|Developer:||Obsidian|||||Release Date:||2014|||||Systems:||Windows, PS3, Xbox 360|
This week on Super Adventures I'm playing another game based on a cartoon series! It'd be fair to say that South Park: The Stick of Truth is a little better regarded than Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse though, as it's got over twice the score on metacritic.
In fact Stick of Truth gave Obsidian their highest metacritic score since Knights of the Old Republic II back in 2004, beating games like Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol. Which goes to show how broken metacritic is/how rubbish reviewers are, as Alpha Protocol's totally a better game than KotOR 2! It has an ending and everything.
I still can't believe that Obsidian of all developers were working on a 'South Park' RPG, though in retrospect I suppose I should be more surprised that they finished it, seeing as they have the worst luck with their licensed games. The original publisher for Stick of Truth went bankrupt a year before release, Aliens: Crucible and their 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' prequel were both cancelled during development, and in a parallel universe they would've made a 'Wheel of Time' and a 'Star Trek' game as well. We're never going to get a proper single player 'Star Trek' RPG at this rate.
Though we did get a 'South Park' RPG and it's right in front of me, so I guess I should play it already.
(Click the screenshots to examine at their original resolution. It's not a great resolution, but it's bigger.)
Our narrator (who sounds a lot like Eric Cartman) has typical tale to tell, of a war between the humans and the vicious drow elves, and the coming of a chosen one. The humans of Kupa Keep have been fighting off the wicked elves for a thousand years now, under the rule and protection of a king known as the Grand Wizard (who looks a lot like Eric Cartman), but despite being undeniably cool, he alone isn't enough to save them.
This is actually a direct sequel to the 'Black Friday' trilogy from season 17 of the cartoon, where the kids were all playing 'Game of Thrones' and fighting over what next gen console they should all buy. The last episode ended with an advert for this very game, which finally turned up in shops just 3 months later (and wasn't released for PS4 or Xbox One).
Kingdom: The Far Reaches, which probably means I didn't watch enough proper cartoons as a child.
Okay that whole intro sequence was just… beautiful. In fact I’m giving the game a gold star right now as even if the rest of it turns out to be terrible it was worth putting on just for that. Sure it lasted a minute (and only like 5 seconds of it was animated), but it put a smile on my face and that's more than I got out of three hours of Family Guy*.
*Actually that's not true, as Back to the Multiverse's cat nukes made me smile. Also Adam West can make almost any line funny.
I can choose my dude's skin tone, make up, and clothes, and there's a ton of colour options here, but where’s the hair style that matches the guy from the animated intro? Am I stuck playing a non-canon hero whatever I pick? Also I have to deduct points from the game for not letting me choose my nose width or nostril height! Plus they totally could've let players import their own portrait, Baldur’s Gate style.
One thing that's conspicuously absent is the choice to play as female character. There's tons of female hairstyles so you can look as feminine as you want but the New Kid can only be male (probably because the girls living in South Park are all playing their own game somewhere else).
There’s no mouse control either, which is awkward. Sure the game gives me a pointer to wave around the screen, but it won’t let me click on anything! Maybe it’s because I have my controller plugged in.
THE CHOSEN ONE ARRIVES.
The actual game bit of the game starts with the New Kid’s family moving into the quiet town of South Park, Colorado. They don’t outright say why they had to move, but it apparently had something to do with their son, and how “they won’t look for him here.”
The New Kid himself doesn’t have a clue about his past as he’s the kind of silent RPG protagonist that starts off with amnesia.
I was wondering what kind of clever cel shading rendering trick they’d used to make the game look like an episode of 'South Park' and it turns out that they… just used 2D backgrounds. There’s a bit of parallax scrolling going on with the objects in the foreground, but otherwise this is just like an old-school point and click adventure game, except without the pointing and clicking. I tried unplugging my Xbox 360 controller but all that did was give me WASD keyboard control, so I’m putting it back and playing with that instead.
Alright my first goal is to go outside into the street and play “like normal kids” so I’m going to steer the hero around with (L) like it says and go do that... right after I've grabbed everything in this house that isn’t nailed down.
