The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Ever since the show debuted in 1997, I’ve been the biggest South Park fan I know. I mention it in the same breath as Arrested Development and The Simpsons when I talk about the all-time great television comedies, and I’ve seen every single episode (most of them multiple times over). While the show has maintained a mostly high bar of quality, its gaming history is less than stellar. Previous games have clearly been developed without much input from creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, focusing more on lazy scatological humor and “they killed Kenny” jokes than the show’s biting social commentary and absurdist comedy. Thankfully, the upcoming Obsidian-developed RPG stands a better chance at being a quality gaming experience with the show’s creators fully involved in the process. That’s why the release of South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge is so disappointing. On one hand, we see South Park Digital Studios teaming with Obsidian to give the IP the full-scale game it deserves. On the other, they’ve allowed the development of Tenorman’s Revenge to happen, and it’s one of the most thoroughly unenjoyable games on Xbox Live Arcade.
Everything about the game feels like a free Flash game that you’d find on Comedy Central’s website. While Parker and Stone provide the voices for the characters, the lazy attempts at humor feel like they were written by programmers that borrowed a few seasons of the show on DVD. You’ll get first-season callbacks like Dr. Mephesto’s multi-assed animals, throwaway appearances from characters like Towelie (spoiler: he asks if you want to get high), a level that forces you to escape a tsunami of urine, and an uninspired boss fight against ManBearPig. When I’m watching the show, I usually find myself laughing at even the weakest of episodes. Tenorman’s Revenge never had me anywhere close to a chuckle, and I got the feeling that Parker and Stone’s involvement in the game never left the VO booth.
The game kicks off with Scott Tenorman stealing the hard drive of Cartman’s Xbox 360, which seems like a less-than-fitting revenge for the events of the classic “Scott Tenorman Must Die” episode. Utilizing another shoehorned-in reference, this story is told by the atheist sea otters from the “Go God Go” episodes. Cartman and the boys are tasked with chasing Tenorman through time in an attempt to retrieve their stolen hard drive, and the experience is nothing short of dreadful.
Floating orbs are sprinkled liberally throughout the game’s levels, but you won’t be collecting extra lives or any tangible bonuses from them like you would with Mario’s coins. Instead, they serve as a means to lower your completion time, which only matters if you’re shooting for gold medals at the end of each stage. While you can avoid these orbs without any real consequence, each level also features an assortment of harder-to-find time cores. These act as a gating mechanic, so you won’t be able to access later levels if you don’t collect enough. You should have plenty early on, but you’ll find yourself having to replay older stages as the barrier for entry climbs higher.
Adding replayability to a game is rarely a bad thing, but none of the stages in Tenorman’s Revenge are enjoyable even on your first go-round. Each of the boys has a special ability that grants them access to otherwise unreachable areas, so tons of areas will be off-limits if you’re playing single player. Stan can throw a football to hit switches, Kyle can stun enemies by revealing his big red afro, Kenny has a high jump, and Cartman can use his belly to bust through walls. With all of the branching paths and character-specific areas, the large stages are often aimless and sprawling affairs. There were several times that we thought we were making progress during local multiplayer, only to find ourselves back at the beginning of the stage.
Enemy encounters typically boil down to jumping on them a couple of times or using weapons (baseball bat, bubble gun, water balloons, etc). Many end-level encounters involve jumping on 10-15 mostly-identical enemies in a single room, only to hear Tenorman say something like “You thought it would be that easy?” before dropping several more waves on your head. I mean that literally, as enemies will actually spawn directly over your head and cause damage. Enemies aren’t the only characters with broken spawn points, as several of my multiplayer partners spawned over death traps and enemies when they entered the game.
If you do plan on playing multiplayer, make sure your buddies know they need to be in it for the long haul. That’s because the game features drop-in multiplayer support but no way of dropping out. We thought for sure that we must have been missing an option, but pausing brings you back to the main menu, and we didn’t have any luck with signing out or disconnecting the controller. It isn’t the only aspect of the user interface that’s broken, as the “resume game” option from the main menu simply takes you to stage one on the level select menu. It’s not a big deal at first, but having to cycle through every stage when you’ve already beaten over a dozen is a hassle when all you wanted to do is pick up where you left off.
South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge is one of those rare games that I genuinely have a hard time saying anything good about. The game boots up just fine, characters typically jump when you hit the corresponding button, and the visuals resemble their television counterparts. Once you’re past those glowing positive points, you’re left with one of the laziest, most uninspired games I’ve played in quite some time. South Park fans will be disappointed by the pandering references and lazy writing, and platforming fans will hate the awful level design. This is a game for no one.