Fighter, Thief, Mage, or Jew? To anyone not familiar with South Park's unique brand of humour, picking a character class as the start of The Stick Of Truth might come as a bit of a shock. Indeed, if you're at all easily offended, then everything in The Stick Of Truth is going to come as a bit of a shock. This is a game that's shaping up to be every bit as crude and wonderfully offensive as the series; as a huge South Park fan, it's everything I could have hoped for.
The worry is, of course, the keen sense of satire that backs up South Park's controversial material is lost in the transition to videogame. Cartman's utter disregard for the feelings of anyone but himself only really works in the show, because eventually you know he's going to get his comeuppance (see Human CENTiPAD, for example). It's tough to know just how well The Stick Of Truth is going to handle its controversial material from an hour or so of play, but with Matt and Trey handling the writing, I'm hopeful it can pull it off. What I can tell you, though, is that what I did see made me totally laugh my ass off.
This article contains mild spoilers from the first hour or so of The Stick Of Truth. If you want to go in totally fresh, stop reading now. I'm super cereal.
The Stick Of Truth is a direct follow-up to the recent A Song Of Ass and Fire episode of the show, itself a spoof of Game Of Thrones. The children of South Park, still dressed in their Game Of Thrones garb, are engaged in a bit of live-action role-playing and are fighting over control of the titular stick, with grand wizard Cartman leading the side of the supposed good. Essentially, it sets up the world of South Park up as an old school, fantasy turn-based RPG, albeit one with more than its fair share of farts and four letter words.
Naturally, it's a fantasy world grounded in the minds of 9-year-old children, so weapons are generally things that the kids find or make themselves. Swords are made of wood, helmets are colanders, and farts are magic attacks. Yeah, that last one isn't exactly subtle, but when you see your character cupping his hands between his cheeks and letting rip a "Dragon Shout" (by building up the pressure using the analogue sticks) directly into the mouth of an unsuspecting princess Kenny, it's hard not to chuckle.
The Stick Of Truth plays to classic RPG conventions throughout with turn-based battles, a big town to explore, NPCs to speak to, items to collect, and quests to perform. Those things aren't particularly groundbreaking in of themselves, but it's the way that they've been wrapped up in the South Park universe that made my time with The Stick Of Truth so much fun. Quick travel around the map and instead of horse-drawn cart there's Timmy and his electric wheelchair pulling a trolley. At home base in Cartman's back yard, Clyde mans the weapon store, while Scott Malkinson and his "power of diabetes" preside over some stables consisting solely of a sand box and Cartman's long tormented cat Mr. Kitty.
That attention to detail did a good job of glossing over the mostly fetch-based quests I was entrusted with too. One of the first, enlisting Tweak to Cartman's cause, meant grabbing supplies for Tweak's Coffee Shop. Simple enough, except the supplies came from Kenny's house on the wrong side of the tracks, and instead of coffee, it was a "special ingredient" from a crack den in the shed, complete with some irate crack heads guarding it. Another, and by far my favorite quest, involved helping Lu Kim rid City Wok of Mongolians by heading over to a nearby tower and beating up all of the Mongolian children.
The tower quest with increasingly powerful opponents on each level is an RPG standard, but everything from the look of the Mongolian characters, to the hilarious and often cringing dialogue between battles made it a joy to play through. It also gave me a good chance to try out the turn-based combat, which had skill element to it in the form of pushing the attack button at the right moment to score extra damage, or double up an attack. My favorite bit, though, was unleashing the roshmbo special attack (other special attacks could be unlocked and upgraded via a skill tree in the menus), which had my character kicking his opponent square in the nuts for maximum damage.
The reward for rescuing Mr. Lu Kim--aside from an hilarious conversation about free City Beef and City Chicken--was the ability to use Lu Kim as a summon in battle. That sounded odd to me until I remembered this. Sure enough, once summoned there appeared Lu Kim in full battle garb doing his absurd Chinese war dance. Sadly, Lu Kim was the only summon I was able to unlock during my demo, but I'm really hoping there are others are just as funny as that one.
Ultimately, The Stick Of Truth is going to live and die by its humour; what I briefly saw of its RPG mechanics didn't seem exciting enough on their own--and even then, there's got to be context to all its ribbing on Jews, Chinese people, religion and, well, just about anything you could possibly be offended by really. But for as big a fan as me, it was an impressive showing. All those little nods to the series you'd hope for are in there: the collectible Chinpokomon (complete with theme tune), the inappropriate messages sent to your virtual phone from characters you befriend, the fact that no matter what you type into as your name, Cartman just ends referring to you as "douchebag". Even if South Park: The Stick Of Truth doesn't end up being a kick-ass game, it's shaping up to be one heck of a piece of fan service.