South Park: The Stick of Truth Review
The Stick of Truth is South Park, through and through. Whether that's a good thing or not depends largely on your appetite for the show, with its crude animation, crude humor, crude language... crude everything, really. While saying South Park (and by extension, The Stick of Truth) is a show built on a foundation of toilet humor is a bit reductive, it's also not far from the truth, so if you've already decided you loathe the show, The Stick of Truth isn't going to change your mind.
If, however, you're a fan of the show, this game is a dream come true; a 12 hour interactive episode packed with references and instantly recognizable characters. It's a classic South Park send-up, and this time the target is fantasy role-playing games a la Dungeons & Dragons. The boys are playing a town-wide game of humans (led by "Grand Wizard" Cartman) versus elves (with King Kyle at the helm), two factions battling for control of the eponymous Stick, which grants its wielder the power to control the universe.
Instead of a thin veneer of pop culture fantasy tropes, however, the subject matter is treated with surprising respect and depth, and serves as the springboard for an epic tale that includes everything from alien abductions to a vast government conspiracy. This is South Park, though, and the game rarely lets you forget that the heroes are actually just a bunch of fourth graders, like when an epic showdown is interrupted by the combatants parents scolding them for being out past their bedtime. It's charming and funny and, perhaps most importantly, well-edited, never lingering too long on one particular subplot and managing to tie a ton of disparate threads into one satisfying whole.
The reason Stick of Truth succeeds, though, isn't because it's a great version of South Park, but because it's actually a lot of fun to play. Under Trey Parker and Matt Stone's snappy writing and shock jock antics, there's a surprisingly deep, refreshingly engaging role-playing game, and not just the one the boys are play-acting.
Stick of Truth drops you into a comprehensive rendering of the little mountain town, and while the map isn't as sprawling as some open-world RPGs, it does feel like there's a lot here to discover and explore. Playing as the new kid in town, a silent avatar that you can customize with a boatload of creation options and gear, you bop around South Park's three (very long) main streets and a number of side areas, discovering locations and hunting down collectibles that will be instantly familiar to long-time fans of the TV series.
As you explore the world (always on foot, though there are a helpful number of fast-travel stations), you'll encounter a wide variety of enemies: from other kids dressed as elves and warriors to mutant rats and some, ahem, very rectally inquisitive aliens. Whether you're completing side quests for Al Gore or tracking down Chinpokomon for your collection, there's plenty to do, and all of it is classic South Park.
The combat is turned-based and in some ways very traditional, but it folds in some interesting new wrinkles. As your heroes attack with improvised weapons like lawn darts or dodgeballs, or draw on the mystic power of their own flatulence, the game presents players with mini-games to determine the effectiveness of your attacks. Mashing A for bonus damage while your character hoses down enemies with a Roman Candle is even more fun than it sounds, and learning to time your blocks during the enemy attacks can be vital to surviving some of the more challenging boss battles.
Not that the game itself is very hard, even on the highest difficulty setting. Once you've figured out the timing on your best attacks, you'll be able to nail them pretty consistently. The joy here doesn't come so much from overcoming obstacles as from discovering cool new ways to win. Watching little unassuming Butters transform into deadly Professor Chaos to vanquish your foes, or improvising a lightning bolt by dousing your enemy with a bucket of water and then sparking a car battery never gets old, and there are enough weapons and abilities to play with throughout the course of the game that the combat rarely feels stale.
While the RPG elements aren't as deep as some other games in the genre, there's just enough stat comparing and skill leveling to hook you without ever getting bogged down by the numbers game. There's also a massive amount of loot to hoard, both of the stat bonus and purely aesthetic variety, and the game does a good job of making leveling up feel impactful and important. Players who take the time to really scrounge around the garage attics and back yards of the game will be rewarded with some cool, unique items, and even the trash loot comes with amusing little blurbs of descriptive text that will delight South Park stalwarts.
The Stick of Truth manages to strike a difficult balance, especially for a licensed property, balancing loyalty to the source material with gameplay that doesn't seem tired or tacked on. It feels through and through like a labor of love made by people who understand that above all else, games need to be fun to play. While it won't convert any of the haters, for the rest of us, it's a hell of a ride, an extended love letter to a rabid fan base.