This is the Kingdom of Kupa Keep (or KKK for short), the Grand Wizard King’s stronghold and last bastion of humanity. Oh damn Grand Wizard, I only just got that. Well played Cartman, you bastard.
Now Cartman wants to know what to call me and I’m totally unprepared for this! It usually takes me a good 20 minutes to think up a name and… hang on, my character can’t even speak! What, is the New Kid going to write it down for him or something?
“You entered ‘Douchebag.’ Is that correct?”Uh... no, you’ve got it all wrong Cartman, that’s not what I typed at all!
“Are you sure you want to keep the name ‘Douchebag’?”No sir, my name's Morty. With a '.' at the end.
"Very well Douchebag. You will now choose a class: Fighter, Mage, Thief, or Jew."Dammit. Wait, what's that last class?
Cartman does give a short comment as I highlight each class, but it's not all that helpful.
“Black fighter huh, pretty scary.”Bloody Cartman... If you play as a white character he's surprised when you highlight 'Thief', and when I have 'Jew' highlighted he says "I guess we'll never really be friends". He's not about to ban the New Kid from his gang though, not when he can use him.
I guess I'll go with 'Jew' as I'm curious what kind of class it is and I figure that the only way to know for sure is to play as one. I guess not being friends with Cartman is just the price I'll have to pay.
I get to equip a melee weapon and a bow at once, which is nice, and those two black stars on the item picture are slots for me to add (replaceable) upgrades. So I can have a flaming sword and strap +25 gross out damage and +10% money onto it as well. Well I can't have it now, but someday maybe.
Armour comes with even more options as I get to change my hat, outfit and gloves and choose the colour for each. Plus I can stick a wig, beard, glasses and make up on as well, because the developers know that every fan secretly wants to play dress up with their own 'South Park' character.
Right now Cartman's trying to explain how to block enemy attacks, but I keep screwing up the timing and having to start again, over and over. I don't get it, I can attack just fine, but when I press the button to block it's always too fast or too slow.
“All right, you know what? Never mind about blocking. It’s not that important. Just let them hit you, it’s fine.”Damn, he’s actually given up on me! I wanted to keep trying that until I got it right.
Abilities are basically... well I don't actually know yet, but they look like special attacks to me. I've only got the two so far, but if I upgrade them a bit I'll be able to deal more damage as I get injured. So I'm a monk with swords then basically.
I can't do anything with the 'perks' tab yet though, I haven’t gotten enough friends on Facebook.
Right, now I have to gather Cartman’s best three warriors, Tweek, Token and Craig, so that we have the strength to strike back against the elves and recover the Stick. That means I get the full run of the town! All of South Park is open to me now, except for the places that aren't.
THE NEW KID IS EXPLORING SOUTH PARK.
I tried shooting this toy out of a tree and it turned out to be collectable Chinpokomon! You don't shove them into balls and fight with them though, they're just things to find and grab and get annoyed over when you accidentally miss one permanently. Gotta catch all 30... to get anything for your trouble.
Abilities use up Power Points (which are basically mana), but I get full health and PP back at the start of every fight so I might as well use my best skills even against trash mobs. No need to hold back and conserve resources.
Well... except for health potions, and it turns out that I suck at games because I've used up most of my Cheesy Poofs in this one fight just to keep Butters on his feet. It's the blocking, I'm really struggling to get the timing right on my blocks.
With victory comes the opportunity to loot the bodies on the field! It's only random crap though, I don’t get to go full Skyrim and take their armour, weapons and phones.
I tried getting into someone’s house to make more friends and take their stuff, but most of the doors I've found have been locked and the one that wasn’t… well the owner soon corrected that mistake. Not sure I was expecting full-frontal paper cutout nudity in an RPG.
Still at least I got a sidequest out of it. I need to go to Hoth and find this kid’s tricorder. He’s going to give me Shadow of the Colossus and 60 cents now, and the rest of the reward when I return with his missing iPad 2. I mean he likely doesn’t want to give me his game, but if he doesn't see me take it, he can't really stop me.
SOME MORE LOOTING LATER.
(Y), (Y), (Y), (Y), (Y), (Y), (Y), (Y)(Y)(Y)(Y)(Y)(Y)(Y), okay bored now.
