The juggernaut of political incorrectness known as South Park continues to roll on without end, as the show completes a 17th season. It’s been considered successful enough as a TV show to have been signed on until at least a 20th season, but the video game history of the franchise has been pretty ordinary, really. Understandably, the stigmatic nature of gaming makes South Park a property that is difficult to translate to the interactive screen without losing what makes it unique. Still, with the imminent release of South Park: The Stick of Truth, we may finally bear witness to not only a great South Park game but a stick in the sand for all licensed gaming… Sorry…
Can you believe that it has been almost 16 years since the release of the South Park game on the N64 and PS1? I mean, we’re finally at a stage when being nostalgic about this time span includes the fifth console generation… anyway, developed and published by Acclaim (another blast from the past), this first person shooter (with noticeable roots in Turok) was a solid tie-in for its time but one that you’d probably find has aged terribly in the interim. The quiz game Chef’s Luv Shack and the token cart racer South Park Rally followed without leaving much of a ripple. Following a nine year hiatus from gaming, South Park: Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! And Tenorman’s Revenge were released on the Xbox Live Arcade in 2009 and 2012 respectively, with muted responses as well.
Now in 2014, it looks like we will be actually getting the potentially definitive South Park game. That’s even more of a remarkable thought when looked like The Stick of Truth was never going to make the light of day – after missing its December 2012 release window and following the demise of THQ. And even though Ubisoft had stepped in to fill the breach, another holiday season came and went without the release. Even a new generation has started! However, as March approaches at top speed, it looks like the title will finally be seeing a release.
While a lot of entertainment sections are dealing with what’s the right amount of ‘fan service’, The Stick of Truth seems to be pulling no punches. Having been directly approached to make the game by South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Obsidian (the RPG specialists) have taken to the development like a duck would have taken to water. Reportedly, Parker and Stone had been unsatisfied with the critical reception of the previous South Park games and felt that if this was something to be done, it was going to be done right. South Park Studios have been working with Obsidian hand-in-hand to make sure that the title that they are producing is every bit worthy of holding the name.
One need only look at the trailers to realise that the developers from both sides of the coin are well on their way to fulfilling this vision. As the town of South Park is engulfed in a ‘Live-Action Role Playing’ game, you take the role of ‘new kid’, as you’re introduced to Cartman’s ‘Kupa Keep’ and told about the never-ending battle (sic) for the ‘Stick of Truth’. Lo and behold, the stick is gone once you get there and it seems that the majority of the game will revolve around getting it back. Of course, with South Park it’s clear that the creators will go out of their way to make this otherwise mundane task, fun. All while placing the game in a pseudo fantasy setting that looks like the reality of cosplayers at any fairground recreation or Game of Thrones convention.
Speaking of which, the creators seem to be going all out in creating the most authentic South Park gaming experience imaginable. All the indications are so far that in terms of story and application of the (for want of a better expression) lore of the series will be second to none. The comprehensive nature of this is epitomised in the writing, as the penchant for humour and satire never seems to miss a trick. Furthermore, fans will be playing a game of spot-the-reference or spot-the-easter-egge throughout as well.
Also adding to the authentic nature of the game, are the true-to-the-show visuals. Even though the new generation has started and developers are falling over themselves to see who can create the most realistic looking game, The Stick of Truth almost goes backwards… On the surface, it may not seem too technically demanding, but working at the ‘lower end’ will likely turn out in the game’s favour. That is, it looks so uncannily familiar to the game that it’s almost as if you’re actually playing an episode! The attention to detail is quite amazing as well, as everything is made to look South Park down to a tee.
Now the clincher will end up being the gameplay. Unfortunately, there is no denying that you will be playing a ‘lite’ RPG… but anything that gets compared to Paper Mario can’t be too bad, right? The battle system seems to play on roughly the same 2D plane as Paper Mario, and is driven by a lot of quicktime-styled attacks while you command class-based team mates. Some of the known classes include Fighter, Mage, Thief and Cleric as some of your well known entities, and of course you have Jew thrown in as the ‘spanner in the works’ class. Known enemies are all vintage South Park as well, as you’ll line up to take down: Hippies, Vampires, Gingers, Crab People and many more. Outside of battle you’ll have to make use of typically South Park abilities to get through your environment. You’ll know them when you see them… While it will definitely be authentic, hopefully the extra time development for polish translates into solid gameplay as well.
If the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ is anything to go by, then the fans of South Park: The Stick of Truth will soon be having a field day or two with what is shaping up to be the definitive licensed title, not just for South Park but as a standard bearer for gaming. Licensed titles have been notorious in the past for failing to involve both sides of the coin, so hopefully this title can demonstrate the merits of such collaborations and lead the change. And thankfully, we’ll soon finally be able to see whether this has come to fruition. As was heard in the show: Taisetsu na mono protect my balls!