The Simpsons already did it, but it can suck South Park's middle finger.
Take a deep breath: South Park: The Stick of Truth is only 13 hours long. If that's enough for you to tell the guys at Obsidian Entertainment to suck your balls, it's understandable… but more than a little premature. Because taken from another perspective, South Park: Stick of Truth is four South Park movies or approximately two full seasons of South Park pasted together. Take any other branded game, including every South Park title to date (as they all have been graded a 'C' or lower in old-school GR terms), and that last sentence would be disingenuous. But Stick of Truth is without question not only the best South Park game yet, but also among the best game adaptations in the last decade, period.
Packed full of references, like Paris Hilton in Mr. Slave's anus, Stick of Truth plays exactly as the animation would if it were a Paper Mario RPG. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker ensured that this title, unlike the handful of South Park video game predecessors, looks and feels like its Comedy Central original series. Characters bop about the screen like paper cut-outs, adults overreact and are pretty much clueless, fart jokes abound, and aliens moo. That said, it's almost impossible to write about the story without spoiling a joke or two in this review, but I'll try my darndest. (If I slip, I'll play my innocent woodland critters card. Hail Satan!)
As GR's Ryan Bates mentioned in a feature on how to prepare yourself for Stick of Truth, the plot primarily expands on the grandiose fourth-grader LARPing from the trio of Game of Thrones parodies in Season 17 and the Lord of the Rings spoof all the way back in Season 6. With foul-mouthed kids role-playing as elves, wizards, paladins, and thieves, all wielding wooden swords, staves, and golf clubs, what could possibly go wrong? (A lot.) As the New Kid in town, whom you customize before the opening cutscene (there's a reason you can't be a girl), you are quickly accosted by the Wizard King Cartman to join his Kingdom of Kupa Keep (yep, the KKK) against the elves who wish to steal the all-powerful Stick of Truth from his royal chamber.
Suffice it to say, Stick of Truth effectively bombards you with non-stop childish humor, referential jokes, and social commentary. South Park has always been about lampooning the ridiculousness of American culture, all while inserting as many curses, slurs, and poop jokes as possible. And the game is no different—as it should be—regardless of the European censoring. South Park fans will appreciate Timmy as the fast-travel transport, Mr. Hankey and Jesus as once-per-day summons, Cartman using his fart as a fire blast, Jimmy as a bard who can use the dreaded "brown note," and Butters calling forth his Professor Chaos persona in anime style. Nearly every line of banter and every song that plays in the background is a tongue-in-cheek reference. To top if all off, the segment that includes Terrance and Phillip is hands-down the awesomest area, in a game that's already full of win.
Better yet, Matt and Trey have enough gamer prowess to poke fun at video game tropes too, making constant jabs at the silent protagonist, audiologs, the use of "PP" for magic, and Skyrim. I suppose that these last two paragraphs could be considered minor spoilers, but trust me when I say that this is just the tip of the iceberg… if that iceberg is fucking Antarctica. If South Park somehow missed your radar for the last seventeen seasons, be assured that you don't have to understand the numerous inside jokes to laugh your ass off. Devoted South Park fans, though, will snicker twice as often and twice as hard.
Given that South Park was originally made entirely out of construction paper using stop-motion animation, it's no surprise that Stick of Truth applies a buddy system similar to Paper Mario's. In traditional turn-based combat, the New Kid and a fellow partner battle against a group of enemies using melee or ranged weapons, class-based abilities that cost PP, restorative items, and quick actions that don't cost a full turn. Performing the proper commands with the right timing during an attack will deal more damage to enemies and during a block will reduce the damage you take.
Success in combat means having a keen strategy that milks the most out of every turn, a feat that's surprisingly challenging right from the start (on normal difficulty). Enemies level to your party as they progress, so battle remains challenging more or less throughout the game. Getting the timing down by watching animations carefully takes several battles, and most battles have your duo facing four or more enemies who can easily gang up on a single character and force your remaining party member to pull out a revive taco. The endgame is noticeably easier, because of the last two characters who join your party, with both wielding potent horde-clearing abilities.
But so long as you stun or knock out enemies before combat, never waste an action, and heal aggressively with items, you'll come out alive. Luckily, your party rapidly regenerates health and PP out of battle, which means you can spend PP quite liberally in battle. You'll also find money and loot everywhere in chests, cabinets, drawers, and parking meters, so staying stocked up on items and leveled weapons, armor, and equipment strap-ons is merely a matter of being thorough. The best gear attacks multiple times, has slots for strap-ons, and naturally applies status effects like bleeding, grossed out, burning, and freezing.
Because of this, I found the Jew class the most powerful compared to the standard Fighter, Mage, and Thief (and how could I not pick the Jew class?). This might sound offensive, but it's only a joke until you stun foes with Jew-Jitsu and control the Plagues of Egypt, summoning forth status-causing locusts, frogs, disease, and meteors from the heavens. On top of that, combining equipment and strap-ons that leech health from enemies and deal elemental damage, all while restoring PP whenever my character heals or does elemental damage, meant that I could continuously cast magic every turn. (I think I broke the stick.)
Perhaps due to the struggles Stick of Truth had with the change in publisher, a couple technical issues creep in. Some of the controls for farting can be confusing to learn, and there's no option to skip a turn when the only action would have your partner hitting an enemy in a counter-attack riposte stance. Whenever you reach a new LARP rank, the game auto-equips gear that you'll likely take off immediately too. Also, not having an option to turn off your armor's appearance makes character customization rather useless. Since enemies rubber-band to your level, you gain a proportionate amount of experience for every battle, so if you're a completionist, you'll reach the level cap of 15 at around two-thirds of the game (or 10 hours in).
If it were just five or more hours longer in content, South Park: The Stick of Truth would have struck the perfect balance between writing, gameplay, humor, and length. Not since Earthbound and Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars has there been a turn-based RPG with such a distinct style and with so many memorable moments. It has incredible respect for its brand and classic gaming, and incredible disrespect everywhere else in the best way possible. While Stick of Truth won't receive perfect marks now, just wait for it to drop in price later in the year and gift it the last half-star it's missing. Or tell me to screw off, go home, and play it anyway. Either way, I'll perform two salchows and a triple lutz because that's what Brian Boitano'd do.