Nintendo Switch is hardly wanting when it comes to turn-based RPGs. In fact, it’s positively teeming with them, so South Park: The Fractured But Whole finds itself having to prove its existence on two very different fronts. It has to be both a worthy sequel to 2014’s brilliant The Stick of Truth and show its handheld port can hold true parity with the versions that graced consoles and PC last year.
Thankfully, Ubisoft San Francisco’s superhero-aping sequel pulls off both feats with a confidence worthy of South Park’s own ballsy residents. And while it’s no great leap from the original, the end result is a laugh-out loud romp that riffs and enhances in all the right places.
Stepping into the shoes of former developer Obsidian (which stepped away from the formerly THQ-published title to work on the acclaimed Pillars of Eternity series), the new dev team has taken the turn-based combat system, open-world exploration and that truly authentic South Park humour and, somehow, made a game that’s even better.
If you never played the first instalment, and you’re a fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s two-decade-long animated lampooning, then you’ll love just how authentically authentic it is. From the 2D recreation of every inch of the Colorado town (including a taco shop run by Morgan Freeman, naturally) to the unflinching satire of every demographic imaginable (a ‘Hooters’-style bar run by kids, anyone?), it’s as true to the franchise as any of its myriad TV seasons.
So if you’re easily offended, this might not be the game for you, but it’s an irreverent humour that’s consistently self-aware while it lashes the zeitgeist with its barbed tongue. Whether it’s the side-story that pokes fun at your choice of gender (especially if you choose to identify as ‘cis’, which a bunch of rednecks turning up to accost you as a result) or the difficulty system that ramps up the difficulty the darker the shade of your avatar’s skin, TFBW doesn't pull a single punch.
Trading out the dungeons and dragons theme of TSOT for a superhero theme, that new superpowered conceit isn’t just there to mock the MCU and DCEU with a rictus grin; it facilitates an improved take on the series’ RPG-lite systems. Your chosen avatar - the returning New Kid - can select from multiple ‘personas’ (read: classes) at once, each with unique powers and abilities, and you can mix and match them anytime from Cartman’s ‘secret’ basement hideout. And those powers now play a more nuanced role with the new and improved battle system.
The static plane of the first game has been dropped in favour of a more dynamic grid system. With more options for movement it creates a great sense of systemic combat, with enemies also boasting charged attacks that strike a larger area of the battlefield. These attacks (such as the one used by a child-bothering priest who runs the length of the field waving some questionable rosary beads) take two turns to activate, so you’re given the time to adjust your party members. The combat isn’t as deep or as multi-layered as something you’d get from the more ‘hardcore’ members of the genre, but that doesn’t mean it’s shallow either.
Your Ultimate attack (each character has their own unique power move) charges over the course of a battle, so there’s a benefit to taking on tougher fights with more foes on the enemy team. With that increased sense of movement you can also knock one enemy into another for extra damage or use special character abilities (such as The Human Kite’s healing trait that buffs a chosen ally and pulls them back a grid square to relative safety). It’s a set of systems simple enough to empower a player who hasn’t spent much time with turn-based RPGs, and just enough depth to keep veterans playing until the end.
There’s also tons of places to explore and items to collect (the more-ish Chinpokomon from the first game are out, traded instead for the hilarious Memberberries and the anime-style Yaoi paintings), as well as a new system for crafting consumables - if you’ve ever wanted to know what happens when you combine a burrito with an enchilada, this is the game for you. You even have an ‘Influencer’ level you can increase by taking selfies with South Park’s myriad residents.
So here’s the other big question you’re reading this review for: how well does it run on Nintendo Switch? Thankfully, the prognosis is good. There are a few loading screens between certain areas of the town that take a little too long to load (and occur a little too often for comfort), but there’s barely any slowdown on screen or while navigating the app-style menus. With full support for all the DLC as well, you’re getting the full experience you’d get anywhere else - only now you’re getting to enjoy it with the handheld freedom only Switch can provide.
While it’s a fair few months behind the releases that graced other platforms in 2017, the Nintendo Switch version South Park: The Fractured But Whole isn't diminished by its later arrival. While it’s no great leap from the mechanics of the first game, it still offers both an ideal introduction for players looking to try out a turn-based RPG and a worthy addition to any genre fan's collection.