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.
In the 17 years that South Park has been on the air, it’s never received a video game treatment that felt like more than a quick cash-in on the name. With The Stick of Truth, the residents of the sleepy mountain town have finally arrived on the gaming scene with the franchise’s humor intact. This is made possible thanks to the heavy involvement of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and the result is a highly enjoyable and unique RPG.
Your “new kid in town” character starts interacting with series favorites like Butters, Cartman, and Kenny right from the beginning, and you run into just about every notable character from the show by the time the end credits roll. It’s hard to walk across a screen without seeing a handful of references, and the series’ tendency to utilize shock humor is in full effect.
All the fart jokes and Chinpokomon references in the world wouldn’t mean anything if the gameplay weren’t up to snuff, but The Stick of Truth manages to impress as a game on top of being frequently hilarious. Fans of Mario’s RPG outings will be happy to see similar gameplay mechanics in South Park’s combat. Your character and his various buddies have a variety of melee, ranged, and magic abilities that can be enhanced with well-timed button presses, and Parker and Stone have injected plenty of humor into the fights themselves. A traditional RPG may have attacks that poison your enemies, but The Stick of Truth features moves like farting into a foe’s face to cause them to vomit uncontrollably between turns.
Each of the four classes features a handful of abilities that are all activated with QTE prompts. Attack types are functionally the same as a standard RPG, but everything has a charming, child-like twist to it. The mage’s “lightning” comes from a car battery, the warrior assaults enemies with a baseball bat, and ranged attacks come in the form of dodgeballs and suction-cup arrows. In a genre filled with dramatic storylines and brooding characters, the lighthearted nature of The Stick of Truth is refreshing.
Leveling up is achieved via a traditional experience system, and you can enhance various elements of your abilities (damage dealt, number of enemies struck, etc.) as you rank up. A separate system is based on how many Facebook friends you accumulate as you explore the town, and you are rewarded with permanent statistical perks as you become more popular. It’s nothing revolutionary or specific to this title, but it does its job of making you want to advance your character’s skills.
The humor isn’t confined to fart jokes, as it regularly pokes fun at the video game medium itself. Trey and Matt’s love of gaming is well-documented, and their fandom shows when they’re mocking frequent tropes of the industry. Turn-based combat, random audio logs, and basic RPG quest structure are all fodder for jokes that gamers will appreciate. These aren’t just lazy design decisions covered by a throwaway gag – they’re smart jabs at an industry that tends to repeat itself on a regular basis.
While many of the references are expected (Hey, remember the crab people? How about Lemmiwinks/Mongolians/Underpants Gnomes/ManBearPig/etc.?), they’re usually short and fun enough to avoid wearing out their welcome. Another element that helps with that is the running time, which shouldn’t take gamers more than 10-12 hours. Even in a relatively short amount of time (for an RPG, at least), players go to many interesting areas that are different from anything I’ve previously seen in the genre. If you find yourself tiring of one particular area or theme, odds are good that another unique and bizarre situation is on the way.
The only technical issues that I ran into were occasional visual hiccups. On a few occasions when exiting indoor areas, certain visual elements like bushes, garage doors, and my character’s skin or outfit would be invisible. This never lasted long, as the game would correct itself in a few moments or whenever I entered a new area.
I can’t think of a better way to bring this franchise to gaming consoles. The RPG format allows for a ton of funny items and sidequests, the objectives are unlike anything else in the genre, everything moves along at a solid pace, and the overall feel is distinctly South Park. It’s one of the most faithful adaptations of a license I’ve seen, and it ranks among the best comedic games ever released.