Thinking of the animated series South Park dredges up weird, strangely satisfying memories from my childhood. The day that I sang Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo’s theme song to my mom, confirming for her that my young mind had been warped beyond repair, is a moment I’ll always cherish. Sadly, 17 years later, the show just doesn’t give me that same kind of awe-inspiring energy to sing songs and bother my mother, who is far beyond being surprised by whatever it is I do. But that all can change now that South Park: The Stick of Truth is here.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker first licensed the series for adaptation into a video game way back in the ’90s at the peak of the show’s popularity, but what was produced was as much South Park as is My Little Pony. This go-around, however, Stone and Parker have written the script, voiced the characters and directed the team at Obsidian Entertainment in the creation of the game. The result? An uncanny translation from screen to, er, screen for the console and PC crowds.
The Stick of Truth takes the premise of the show’s recent storyline involving the kids’ live-action role playing (LARPing), in which Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny dress as various role-playing clichés (think wizard, warrior, damsel in distress and Thor) and go on an adventure. While in the show the adventure turns into a multinational Game of Thrones-esque saga, the video game follows the life of New Kid, i.e., yourself as you lead your companions to victory against an opposing faction.
If someone were to walk in the moment you began playing The Stick of Truth, he or she might mistake the game for an episode of the series. Like the series, the game is animated with the two-dimensional cut-out style made famous by the show. What makes the game interesting and quite unique for a television adaptation are the Japanese role playing (JRPG) aesthetics.
Battles take place in rows, with characters using attacks and casting spells based on “PP” powered special attacks given by choosing a certain class (thief, warrior, mage or Jew, which is apparently a fantasy class now). Characters like Butters, who is a starting companion, have certain special abilities that vary in strength based on your own timing. In other words, this isn’t a “sit back and press a button”-style RPG.
The game itself is fun to play and for any seasoned JRPG fan it will provide hours of entertainment and strategizing. The real heroes of The Stick of Truth are the voice actors and the creators who assured a South Park game that lives up to the sordid, vulgar reputation of the series, fart jokes and all.
While this week may be the week of South Park, over the weekend a feat was accomplished that may signal the beginning of a new style of gaming. Viewers of the streaming website Twitch combined efforts to defeat Pokémon Red, the 1998 Gameboy adventure following the likes of a Pokémon trainer hell-bound to catch ’em all (Pokémon, that is). The twist is that at its peak, somewhere near 120,000 people were all trying to complete a single game and to the surprise of many, actually succeeded.
Viewers in a chatroom named “Twitch Plays Pokémon” discovered that they could control the character using simple commands (four directions and either A or B). Sixteen days after starting the game, the players’ combined efforts defeated the final boss and the game ended.
Users of Twitch have moved on to Pokémon Crystal, a relatively newer edition in the franchise. Will this signal a new style of gaming in which a hive-mind combines efforts to defeat a game taking 20 times as long as it would take a single player? If there is a God, the answer is no, probably not.
Chris O’Neal is one of many. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.