After several delays and the threat of becoming vaporware, Ubisoft finally launches South Park: The Stick of Truth for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC next month. (No, seriously, they are. It's for real this time.) Starting as a life preserver for struggling studio THQ, the licensed RPG saw damage and delays from layoffs and eventually found itself on the brink of death when the studio had to shutter for good.
Fortunately, the game found salvation, but not at the hands of Jesus Christ, Santa, or Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo. The salvation came from Assassin's Creed developer Ubisoft, who bought the IP during THQ's bankruptcy proceedings, and work on the title started again, but only after yet another delay, causing even the egotistical Cartman to quip after the new timeframe was announced: “Coming this holiday season. Or some holiday season, hopefully, kinda soon. You know how video games are.”
Now finally, after what seems to be years and year, the quest for the New Kid to find the Stick of Truth draws close. But the game promises not to be just for South Park fanboys—Stick of Truth aims to set the bar high for RPG fans as well. So for those who have never come on down to South Park to meet some friends of mine (or those who may have forgotten since the initial announcement in December 2011), here's a little guide to preparing yourself for South Park: The Stick of Truth. This guide was prepared after a lot of research and many, many watched episodes of the Comedy Central show. In other words, I know what I'm talking about, so RESPECT MA AUTHORITAH!!
STEP ONE: Forget any other South Park games ever existed.
No, seriously. Put them all out of your head. They all suck, especially the Acclaim ones. They suck worse than being the poster boy for NAMBLA. We at GameRevolution reviewed the first three South Park titles (God, we're old… I mean, experienced) all released by Akklaim, back when we used our school grade scale. The results were not pretty.
The original South Park garnered a first impression of a C- from us (back when we used school grade scoring), with the next game, South Park: Chef's Luv Shack, only managing to squeak barely higher with a C. The third, the heinous South Park Rally, barely scraped above the surface with a D-. Those scores aren't super, thanks for asking.
There's no way around it: all South Park games have sucked. South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! was “Meh” at best, but overall, totally craptastic. You know it, I know it, but most importantly, Matt Stone and Trey Parker know it. And they're not afraid to admit it. In fact, Stick of Truth came from the minds of the two creators, with the insistence that they not only be involved in the process, but heavily involved, from writing and scripting to (finally) plotting all of South Park, Colorado on a map, and making sure they logistically make sense in the whole continuity of the series.
They also came with the insistence that they would not allow it to go forward unless Obsidian Entertainment could faithfully replicate the cut-out animation style iconic of the Comedy Central series. Obsidian had a challenge: make crappy look good. From everything we've seen, they've nailed it, down to the details like the wobble of the children's walk. With licensed games, it's cliché to say players “feel like” they are “part of the movie” or TV show or the like. But with Stick of Truth, it's spot-on.
So forget about the other crap. It doesn't exist. To paraphrase Cartman, it sucks balls.
STEP TWO: Go back and watch the seventh, eighth, and ninth episodes of Season 17.
These episodes from South Park act as a prequel to the game, introducing elements that will play heavily into The Stick of Truth. The episodes “Black Friday,” “A Song of Ass and Fire,” and “Titties and Dragons” form a three-episode arc fully engulfed in the children's Live Action Role-Play (LARP) sessions, and rams headlong into violent—and hilarious—insanity.
For those who don't like watching South Park—and if that's the case, this might not be the game for you—here's the Reader's Digest version: The current LARP session the kids find themselves split into two factions on the verge of Black Friday: Xbox One loyalists, led by Kyle and Cartman, and PS4 loyalists, led by Stan. At stake: the gaming future of South Park—whichever console is bought the most becomes the “standard” amongst South Park children.
The Game of Thrones parody of the Eighth-Gen Wars sees Kenny (as the “demure” Lady McCormick) double-cross Cartman who tried to double-cross him… er, her, meddling from both Sony's CEO, Bill Gates, and an obsessed-with-penis George R. R. Martin, and even a “Red Robin Wedding” in trying to secure quick, direct routes inside South Park Mall to take advantage of huge discounts.
The time investment is worth it, and much more entertaining than an NCIS: LA mini-marathon. But more importantly, these episodes lay the backbone for Stick of Truth, including Princess McCormick, the Wizard Cartman, and the “Garden of Andros,” which in reality is some old guy's elaborate backyard. It also introduces weapons we may see in the game, including forms of blades, guns, golf clubs, and a Sailor Moon-like brooch for “Princess McCormick,” allowing for a Magical Girl transformation. The episodes could possibly hint toward alliances and opponents, though that's not confirmed.
STEP THREE: If you don't have time to watch all those episodes, make sure to watch “The Return of The Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers.”
The children's first venture into LARPing came in Season 6, Episode Thirteen, as Randy Marsh asks the kids, who are playing “The Lord of the Rings,” to take the movie The Fellowship of the Ring to Butters' parents, who asked to borrow it. While the kids are gone, Randy and Sharon Marsh try to get freaky-deeky by watching Backdoor Sluts 9, described as the “single most vile, twisted, dark piece of porn ever produced.” Hot, right?
