the game's demo. The first introduced a number of enemy kids who made their way into Cartman's compound, urinating in the "Pool of Vision" and beating up poor Butters. You can decide where to initiate the fight first, which then leads to the turn-based portion of the game. Once you win the battle, you'll be rewarded currency and other goods, including bonus weapons and accessories.
The second fight featured vampires and occurred after entering a temple where Ms. Chokesondik's memorial was being held. In this encounter, we not only discovered Cartman's gaseous blast, but also a ridiculously hilarious finale involving the introduction of Mr. Slave, who comes running in, sans pants, and literally sticks the head vampire into his butt, then walks off screen while keeping him absorbed. So... you can tell that Parker and Stone are clearly behind this game, can't you?
With its raucous sense of humor intact, an interesting role-playing gameplay set-up, the full involvement of the show's creators and plenty of downloadable content planned across the board (the first pack, "Mysterion Superhero," will be Xbox 360 exclusive for a short period of time), "South Park: The Stick of Truth" could easily be the game that fans have been clamoring for. It's just a shame we had to wait so long to get it. Better late than never... right, Mr. Hat?
"South Park: The Stick of Truth" hits stores for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on March 5, 2013.