South Park

Butters and the new kid tend to a "dying" Cartman in "South Park: The Stick of Truth."


Sorry, I just can't talk about "South Park: The Stick of Truth" without the same youthful giddiness you hear in Cartman's voice whenever he talks about something that's totally awesome. Because for any fan of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's show, "The Stick of Truth" is just that.

Delayed and then delayed again, trading hands from THQ to Ubisoft along the way, the game once looked like a lost cause. It's perhaps because of tempered expectations, then, that "The Stick of Truth" emerges so very sweetly. It's a Casa Bonita buffet of fan service, lovingly cooked with hundreds of in-jokes and served on the smartest plate possible: turn-based role-playing.

Yes, somehow it's the format of RPGs like "Final Fantasy" and "Chrono Trigger" that's most friendly to the humor of "South Park." Not only can you trigger attacks as silly as Cartman's V-chip lightning storm and Butters' cutesy transformation into Professor Chaos, you can sit back and enjoy the gags like you're watching the show on Comedy Central.

Shrewd as Obsidian was to design "The Stick of Truth" that way, though, they forgot to make it much of a game. It's frankly one of the easiest I've ever experienced. For a game obscene enough to get censored in several countries, it's child's play. Then again, that same dichotomy has always been at "South Park's" dark heart, or something.

Anyway, with the slightest bit of timing you can nail both offense and defense, which strengthen with prompted button presses a la the "Paper Mario" series. You can also gulp a potion — Cheesy Poofs, Red Balls — before every turn. These two conditions alone defang almost every enemy in "The Stick of Truth," save for one surprisingly tough side quest boss whose difficulty is itself one of the game's sliest jokes.

The lack of challenge is too bad, because it gives you little incentive to burrow into what's actually a well-rounded battle system. At your disposal are melee and ranged attacks you can boost by trading up for more damaging weapons and adding "strap-ons" like fire and health recovery. If you can bring yourself to wield a flaming alien dildo, you'll be a force to be reckoned with. Doubly so for the game's fart magic, which requires mastering analog stick commands that aren't the most intuitive.

Party members Cartman, Butters, Kenny, Jimmy, Stan and Kyle present their own trade-offs: Jimmy can stutter his way through songs that cast helpful statuses, but he doesn't do much damage. Cartman can, but a few hits have him crying for mommy. You can also summon a few high-powered South Park eccentrics you encounter during "The Stick of Truth's" side quests, but they're only available once a day — and the game only spans three.

Your character, a mute new kid, is a bit of a blank slate when he's brought into the ranks of Grand Wizard Cartman's Kingdom of Kupa Keep (yup). Your default look and offense are largely determined by what class you choose: fighter, mage, thief or Jew (yup). But with deep appearance customization and skill trees mediated by both XP and the friends you make in South Park, you can be goth, ginger or "Mongorian," fart on anyone who attacks you, and build your offense around the ball-crushing roshambo (yup yup yup).

I won't say another word about the story's particulars, because "The Stick of Truth" truly feels like a "South Park" epic similar to "Imaginationland" or the Mysterion trilogy, and I wouldn't want to spoil them, either. I will say, though, that fans of the show's laser-guided satire won't find much of that kind of focus. Instead, the priority on shock is at its highest since the days of "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe." Even hardened fans of the show will find their share of WTF moments as taboo penetrates taboo in a riotous interactive orgy of them.

For all the godless sights in "The Stick of Truth," the game is actually quite inviting. Finally, fans can wander a South Park fully realized by Parker and Stone's hands, its 200-plus-episode history fully reflected in every closet- and drawer-ful of random junk.

Well, maybe not "fully" — the game is 15 hours long. And that's everything: The main quest, all the side quests and all the secret areas you can only access with powers acquired midway through the story. Even after all that, I wanted more. But if it means keeping the game's humor so distilled and its battle system so unexhausted, I'll gladly take the brevity.

That economy of design is one reason "South Park: The Stick of Truth" is one of the best licensed games ever. Another is the same fan-first approach that made the "Batman: Arkham" series such a triumph. Like those games, "The Stick of Truth" identifies what its players want, and lets you do exactly that. In this case: To go on down to South Park, and have yourself a time.

Also, farts. A lot of farts.

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Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox, or find him on PSN or Xbox Live under the name davewiththeid.