With South Park: The Fractured But Whole proving that turn-based RPGs set in Colorado’s most famous made-up town really can work - and work really well, at that - it was only a matter of time before the original made its way onto Nintendo Switch. Originally developed by Obsidian - of Fallout: New Vegas and Pillars of Eternity fame - South Park: The Stick of Truth was something of a revelation when it dropped in 2014 and those four years have done nothing to dull the sharpness of its humour and the simple joy of its combat.
Apart from a memorable (if a bit rubbish) foray into first-person shooters on N64, Cartman and company had gone well over a decade without a good video game to their name. Some came close, but none of them could replicate the magical formula of the TV show in a genre that made it all fit. Then Obsidian came along and through some form of dark magic (read: very clever game design) did just that. South Park: The Stick of Truth - much like the sequel that followed it - looks, sounds and intrinsically feels like one long glorious episode of South Park.
With creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker full on-board, South Park: The Stick of Truth is as authentic as any South Park boxset sat on your shelf. Designed to look exactly like the show - right down to the way your 2D avatar will turn to the side when walking, or how each every character you meet has their own recognisable (and completely original) dialogue - Obsidian recreates South Park so well even a passing fan of the show will get a kick out of exploring the town and picking out all the little references to 20+ seasons of in-jokes and running gags.
But that’s not the real selling point of South Park: The Stick of Truth. No, the real revelation here is how a studio that knows exactly how to build a deep and almost intimidating turn-based RPG has found a way to create one that’s instantly easy to pick up and enjoy. The South Park licence simply provides a familiar backdrop; once you start exploring and jump into battles, then the real fun begins. With a party of characters at your side - all hand-picked from the show’s most memorable pre-pubescent cast, including Butters, Jimmy and Kyle - you’re gradually introduced to the game’s systemic combat model.
You can add extra strength to every attack by hitting ‘A’ whenever your avatar’s weapon flashes, or press ‘Y’ to add a Power attack. This costs PP, but is worth it to drain an enemy of their last drop of HP. You can do the same thing while defending, so you’re always involved in the battle, even when it’s not your turn. You can use Bow of Sucking to grief enemies further back on the battlefield, employ special Abilities unique to each character and use the power of farts as a foul-smelling form of magic. They key is finding how best to use each member of your party in battle - such as Jimmy’s ability to buff the squad’s stats - to overcome some of the tougher encounters found in the latter half of the game.
The pastiche of the fantasy genre - which serves as the conceit that lets Cartman and the rest of the game partake in action-packed battles in the fight to control the titular wooden weapon - never undermines the systems that facilitate its combat, exploration and questing, and serves as a neat way to tie everything together. You can use your bow to shoot Chinpokomon out of trees, turn everyday items into medieval armour and experience some of the most bizarre encounters you’ll ever play in a game. And just wait until you reach Canada...
If you’ve played South Park: The Stick of Truth before, there’s nothing new here to convince you to double dip, but like so many ports to Nintendo Switch, being able to play this instantly gratifying RPG in handheld form is a selling point in itself. The performance issues found in the old PS3/Xbox 360 versions have been patched out, as have the sometimes overly-long loading times, so you’re getting a version of the game that’s ideally optimised for Switch. If you haven’t tried this little slice of black-humoured silliness before then you’re in for a treat. It’s perhaps a little overpriced on the eShop considering it’s a four-year-old game, but it’s definitely worth your time once it gets a bit of a discount.
Benefitting from the performance tweaks made by the transition from old-gen to current-gen hardware - and the same smooth mapping of its controls to the Joy-Con - South Park: The Stick of Truth proves itself just as good a fit on Nintendo Switch as South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Both a pastiche of classic RPG tropes and a wonderfully empowering example of how to make a great modern take on the genre, this is still one of Obsidian’s best exports and as authentic as any episode of the cult TV show it’s so closely tied to.