Still, at least it's left me wealthy. I ended up with $74.30 after selling my haul, which is basically a fortune for a 9 year old. I'd blow it all on 'potions', but I can only carry 10 of each type and I'm pretty much full at the moment.
Butters is getting really impatient with me now, always telling me to play the game instead of wandering around town. I get that he wants me to do a bit of main story before exploring the whole town and getting over-levelled, but I've only found like 3 groups of elves so far so he should chill out. I expect the enemies scale anyway.
This gives me an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how I can stun enemies on the battlefield to give me a free turn during the fight. I move that red crosshair over them as they're scurrying around the field (or more likely standing still) and put an arrow into them to stun ‘em. Then I rush over before they shake it off and give them a good kick to initiate combat. Sometimes they'll call other enemies in from nowhere once the fight starts, but other times I can catch them all on the field and stun the whole enemy party before combat.
I’ll give that peanuts crate below a kick as well seeing as it’s got a crack on it, marking it as destructible, maybe topple those barrels onto the rat down there. I can outright knock out enemies by playing around with the scenery like this, by dropping stuff on them or electrocuting the puddle they're standing in. Sometimes though I'm just smashing open a path to get to some treasure.
Man, I should probably get on with the plot at some point before I forget what it is I'm doing.
LATER, AFTER FINDING TWO OF THE WARRIORS.
The game doesn't do the greatest job of explaining the technique so this took me a few tries, but I have to hold the right stick down, rotate the left stick until the lines go wavy to calibrate my gas, then hold both sticks still and wait. Then when it's ready I flick the right stick up, letting rip right into Kenny’s face. Because Cartman thought it'd be funny.
Princess Kenny wasn’t much impressed with my demonstration of prodigious natural talent, but she’ll join my crew regardless.
Wait, she’s REPLACING Butters? I can only have two characters in battle at once? But the enemy can have three, or more! I'm on Cartman's side, I should be the one doing the cheating! Fortunately I can at least swap between sidekicks at any time, at the cost of a turn, so I still have access to Butters' amazing free healing move when I need it.
THE LIBERATION OF CRAIG.
I'm working on getting Cartman's third warrior right now, by breaking Craig out of Mr. Mackey's detention, and I'm definitely beginning to seeing the tactical potential of farts. Seems that whenever I get a new skill like this it unlocks new areas, and now I can blast through obstructions when there's a flame nearby to ignite the gas. These poor hall monitors didn't even have time to smell what hit them. Don't worry, they'll be fine, this isn't Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. We're just playing around here (with fire).
I probably could've shot the sprinklers and then dropped something electric into the puddle now that I think about it. There's often more than one way to deal with threats, and the buddies have their own skills that can help. Kenny here can distract people for instance, though it's hard to know when she's telling me to do it because she doesn't speak clearly! I suppose I can't talk though... as the New Kid literally can't talk at all.
Whatever it's showing, it looks exactly like an episode of 'South Park' and sounds exactly like an episode of 'South Park'. Well the voices do anyway, the music sounds like it got lost on the way to a Dragon Age sequel and that actually works out far better than I would've guessed.
Here, you can listen to the theme on YouTube while I continue to fight my way through to detention. There's got to be a silver key around here somewhere.
By the way, if you look above the health bars you'll see all the buffs and debuffs we've got stacked up right now; the game loves its status effects. Also that '20' on the top right is the amount of armour soaking up my damage, meaning I should stick to more powerful moves over quick combos. If I come across an enemy with layers of shields on the other hand, then I can break out a light attack combo to smash them all, then switch to more devastating blows once they're gone. I think.
Plus enemies have got different stances like 'block', 'reflect' and 'riposte' which can send my attacks right at me if I choose the wrong one. So basically simply mashing 'attack' each round isn't really an option for me... though several attacks do require me to mash (A). I really hate mashing (A).
Wait, is the New Kid stepping on top of a defeated hall monitor there on the right?
This feels like a natural place for me to stop, now that I've gotten Tweek, Token and Craig, but everything I've seen has been pretty normal so far. It's just been the kids playing their game with barely anything weird or offensive going on. I going to need to play further to understand what the game's really like. I need more time!
A GLIMPSE OF THINGS TO COME.
