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Clever? Check! Crude? Uh... yeah! Fun? Absolutely!

Brains behind South Park produce game worthy of its name

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South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone put their stamp on old-school-style video game.

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South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone put their stamp on old-school-style video game.

They've swept the Tonys, won Emmys and Grammys and been nominated for an Oscar. Quentin Tarantino named their movie Team America: World Police one of the best films of the past 20 years and TV icon Norman Lear loved South Park so much that he joined the writing staff for a season.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are responsible for some of the most juvenile, offensive and disgusting moments in pop culture over the past 20 years, but their crudeness has been matched by the subversive edge of their satire.

With South Park: The Stick of Truth, Parker and Stone seem intent on finally crossing "video games" off their to-do list, atoning for the dreadful licensed South Park games of the past with one that finally lives up to the high bar they've set for themselves in every other medium.

Thanks to the fertile imaginations of the nine-year-old leads of South Park, the game is able to send up fantasy role-playing games, or RPGs, as the kids of the town engage in a make-believe Lord of the Rings-esque war in pursuit of the titular stick of truth, which offers unlimited power to those who hold it. In their fantasy world, dodge balls are weapons, tweets are "messages intercepted from carrier ravens" and Kenny, wearing a blond wig and dress over his usual orange snowsuit, is a princess.

The fantasy backdrop allows them to skewer a lot of the tropes of the genre while still indulging in their love of the old-school RPGs that inhabit it. They poke fun at modern fantasy epics like Skyrim and Dragon Age, but the game plays like a homage to the turn-based classics of the Super Nintendo, games like Earthbound and Super Mario RPG having far more influence on its design than anything released in the past 10 years.

The execution of these old-school ideas is where things falter a bit; the game's developer, Obsidian Entertainment, has both a long history of involvement with RPG franchises like Fallout and Dungeon Siege and a long history of releasing messy final products plagued with technical problems. The game fluctuates wildly in difficulty, alternating between moments of incredibly easy two-second battles and extreme four-on-one ambushes that challenge simply from the unfair position they put you in. Some battles occasionally break the game altogether -- more than once, an attempt to use a potion somehow put the game into a semi-frozen state that forced me to restore an old saved game.

However sloppy the final state of the game might be, the rough edges do very little to tarnish the effort Parker and Stone have put in to ensure this has their voice. This is as funny, clever and gleefully crude as any movie, any TV show, any album, any Broadway show they've done. If there's a medium they can't conquer, they haven't met it yet.

 

Mel Stefaniuk is a freelance writer whose love of both video games and writing has been intertwined since growing up with the text adventures of the '80s. He can be found on Twitter as @DisgracedCop.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 C14

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