Which game am I talking about? A group of young kids explore their US American backyard hometown, meet lots of strange monsters, some aliens and fight jRPG style to win the day. Nope, I’m not talking about Earthbound, rather South Park: The Stick of Truth. When Earthbound came out it developed a cult following and over the years there have been a couple of games that tried to evoke its unique mix of elements, though most of them failed to some degree or other.
SP:TSoT on the other hand is both completely different and yet, after playing it, feels the closest like how it was playing Earthbound for the first time. The typical South Park humor is juvenile, often borderline or way past gross-out territory and quite often contains biting satire. Earthbound’s humor was much less in your face, more a certain amusing sensibility to the world and monster design than mere punch line jokes.
But what both of those games have is that they transform a mundane small town into a place of fantastic discovery and epic conflict, where treasure and monsters and excitement is around every corner. In Earthbound you leave the town after some time and explore the wider world, with the transformation from mundane to fantastic inherently real, while in South Park its for the most time make-believe and the adults are blissfully unaware.
But the overall effect is similar. It’s about kids having a grand adventure.
It’s not perfect, mind you. There are tutorial lessons for fart magic (roll with it), that give you utterly confusing instructions for how to perform the magic tricks (and later on the controls are completely changed for normal fights). These tutorials are rage-inducing, pointless and probably made quite a few people give up on playing further.
I’m wondering whether they were intended as sick jokes to enrage the players, or whether they just weren’t play-tested well. My advice: just read up on the net how to perform during the tutorials and then forget them.
There is some other minor stuff here and there, but the rest of the game is pretty solid. Actually, better than solid, its genuinely fun and enjoyable as a gaming experience. The jRPG-styled fights are quite clever with lots of abilities to try out and since you can exchange your secondary character at will (each of them with their own unique set of abilities), this makes for lots of different tactics to win in combat.
South Park itself is well designed as well. It feels like a real small town (despite the fact that its size, typically for video games, is decreased to a manageable size) and after some time you don’t really need a map to navigate, as you know where every major and minor place is, where every street leads to. Each of the many locations feels unique, each of them offers something neat to discover. Over the course of the game you have to traverse the same places often, so it helps that they never get boring (there are random enemies to fight or new secrets to unlock) and occasionally there’s new minor stuff happening to keep them interesting.
The plot is okay. Not mind-blowing, but fitting. You start out in Cartman’s camp of humans fighting against the elves, have later the choice to either stick with him or side with the elves (stick with Cartman, it’s funnier), only to reunite all to fight against the real enemy in the end. It’s quite amusing, South Park-style. Also crazy all the way through and it never leaves you bored. There’s always something more to do and you wish it would go on forever like that.