Video games

Game review: This is about killing much more than Kenny

New York Times News ServiceMarch 7, 2014 


In an undated handout photo, a screenshot from the video game "Southpark: The Stick of Truth." While there have been other 'South Park' -themed video games, "South Park: The Stick of Truth" is the first to be written and voiced by the TV show's creators.



    “South Park: The Stick of Truth,” developed for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 by Obsidian Entertainment and South Park Digital Studios, and published by Ubisoft, is rated M (Mature, for players 17 and older).

By the standards of efforts by Trey Parker and Matt Stone to bring the comedy they have perfected for 17 seasons on television to new mediums, “South Park: The Stick of Truth” is a disappointment.

This new video game, which was released Tuesday, doesn’t outclass other role-playing games the way their film “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” did recent movie musicals, with its surprisingly tender love affair between Saddam Hussein and Satan. Nor will the game breathe new life into an old form while drawing more diverse audiences, the way “The Book of Mormon” has done for the stage musical.

But by the standards of “South Park”-themed video games — there have been several, but “The Stick of Truth” is the first to be written and voiced by the TV show’s creators — the new game is an extraordinary feat. It’s one of the better video game comedies yet made.

And by the standards of a typical “South Park” episode on television, it’s solid: juvenile, vile and occasionally hilarious. This is interactive “South Park,” with all that it implies — only stretched across 15-20 hours instead of 22 minutes. “The Stick of Truth” is a game where you can choose to use a toilet and then, later, fling the result at your enemies to weaken them by grossing them out.

The game is not as topical as the TV show, but it is just as transgressive and disrespectful. There are the expected jokes about rape, AIDS and Canada. The game — which looks exactly like an episode of “South Park,” transporting you into that universe as effectively as last year’s “Ni no Kuni” conjured the work of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki - begins with your character’s arrival as a new kid in town.

Soon enough, you’ve joined a battle between two factions led by Cartman and Kyle, and you must choose a character type that applies to both the video game as well as the make-believe war in the game between Cartman’s humans and Kyle’s elves. This being “South Park,” the choices are Fighter, Mage, Thief or Jew.

Go with that last option, and you’re awarded a “Sling of David” to smite your enemies. Later, you can inflict bleeding damage through circumcision or bring down the plagues of Egypt upon your foes.

Soon enough, the game starts showering you with weapons, armor, hairstyles, glasses and weapons made from sex toys. Your character is always a boy, but if you want to play in pigtails and fishnets while wearing a fairy princess crown, you can.

The battles (at first against enemies like hall monitors, but later aliens and Nazi zombies) are too easy and not all that fun to plow through. There’s even a running gag about the tedium of making choices in the turn-based combat system.

The game does, however, provide a seemingly endless supply of creative costumes, weapons and useless junk. The potions that heal you include Cartman’s beloved Cheesy Poofs. Your magic powers are, of course, flatulence-based and fueled by Chipotle burritos, among other delicacies. Used tampons can be hurled as “poison grenades.”

At times, the game relies too heavily on the nostalgic glow of the TV show, with visits from Al Gore, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, underpants gnomes, Jesus and extremely invasive aliens. The game also occasionally recycles gags from the TV show: For example, the Oscar for best song that went to Phil Collins for “You’ll Be in My Heart” (instead of “Blame Canada” from the “South Park” movie) makes an appearance.

“The Stick of Truth” is on surer footing when sending up video games like “Rock Band,” “Skyrim” and “The Legend of Zelda,” as well as game tropes like those Nazi zombies, not to mention audio diaries, the perpetual silence of your character and his willingness to rifle through drawers for loot while his friends are in danger.

The game truly takes off at roughly the midpoint, at a hilarious, if uncomfortable, battle in an abortion clinic. It’s the kind of audaciously risky, taboo-violating work that made Parker and Stone rich and famous.

Now, if only it were a musical.

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