Friday, January 23, 2015

Come On Down To South Park, And Beat Some Friends Of Mine

Finished the story on South Park: The Stick of Truth last night. Took about 4 sessions total, but some of those were 5 or 6 hours stretches. Of course, sometimes a lot of that 5 or 6 hours was me running around trying to find more money to buy stuff I didn't really need, except as progress towards some 100% of the gear achievement.

As the story goes, you're the (silent) new kid in town, and almost immediately meet Butters, who gets you involved in the big game all the boys are playing: a battle between humans - let by WizardKing Cartman and Princess Kenny - and the elves, led by Kyle, over the Stick of Truth, played by a stick. It's a bog-standard RPG in structure. You talk to people, and they ask you to do something for them, and that either progresses the story or gives you cool stuff. In this case, the "cool stuff", besides equipment, can include those people becoming your friend on social media. Gain enough friends, and you unlock perks which will help you in battle.

The game also is pretty good about giving you better equipment as you go along. You don't have to be constantly running to a store to buy new weapons or clothes. You'll get plenty of good stuff as loot from enemies, by checking treasure chests scattered around, or just as rewards for progressing through the game. When I was making the majority of my progress, I bought weapons and armors mostly because I thought they looked cool or would be fun to use.

There's a lot of battling, which is fine, the combat system is pretty simple, once you get the hang of things. Pretty much all attacks or spells require hitting a button when your weapon flashes or something to that effect. Press the button too soon or too late, the damage will be severely reduced. The nice thing is, whatever attack you choose - ranged, melee, magic, special technique, summon assistance - the game reminds you what you have to do. So if Butters is the other character in your party, and you want to use his lightning attack, the game will tell you before you select your target that you're supposed to hit "A" when the lightning strikes Butters' hammer. Which is nice.

One other nice thing about combat: Status effect attacks actually work on bosses. This is one of the most maddening things to me about RPGs: Attacks or spells that cause enemies to fall asleep, or get slowed down, or poison them so they take a little damage every turn, NEVER work on boss characters, no matter how high level or powerful your character is. It's maddening. It's why I never use those skills in fights, because I see no reason getting used to that strategy when I'll have to throw it out the window come the boss fight. Stick of Truth on the other hand, doesn't play favorites. Oh, an enemy may be resistant to certain types of bonus damage - there's Fire, Frost, Shock, Bleeding, and Gross Out that I know of - but not all. And at least some of them will work on bosses. Since you can't summon your assist characters for boss fights - all of them make a point of telling you they won't help with bosses, they're too tough - the extra types of damage can be crucial. For that reason alone, the game has my respect.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though. The game has an annoying amount of moments where to progress you have to pass a quick-time event, usually mashing one button a lot really fast. And if you botch it, you just have to keep trying over and over until you hit it fast enough. I'm apparently not very good at those, and considering I already broke the A button on one controller because of the stupid way you had to tap it to run faster in Red Dead Redemption, I'm not real keen on it in general.

The other issue had to do with farting. In Stick of Truth, magic is expressed through farting, because of course it is. That isn't the issue, it's perfectly in keeping with the tone of the series. The problem was that in battle, using magic requires this mess of pulling the right thumbstick down, then moving the left one to find some sweet spot, then pushing the right thumbstick up, all of which felt needlessly convoluted. Each time the game would want to teach me a new type of magic attack, my progress would screech to a halt. The character would demonstrate it, I'd try, fail, have to sit through the demonstration scene again, try, fail, etc. It felt like I was stuck on the "Squeaky Stinker" forever, especially when, after learning it, the game required me to use it to get past some soldiers and sneak into the Taco Bell/government lab investigating a crashed UFO.

The strange thing is, most of them time when you're in an area where you might have to fight, the game will give you options. Not to avoid the fight entirely, but ways to use the environment and skills you've learned to take out a couple of the enemies before you have to face them. Maybe you can use the Alien Probe to teleport up to a ledge and flip a switch, sending a current through a wire sitting in a pool of water the foes are standing in. Or aim your magic at a torch to blow up a barricade. You don't have to do that stuff, but it makes fights a little easier. But sometimes the game decides not to provide those options, and it's usually at the most irritating points.

On the whole, the game was what I wanted, in that it feels like being in the South Park world. The humor, the conflicts, some of the specific enemies, some of the ridiculous things you have to do. I highly doubt I will play another video game that asks me to complete a fake abortion mini-game, twice. There's even a segment of the game where you travel to Canada. Unlike the much-too-long stint in Mexico of Red Dead Redemption, this trip north of the border doesn't overstay its welcome and was perfectly charming. I read somewhere that Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted this to be an actual good video game, as opposed to a cheap licensed piece of crap that gets 4 out of 10 on a review website. Well, they succeeded. It isn't a spectacular game, but it's good, very good if you're less bothered by the mechanics of the fart magic and the quick time events. I mean, I'd give it at least a 7 out of 10, probably an 8, for what that's worth.

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