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Before the Stick of Truth happened - the story of South Park in video games

FeatureNov 28, 2017 at 5:00a PSTby Hank

Before the Stick of Truth happened - the story of South Park in video games

Since its premiere, South Park has established a considerable fandom. Over the years, the series creators have been trying to broaden their audience by using different media. Let us investigate how well it worked out.

What started as an Internet viral video led to the creation of one of the most popular adult sitcoms in the history of television. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park is an animated TV show that has amazed the audience worldwide for over 20 years now with its unusual sense of humor, unmistakable style, and adventures that are seriously out of this world.

“Hello there, children.”

Back in 1992 Parker and Stone (who at the time were studying at the University of Colorado) created an animated short called Jesus vs. Frosty using only construction paper, glue, and 8mm film video camera. Three years later, when asked to create an animated Christmas card, the duo decided to continue the story they conceived and created Jesus vs. Santa (the two shorts are now referred to as The Spirit of Christmas). The video went viral on the Internet, leading to the creation of the actual South Park TV series, which premiered in 1997 not without success.

Yep, this is how it all began. Jesus vs. Frosty, 1992.
Yep, this is how it all began. Jesus vs. Frosty, 1992.

“Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?”

The success of the animated TV series resulted in a full-length movie entitled South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which blew the fans’ minds away with obscene jokes, cursing, and (yes, you are reading this right), Saddam Hussein as the main antagonist, who is even more evil than Satan himself. This unusual mixture boosted the show’s popularity, encouraging Parker and Stone to continue their work for the next twenty years (and still counting). Nonetheless, at some point, somebody asked a very interesting question: “Since it’s such a big hit, why not make a video game based on it?”. The idea was a good one and the fans all over the world could not wait to lay their hands on a copy of a South Park game. Before focusing on the three latest South Park games, let us shed some light on the five productions that came out before the “golden age of South Park video games”.

By the end of the 1990s, we could “enjoy” three games based on the animated TV series. The first one was 1998’s South Park, in which the player could assume the role of one of the four main protagonists (Cartman, Stan, Kyle, or Kenny), run around the 3D model of a part of the titular town and defeat numerous AI-controlled opponents. Even though the game featured the most iconic characters, their original voices, and a local multiplayer mode, it was not a big success. Probably it had something to do with the 3D environment, as it does not fit the South Park style.

Kick the baby! Or just throw a snowball at mutated Big Gay Al. Your choice. - 2017-11-28
Kick the baby! Or just throw a snowball at mutated Big Gay Al. Your choice.

Then there was the 1999’s South Park: Chef’s Luv Shack. Let us keep this one short, OK? A 2D video game in which players only get to answer questions and play really simple minigames before each question? “I mean, come! On!”. Next!

In the same year, fans got a racing game called South Park: Rally. Players could select a character from the show (apart from the main protagonists, there are also such “celebrities” as Mr. Hankey, Underpants Gnomes, Saddam Hussein – yes, him again, and many others) and race in one of the three available game modes. As both the reviewers and players were not fond of this game (average rating below 50%), let us move on to another title.

Scoring above 70%, the 2009’s South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! brought back many forgotten characters from the show. With the support of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the developers were able to implement very good voice acting (for a tower defense game, that is), and the game’s visuals reminded us just how awesome South Park could be.

Gnomes forced the blockade… Watch out for your underpants! - 2017-11-28
Gnomes forced the blockade… Watch out for your underpants!

There is also the 2012’s South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge, which is a clear reference to the episode in which Cartman eats Scot Tenorman’s parent for selling him pubic hair. The game received mixed reviews and was quickly forgotten. Nonetheless, what came next, was about to blow everybody’s brains out.

“I’m super, thanks for asking.”

Even though the bankruptcy filed for by the first developer of South Park: The Stick of Truth put a huge question mark over the game’s release, fans finally got what they asked for. With its release in 2014, The Stick of Truth appealed to nearly all the fans of the franchise. The game had everything a South Park game should have. The plot referenced the TV series trilogy regarding console wars in which the children of South Park were divided into two fantasy-based factions fighting each other. The obscene humor featured in the game reminded everyone why they loved the show. I mean, where else can you fight a Nazi cow? Or learn the arcana of the Jew-Jitsu martial arts? Anyone? Exactly.

‘member the Crab-people? Oh, I ‘member. - 2017-11-28
‘member the Crab-people? Oh, I ‘member.

The gameplay mechanics work extremely well with the plot, allowing players to create their own character and lead a team of their favorite heroes to fight numerous opponents ranging from other children dressed up as fantasy characters through rats to Al Gore and the aforementioned Nazi cows. Sweet. Players could, for the first time, see the town of South Park in its entirety and explore it looking for many collectibles (such as Chipokomons) and Easter eggs.

The success of South Park: The Stick of Truth, with its scores fluctuating around 80%, was bound to encourage the developers to deliver a sequel. The fans were not disappointed when the next game was announced.

“TIMMAH!”

Remember the subtitle of the full-length movie mentioned somewhere above? “Bigger, Longer & Uncut” – this is how one might summarize the promises developers made to the fans when announcing South Park: The Fractured But Whole. And now, after the game’s release, it seems that they delivered on these promises. The open world features most of the iconic locations fans remember from the TV show and the previous game. This time around, the children are playing superheroes and try to start their own franchise. You’ll meet such iconic characters as The Coon, Captain Diabetes, Mysterion, and many, many more!

Captain Diabetes to the rescue! Just wait until you learn how to activate his diabetic rage… - 2017-11-28
Captain Diabetes to the rescue! Just wait until you learn how to activate his diabetic rage…

Even though the game is more subtle than its predecessor, The Fractured But Whole is a worthy sequel, which delivers a lot of fun and allows players to immerse themselves in the atmosphere known from the TV series. There is still plenty of collectibles, references to the show, classic gags, and everything else South Park fans have grown accustomed to over the years. Bending the fabric of time with farts? Woo-hoo! Not to spoil anything (as of now, the game has been available for a month), let me just say that the game is a must-have for each and every South Park fan.

“It’s coming right for us!”

2017 is a pretty good year for the franchise. Apart from the 21st season of the show running and The Fractured But Whole video game described above, there is also the game South Park: Phone Destroyer developed for mobile devices. Even though it cannot measure up to the scale of the first South Park game released in 2017, it is still a treat for all the fans who want just a little bit more of what they know and love. Think about it: a free-to-play game featuring real-time battles with deck building elements, all fitting right into the atmosphere of the South Park TV series with all its likeable characters and distinctive sense of humor? AND you get to carry it around with you, anywhere you go? I will just leave it here to sink in. Just remember – no microtransactions. Leave them be.

You can play literally anywhere. Think about it. - 2017-11-28
You can play literally anywhere. Think about it.

“You know, I’ve learned something today…”

Those who have come into contact with statistics have probably heard about the learning curve. To put it short, it describes an incremental increase of learning with experience. The history of South Park fits perfectly into this model. The show started as an obscure video created “just for fun”, but it dynamically evolved into one of the most popular animated TV series for adults ever. Some people say that it is only about “fart jokes”; however, as a diehard fan, I disagree. This kind of jokes serves as a means to translate the nuances of the global sociopolitical situation into a satirical and more appealing language. And the video games based on this franchise do exactly the same. One simply cannot deny that South Park is a cultural phenomenon that has influenced the pop culture and is about to stay with us for a bit longer. Oh, and remember: don’t forget to bring a towel!