Game Review: “South Park: Stick of Truth”

I don’t always have a rhyme or reason for what I choose to write about on Die. Die. Retry. on a surface level. Much to the chagrin of advertisers and my bank account, I am always a little too far off the mark to capitalize on a videogame like Cyberpunk or, say, the new Assassin’s Creed, and, often, either I’ am a ways behind, or I prefer to dabble in lesser known videogames like Blue Fire and Pumpkin Jack. Be that as it may, I would never forgive myself if I wrote something off for no reason other than because it was a generation or two behind what I am “meant” to be reviewing or talking about.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is a 2014 role-playing videogame developed by Obsidian Entertainment in collaboration with South Park Digital Studios and published by Ubisoft. In ways, as date as my review for The Stick of Truth may feel, in that same respect, my anticipation and reaction to the original release of South Park: The Stick of Truth mirrored that. By 2014, I was now legally an adult, and the concept of a South Park videogame was no longer something I was interested in. As of 2021, I am now less of an adult, however, and find myself once more appreciating South Park.

I adored South Park in my childhood, browsing the South Park Studios website like I was in search of buried treasure, and, in a way, I was – discovering gems I would covet for years after. Does everything South Park says parallel my own beliefs? Absolutely not! And, in fact, I would be very surprised if it mirrored Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s beliefs, and yet, it captured that nostalgic, playground sensibility and carefree, no-holds-barred attitude I’ll always have admiration for.

I first encountered it in the breakroom of my day job, seeing reruns of South Park play on my lunch period. Sooner or later though, with its addition on HBO Max, however, it was confirmed – I had caught that itch again. Not only did I care again, but, really, with the introduction of new themes and deeper, overarching narratives, rich characters and longform storytelling, South Park has improved in ways unseen by other series’ like The Simpsons and Futurama before it.

South Park: The Stick of Truth puts you in the town of South Park, the New Kid, enshrouded in an ongoing roleplay fantasy war between the children of the town. And, in spite any impression you may have had about licensed videogames prior, they don’t mess around.

The turn-based gameplay mechanics offer a fun, but easily traversable experience, offering a small need for strategy if you look for it and a more casual vibe if you don’t.

The Wizards, led by Cartman, and the Elves, led by Kyle, among others, are pitted against each other in an all-out war for the powerful Stick of Truth. For a while, the formula is straightforward and consistent, however, in classic South Park fashion, things soon get out of control, with aliens, Nazi zombies, and gnomes, all threatening the town’s demise.

That’s something, in particular, that The Stick of Truth captures really well. It understands South Park, most likely because of the heavy involvement Stone and Parker had in its development. The animation looks fantastic and of the same quality you would expect from the Comedy Central series, likewise with the voice-acting, and offensive sense of humor. In fact, considering what they are allowed to getaway with versus what they can getaway with on cable television, The Stick of Truth might even push the envelope some.

I have heard certain reviewers refer to The Stick of Truth to South Park as what Arkham Asylum was to Batman, and, honestly, it is not as hyperbolic as you’d think, but has to be thought of in the context of their respective series. There’re about a million references and Easter Eggs to uncover in a playthrough, and, once more, that’s honestly not as hyperbolic as you’d think. Sometimes it is even staggering how loaded to the brim it came off. The only setback about that is, while I was laughing, my wife, largely without an encyclopedic knowledge of the series, was often confused.

That is not to say she did not enjoy herself, however, nor is it to say it is unapproachable to newcomers – but that, admittedly, it will appeal more to fans of the original series, the more devout, the better. However, I laughed a lot, my wife laughed a lot, and depending on your sense of humor, I think you will as well.

As prefaced, the gameplay is relatively straightforward, with complexities that are applied as you progress throughout. I never had any instance where I didn’t feel like I could not jump in and wreak havoc, and yet, conversely, I will admit, I never had an instance where I felt particularly challenged or intimidated by an adversary. This is not a damning demerit, given the subject matter involved. The characters are colorful and absurd, and often, the battling and interactions are more tailored to comedy than actual harsh, tough-as-nails strategy. I never expected Sephiroth, but I did occasionally wish that characters like Eric Cartman would make you test and better explore the key gameplay components. By the end, I never really felt challenged by enemies, and, once the novelty of seeing Mr. Slave engulf someone in his backside wanes, I felt compelled to run away from enemies the same way I did with a lot of other roleplaying videogames.

Thankfully, the golden goose of South Park: The Stick of Truth is how many jokes it can land, how many videogame tropes it can lampoon, and enthralled it can make you feel in an imaginary paradigm constructed by fourth graders. What’s all the more surprising is how often the jokes can land, and the extent it can make you invested.

I originally wanted to end this review by saying: South Park: The Stick of Truth is better than it has any right to be. However, that feels diminutive and unsatisfactory. I don’t often review television series’, but if I were to write about the more recent seasons of South Park, I’d likely have finished them the same way – that they’re better than they have any right to be. I say that because South Park masquerades its structural ingenuity with toilet humor and fart jokes, but, with all that its learned over the years (be it the main series, or … Chef’s Loveshack), and its proven track record, South Park: The Stick of Truth is as good as Matt Stone and Trey Parker command it to be.

Rating: – 4.2 out of 5.0