Except Randy switched the porn with The Fellowship of the Ring.
The episode plunges headlong into the LARP as sixth graders chase the kids for the tape, Butters becomes crazed over his “precious tape,” and a massive battle ensues as the children decide to take the tape back to Two Towers Video in neighboring Conifer.
Though the episode might not have Princess Kenny, this episode lays the foundation for the Black Friday story arc, and thereby should have some relevance to the game in some sort.
STEP FOUR: Either way, you probably should also watch the first episode of Season 8, “Good Times with Weapons.”
The boys buy some “authentic weapons from the Far East” and pretend to be parentless orphans to bypass the parent's permission rule, because it's already worked “like twelve times.” Of course, this purchase drives them headlong into an anime fantasy, and drives a shuriken into Butters' eye.
Throughout the rest of the episode, the gang tries to get Butters medical attention on the sly without their parents finding out, leading them to dress up Butters as a dog and taking him to the vet, and eventually Cartman showcasing himself as God introduced him to the world—butt naked. The moral of the story, of course, is that sex is way worse than violence. The boys keep their cool stuff.
Pay attention to this episode, as many weapons may find derivation from this episode, especially with one of the DLC packs being named after it. The DLC pack will include the Samurai costume from the episode as well as Cartman's Kick-Ass Sai.
Also, if Matt Stone and Trey Parker really love us, they'll include “Let's Fighting Love.”
STEP FIVE: Grow some thick skin, because just like the show, nothing is sacred.
As the New Kid in South Park, you can select from one of a few classes: brawling Fighters, magical Mages, lithe Thieves, or Jews.
You read that right: Jew is a class. A Jew, in Stick of Truth, is akin to a Berserker in the Final Fantasy cosmos. But, as Cartman will point out, “A Jew cannot be a savior.”
Get used to it, because that's just the beginning. Just like the series, everything, and that means everything, is fair game. In fact, parts of the game are so vicious—and funny—that they were censored in parts of the world, including most European markets. Don't worry, though; there's still plenty of rated M-for-Mature humor to be found, including (as listed by the ESRB):
- Anal probing
- An entire area in a character's rectum
- Sex toys (yes, some of them belong to Liane Cartman).
- Cartoon nudity
- And more “f**ks,” “a**holes,” and even (ugh) six-letter f-nukes than you can shake a stick at. (OK, I'll say it — kinda… "fa**ot." I mean, the Mr. Garrison Rule and all that.)
STEP SIX: Parts of this game are crappy.
And that's putting it mildly. South Park not only goes for the cheap poop joke, it revels in it. Of course, Mr. Hankey is involved somehow, but beyond that, even the toilet jokes are extra toilet-y. For example, want a new projectile? New Kid can make it himself. How? Easy. Just go into the bathroom, and… well… drop a deuce in the urinal. Then… well… pick it up. Projectile acquired.
A key component of the game also concerns your gluteous maximus to master the art of the fart holds critical importance. “It was really important,” said co-creator Trey Parker, “that you didn't just press a button to fart. You need to feel it go out of your a**hole.” Farting is so important that players can get Xbox Achievements for farting on people, on animals, and even your buddies. And if that grosses you out, you don't even want to know about the achievements involving feces.
For the record, for those keeping score at home, in the fifth season episode of “It Hits the Fan,” the residents of South Park say the word “shit” uncensored 162 times. Don't be surprised if Stick of Truth works to match that.
STEP SEVEN: Come for the solid RPG play, stay for the fanservice.
It's important to note that underneath all the silly South Park stuff Obsidian Entertainment has made a legitimately solid RPG in the vein of Paper Mario. It's no cakewalk, and unlike the Acclaim games, Stick of Truth been given the attention it so richly deserves by both Obsidian and South Park Studios. The game promises to challenge even the most seasoned RPG player, and the gameplay, deeply rooted in turn-based RPG tradition, could potentially draw in gamers left dissatisfied by recent Final Fantasy offerings, even if they're not a huge fan of the series.
With that being said, the game clearly stands as a big, sloppy, tongue-on-tongue kiss to fans who have stuck by South Park for all these years. It's damn near impossible not to turn somewhere in game and see a series reference. Underwear Gnomes, Gingers, Faith +1, Crab People, and even an entire side quest involving Chinpokomon drop reference after reference to series episodes, leaving fans of the series dry heaving joy and shock simultaneously, much like the show.
SIDE NOTE: When I was an English major in college at UCSB, never did I imagine I would professionally write the phrase “dry-heaving joy and shock.” But with the promise of one of the best RPGs in quite some time wrapped in a delicious taco full of Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and even Cartman, I'm glad I did.
Yeah, I said it. I'm glad I did. Don't judge!… FINE! Screw you guys… I'm going home.