Looking on the bright side, having a probe in the ass does have advantages, as the New Kid can use his to teleport to nearby platforms when there's an alien antenna around (and the things are all over the place). So my town exploring options have just increased, provided I can ever get back there again. I've got to move certain platforms using switches to get myself within teleport range of other platforms which will put me next to other switches etc. At least I've got these audiologs to listen to along the way.
LATER, SEVERAL METERS BELOW THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH.
This dungeon is starting to remind me of the sewers in Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, so I can add it to my List of Similar Games along with Super Mario RPG, Saturday Morning RPG and EarthBound. So basically this plays like a cross between a mid 90s JRPG and a Western indie game.
Unlike some of those other games though, this one is really good at telling me exactly where I need to be next, plus it has a fast travel system to get me there! No quest arrows though, which is good news for those who want to get lost in sewer mazes.
SOON, AT THE PLACE I'M SUPPOSED TO BE.
It amuses me somewhat that these guys (and their cats) sound suspiciously like someone took their voice clips directly from Nazi speeches from the 40s, but I'm less amused by that M4 carbine pointed my way.
I've got a cunning scheme though! I've got an ability that causes bleeding damage and a sword that drinks health from bleeding enemies! Though actually, thinking about it, I'm not sure I really want to feed off the blood of Nazi zombies (plus the guy in front is 'riposting' so he'd just parry and counter anyway). Maybe I'll just smack them around a bit with my ranged weapon instead. I've got snowballs that set things on fire!
SEVERAL OTHER EVENTS OCCUR.
The game doesn't have save points, but it doesn't kick you back to the king with half your cash removed either. Instead it has a checkpoint system and you can save the latest checkpoint as a permanent save game at any time.
Which raises the question why it didn't occur to me to save back in that alien spaceship. Now I can't load it back up and get a better shot of the teleportation probe in action! An entire satellite dish folds out of his ass, just like with Cartman in the very first episode of season 1, 'Cartman Gets an Anal Probe'. Like with most of the game, it's funnier if you've seen (and can remember) the episode it's referencing.
ONLY A LITTLE BIT LATER THIS TIME.
(A) can go fuck off somewhere.
Plus some abilities I don't use at all because I haven't even figured out how to make them work yet! The game's kind enough to flash up the instructions for each move while I'm choosing its target, but sometimes they're just a little too vague for me. I'll be tapping everything it says and it'll snap back with TOO LATE! Usually I'd out this down to me being dumb, but I know other people have been struggling as well.
I've played the game for maybe 6 hours now, so I've had time to give this some thought and I've come to a conclusion. Velocirapstar has to be the best Chinpokomon.
Pokémon parody is indistinguishable from the real thing and decided to make a really good imitation instead, in the authentic 'South Park' aesthetic. That's pretty much the game in a nutshell really.
But is South Park: The Stick of Truth really twice as good as Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, as their metacritic scores would indicate? Well that'd probably depend on how much you like RPGs compared to third person shooters, and how much you like satire and comedy compared to mockery and insults, but basically... yeah, probably.
One thing that's certain is that if you don't like the series you should stay well clear, as this is 'South Park' to the bone. The game starts off surprisingly tame but eventually escalates. Then it really escalates, to the point where it's as offensive and vulgar and gross and adult and immature as anything they've shown in the cartoon.
I was actually dreading playing the game to be honest. Not because of the humour, I love 'South Park', but because as I've gotten really burned out on turn-based JRPG combat lately. So I was pretty surprised to find I liked the bits where I hit people as much as the bits where Butters says things. You'd expect a two character team to be too small, but they each get to take a second move so there's up to four actions to be taken each round and the game's mechanically complex enough to give you something to think about even in regular encounters. Though it's also kind of on the easy side, so players with actual skill are likely going to steamroll it. I made it halfway through with like 2 defeats so far myself and I can't even block properly.
That said, I'm glad the game often gives ways to bypass the fights through smart use of the traps around the field. Finding hidden paths through vents and dropping things on people's heads is more fun than typical tired JRPG puzzles for sure. Also, no random encounters.
So basically, if you have to choose between this and that N64 South Park game where you throw snowballs at mutant turkeys, this is the one to go for.