"The graphics are definitely like, 10% better than the old Xbox"
For about two years now, I’ve been pacing out the front of my local EV Games store, contemplating freezing myself to make the wait for South Park: The Stick of Truth pass quicker. Finally, it’ll be out this week, close enough that the date won’t suddenly scuttle away from us again like those damn Crab People.
In the meantime, as a warm-up for the game based on the series, let’s revisit these episodes of the series, based on games.
The first episode on this list already bends the article’s premise a little. Sorry. This one isn’t exactly about games, but it deals with one of gaming’s biggest franchises, so shut up.
This obvious parody of Pokemon sweeps all the kids of South Park into a frenzy, as it did us in our preteens (and further into our teens than we'd like to admit). The parents wave it off as another harmless fad, but the motives behind it all might be a little darker than they realise.
It looks like Chinpokomon dolls are a hidden collectable in The Stick of Truth. Gotta buy ‘em all!
Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny become addicted to their new gaming system, the Okama GameSphere (this was back in the Nintendo GameCube days). But their joy is short-lived when their console is kidnapped by the military, who will only return it to the boys in exchange for turning in their new “friend” Towelie, a talking, constantly high, smart-towel.
To rescue their beloved GameSphere, the kids impatiently go through a series of video game-like trials and exciting action sequences. But it's all just getting in the way of their precious gaming time.
This was Towelie’s first appearance, and he’ll no doubt show up at some stage in The Stick of Truth to remind players to always bring a towel.
The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers
While not exactly about games, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have specifically credited this episode with why we even have a South Park RPG on the way now. This first aired in 2002, meaning the seeds of the game were planted 12 years ago.
The episode sees the boys dressing up and playing their own version of The Lord of the Rings, on a quest to return that very movie to the video store from whence it came. What they don’t realise is that Stan’s parents mistakenly switched the movie with a porno, and are urgently trying to find the kids before they can see it.
Also desperate to get their hands on the video are the sixth-graders (parodying the ring-wraiths), and poor Butters, who’ll do anything to finish watching “his precious”.
The costumes the kids wear, particularly Cartman’s, bear a close resemblance to those in The Stick of Truth.
Best Friends Forever
Kenny is the first to get a PSP, and quickly masters a game called Heaven vs Hell. Just as he finishes the final level, he’s struck down by a truck and arrives in Heaven to learn that the PSP was a test from God: the first human to beat the game was the Chosen One, the mortal with the strategic skills required to lead Heaven’s army to victory.
However, the fate of the war becomes uncertain when Kenny is revived, and his soul becomes trapped in his vegetative body in a hospital bed.
This episode won an Emmy for its discussion of euthanasia and respecting the privacy and final wishes of coma patients.
Make Love, Not Warcraft
Ah, the famous World of Warcraft episode. This one is an absolute classic, winning an Emmy and constantly topping lists of fan-favourite episodes. Blizzard even actively helped out with the episode’s production, which is partly filmed in-game.
The South Park kids are all addicted to the online sensation – not Hello Kitty: Island Adventure, the other one. But an impossibly strong, high-level player keeps killing them all, leading most to rage-quit. Ignoring school and all other commitments, Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny grind for weeks, to level up enough to take him on.
Their efforts catch the attention of Blizzard execs, who fear that this mass rage-quit epidemic will lead to the end of the World…of Warcraft. They entrust the n00b Randy to deliver an overpowered weapon to the boys before they rush into battle.
Go God Go
Cartman’s frustration in waiting for the Nintendo Wii to come out is a pain all gamers can relate to, and his solution – to freeze himself – has crossed the minds of even the most strong-willed of us.
There’s an important lesson for gamers in this two-parter: be patient. Otherwise, you might stay frozen and wake up in the year 2546 in the middle of a war between atheist factions and otters.
If you think it’s hard to find retro consoles now, imagine trying to hunt down a 500 year old relic to play some Wii Sports.
Trey and Matt are experts at crafting ridiculous stories within familiar structures, and this episode is a perfect example.
Stan and Kyle become an awesome duo playing Guitar Hero, and their journey follows a classic “rise and fall of a band” plot. They start off small, playing the game in front of friends, but are “discovered” by an agent when they score a record-breaking 100,000 points. From there, pressure mounts until the band breaks up, and Stan becomes addicted to Heroin Hero, a game about “chasing the dragon”.
It looks like The Stick of Truth uses a similar story structure, telling a classic fantasy narrative but, you know, it’s just kids playing make-believe.
Crack Baby Athletic Association
Cartman’s moral bankruptcy reaches a new low, as he builds a sports empire based around exploiting crack-addicted babies.
However, he soon gets muscled out of the business by EA Sports, who screw him over for their own profit and leave him with nothing. Sounds about right, coming from the company twice voted the worst in America.
Parallels with slavery are used to discuss companies exploiting people for profit, and while its main example is college sports players (and crack babies), the issue definitely extends to the games industry and media.
“Now let’s part with that old EA Sports saying: get the f*ck outta my building!”
Informative Murder Porn
When the kids become concerned that their impressionable parents are watching objectionable, graphic cop shows on TV, they band together and enforce the parental lock systems on their devices. The only way to access the content is by answering questions about stuff that only kids know: namely, Minecraft.
In order to bypass the content blocks, the adults begin to play Minecraft, and a sudden spate of real-life crimes inspired by the game springs up. All over town, people are digging holes, punching trees and building cabins.
This episode perfectly turns the whole “are video games too violent?” argument on its head.
The Black Friday trilogy
This epic three-part saga aired only a few months ago, and acts as a direct prequel to The Stick of Truth.
In costumes inspired by their new obsession, Game of Thrones, the kids all develop a plan of attack to get inside the mall on Black Friday, when the new consoles will be massively cheap. However, a disagreement over whether to get Playstation 4s or Xbox Ones divides the group's loyalty, and a huge war breaks out.
In true South Park tradition, what begins simply as the kids playing their own little game soon blows up into a global phenomenon, with even the heads of Microsoft and Sony getting involved.
Not content to just make fun of the overhyped video game console wars, the episodes also do a fantastic job of skewering every aspect of Game of Thrones: the slow pace, the constant betrayals, regularly killing off beloved characters, the obsession with wieners (watch for an a cappella version of the theme song, with wiener-centric lyrics).
And it ends with a perfect preface to the game itself, followed by a jab at their own frequent delays. This three-parter psyched up my anticipation for the game tenfold.
Thursday can’t get here soon enough.