South Park: The Stick of Truth may not be the first South Park video game, but the new cross-platform release is so damn good that Trey Parker and Matt Stone can’t be blamed for wishing it were.
Their first game, simply dubbed South Park, was released so long ago that it came out on the first Playstation, the Nintento 64 consoles, and it was a mess. Sure, the South Park brand is somewhat based on shoddy graphics, but that game’s poor aesthetics went lower than the crate-paper charm that helped Parker & Stone warm their ways into the hearts of males aged 18–35 (not to mention many younger and older). Poor animation and insanely repetitive jokes were amusing for hardcore fans of the show, but the game barely rated above a 50% in aggregate, marking it a failure at launch.
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In the years that followed, further cash-in attempts were made with the license. From a quiz show game to a racer game, to a couple of mobile titles, but nothing at all stuck, mostly it all just sucked. This is a historical standard, though, for video games based on pop culture licenses. Even The Simpsons had poorly made video games before South Park could have the chance to. It wasn’t until 2009′s Batman: Arkham Asylum, that gamers felt like they could trust a game developer to take a pop culture license and not turn out a steaming pile of crap.
In the time between their first game and today, not only has the show managed to stay on the air, launch a website where fans can experience their entire back catalogue for free (much like the newly launched WWE network), and stay popular enough to have the showrunners retain an unprecedently strong creative control. Further, it became obvious to everybody at Comedy Central and South Park that despite the poorly executed video game releases, video gamers are a core constituency of the audience that tuned in every Wednesday night. So much so the case, that the ad break immediately after the opening credits became the destination for the most important video games to launch their incredibly produced cinematic trailers. From Call of Duty to Grand Theft Auto, the biggest players in video games would spend large portions of their marketing budget on one trailer, taking the entire first ad break, which could contain three to four normal-length ads.
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This year’s edition, though, has landed well with both fans and critics alike, currently with a 84 out of 100 at Metacritic. After a repeatedly delayed launch (we at TVMix had planned to release an article back in December upon the game’s first announced release date), the title is now facing challenges both abroad and at home. At your local game store, it may not even be in stock, a scarcity problem few games these days have the luxury of enjoying.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone had let it be known that their new game wasn’t going to be a mistake, that they had learned and wouldn’t stand behind sub-par content. Last-second perfectionists handing over new episodes to Comedy Central mere hours before air time, a late release of a quality product is not unlike what the shows fans are used to.
While their title on the PS1 and N64 had ugly graphics, The Stick of Truth looks indistinguishable from the show itself. Since South Park is an animated program – based around crude paper figures at that – the accomplishment isn’t on the level of gorgeous titles like The Last of Us, but it is a perfect execution of what has to be an expensive content license.
Truth finds our favorite kids of South Park, Colorado continuing in the Dungeons & Dragons/Game Of Thrones style pretend games that we last saw them playing through in Season 17′s “Black Friday” trilogy. Cartman is in the role of The Grand Wizard (yes, the winks and nods of Cartman’s racist past show up here, and in the form of “KKK” labelled armor his camp sells) who guides you, The New Kid, through the art of play fighting, this makes for hilarious in-game tutorials, where you test new skills on kids like Butters and the diabetic Scott Malkinson. Truth has fun with the traditional structure of video games, using a social media interface for how you interact with townsfolk (each new person you meet, you “friend” in the game’s social network, and every so-often, a new friend will unlock a skill upgrade).
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Especially while fans are without new episodes, The Stick of Truth is a welcome experience, a chance to explore the small mountain town, and explore the subplots when you get tired of following Cartman’s marching orders. Make sure Mr. Slave recieves a suspicous package, prove to Father Maxi that kids can find Jesus, and most bizarrely, help the owner of City Wok fight the conquering Mongolian Horde, by convincing them South Park is not a safe town to live in. Gameplay won’t go beyond 15 hours for most players, but no matter which character classification you choose to play as, be it warrior, thief, mage or Jew, a damn good game you are sure to get.
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