Member when the Nintendo 64 had games like South Park and Conker’s Bad Fur Day? “I member!” Member when you could wee on snowballs and throw them in first-person like GoldenEye 007? “Oooh! I member dat!”
Believe it or not, it’s been nearly 20 years since a South Park game was released on a Nintendo console. It’s even harder to believe that South Park itself has been offending the world for over two decades with its shameless toilet humour, profanity, racism, homophobia, and satire. How does it possibly get away with it all? Well, because it’s all so ironic and God damn hilarious that leaving anything, or anyone, out is just sheer prejudice. So, on that basis alone, it’s only politically correct to release this adults-only RPG sequel on a console that’s currently taking the gaming world by storm.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole carries over from the critically acclaimed South Park: The Stick of Truth. In the midst of war, our dysfunctional Coloradan kids maintain their Middle-earth-style fantasy get-up seen in the first game. However, Cartman suddenly decides to completely change the theme to suit his own ambition of making a superhero cinematic universe that revolves around his alter-ego, The Coon. A hero which is of course based on the tree-dwelling mammal and not the derogatory term for… never mind.
Anyway, civil war has broken out as friends are torn apart by their “political differences.” This leads to two opposing rivalries, Coon And Friends and Freedom Pals. As the customisable new kid, you team up with Cartman’s group in an all-out paper cut-out clash against sixth graders, strippers, the elderly, and, not forgetting, your rival faction of superheroes among many more, that I really don’t want to spoil. Keeping within South Park’s indecorous tradition, each member’s superpower usually has a twisted take that makes up their alter ego. Take Scott (aka Captain Diabetes) for example, who is a diabetic that consumes sugar to gain a wired surge of hulk-like strength that can only be tamed with a couple of insulin jabs to the belly.
Despite being rather inexperienced in turn-based strategy games, I found South Park: The Fractured But Whole an approachable take on the genre. You usually gather your team of up to four heroes, each with their own special set of skills. The battles take place on a grid based system where movement and attacks are restricted within a certain pattern or range. Learning your hero’s attack and recovery pattern is key if you want to get the most out of your turn. For example, executing a heavy charge attack may position you in a space directly in front of an opponent. This, in turn, may block the path of an ally ready to execute their own strike on an enemy.
While it’s easy-to-learn turn-based mechanics may be approachable for newbies like myself, that doesn’t mean that the overall combat is shallow by any means. You can gather up a cocktail of character abilities to balance out your defensive and aggressive qualities to think ahead in a sort of chess-like manner. Take the lightning fast Jimmy (aka Fastpass) who can nail a shot on a diagonal, or Kyle’s armoured kite that contains the ability to protect one of his teammates temporarily. Each character even has a special Ultimate Attack that works similarly to a full power gauge in a fighting game, giving you the opportunity to pull off a flashy finisher with hilarious and sometimes brutal consequences.
You can see that it’s all well thought out, right down to the Tetris-style preview to show the rotation of whose turn is next. The game also does a valiant job of keeping it all fresh at a steady pace by throwing you into more and more crazy situations while easing you into new combat mechanics. Everything is down to your own choice in how you customise your powers based on superhero stereotypes, and levelling your rank through the many ways to gain your heroes experience that will unlock artifact slots that lets you fuse DNA strands to strengthen the usual vitals found in this kind of genre.
Outside of the combat, you spend the majority of your time mooching around South Park seeking missions, looting houses, and gaining a social media following on Coonstagram. This little app is used to keep up to date with your crew along with gaining a fanbase to help grow Cartman’s franchise. In order to gain followers, you persuade the humble folk around town to take selfies with you. Some won’t pose with you if you aren’t popular enough while others may require a favour, which is set up as a mission, in exchange for a follow. Unsurprisingly, browsing through Coonstagram does work great on the Nintendo Switch’s screen due to its mobile phone-inspired nature.
It is within these missions and main story where the dark comedy of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s relentless sense of humour comes into full effect. Needless to say, if you’re easily offended you may probably want to avoid this game altogether as it pulls no punches in ticking off the boxes that South Park is so infamously known for. Now, I never got the chance to play through South Park: The Stick of Truth so I’m not going to try and make comparisons. However, for those that have, you will probably already know what to expect. For those who are diving straight into this one, then you don’t need me to tell you whether or not this is for you. After all, it solely depends on your taste in comedy and interest in the franchise.
It all stays incredibly faithful to the source material including the game’s unique visual style that just looks as though it has been peeled straight from the series. It happens to play incredibly well on the Switch, coming in sharp and clean with colours bright and bold on the big screen. The colours do wash out a bit in Handheld Mode due to the screen’s lower resolution, but it does suit portable play well enough to satisfy that convenient hook of the portable home console. The only real visual issues that I found overall was that the text can be a little too small on the screen, which is an issue that I had more so when playing on the TV, while certain backgrounds can seem to slightly stutter a bit when walking past them.
Even though I enjoyed my time in South Park and the many surprises that it threw at me, there were a few minor gameplay gripes that I felt were a little uninspired. The way missions are laid out can feel pretty generic as they rely on the old “go here, go there on the map” structure as you pretty much tick off a growing list of objectives. I also found that the fast travel points that you can warp between were poorly placed for the most part, as each point is set so few and far between. Having to trek some distance to actually find one to warp to another can be more hassle than it’s worth. The beginning of the game is pretty slow paced as well, as I spent quite a long time just rummaging around each house for small items while participating in a rather dull minigame where you coordinate inputs on a toilet to squeeze out a number two.
Other than that, there has obviously been a great deal of attention given to the interactive world of South Park. The map is filled with familiar faces with plenty of subtle nods to past appearances in the series, such as the Member Berries that I, so cleverly, referenced at the start of the review. The superhero and gaming culture gets plenty of nods, including the heavily borrowed detective mode from the Batman: Arkham games and how the background music reflects that penned for the Marvel or DC cinematic universe. One particular reference that did tickle me was how your teammates react to you as a silent protagonist in a mockery of Link from The Legend of Zelda series.
During my time with South Park: The Fractured But Whole, I have been attacked by hillbillies for being cisgender, trapped in a dark room with two randy priests, and somehow managed to bend time and space with my own flatulence. To top it off, these moments are mild in comparison to what else the game has in store. After all, this is a game in which the colour of your character’s skin will determine the overall difficulty. With plenty of hours worth of content, tons of dialogue, heaps of crude humour, and a progressively solid battle system, South Park: The Fractured But Whole is certainly a must for fans of the series, both old and new.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Ubisoft