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Review by: David Laprad
Published: February 27, 1999
At times, game designers substitute “content” with “concept,” and the result is a great idea masquerading as a game. In the beginning, everyone at Iguana and Acclaim no doubt loved this idea: Give the two-dimensional dementoids of the adult-oriented cartoon South Park their own 3D action game; have the cartoon’s creators do the voices, thus saturating the game in its branded soot; and devise comical creatures and guns. People will eat it up. The problem is, the designers ended up producing a tedious game that belies conceptual reason and leans on obscenities as though they were a car horn. Although the language is not for tender ears, it is the crude, arcadish gameplay that will scorn gamers.
And that is a shame, because the show can be a leg-slapping riot. It is not the most consequential thing on television, but it is irreverent, absurd and at times side-splitting. The plots are laughable, but it is more about memorable characters and brazen gags that no doubt initiate more water cooler conversations than Seinfeld ever did. The first time I heard Cartman screech, “You will respect my authoritah!” I crumbled in laughter. And remember the one about his alien anal probe? The game, though, inspires indifference. Sure, Cartman cusses at rabid ranch animals, and the plot, something about a comet passing close to Earth and aliens spreading chaos and destruction, has more cheese than the moon, but the concept does not translate well into interactive entertainment. This is because gameplay, not cheap gags, is the main consideration.
Actually, the cheese is sliced pretty thin. The game contains a single player mode in which the children protect the town from a cast of bizarre enemies. Gamers can suit up as Cartman or any of the other three children, though the implementation is odd. Since the main characters are small children, the perspective is very, very close to the ground. The characters also move at a child’s pace — but somehow toss snowballs with bionic speed. Incongruities aside, the game boils down to offing as many enemies as possible. There are small minions — the most irritating being the cursed turkeys — and bigger enemies called Tanks, in addition to several boss characters. There are no puzzles to solve or access cards to collect; rather, gamers must down the Tanks before they reach the town and create even more havoc. Should they reach the town, there is a penalization round in which players must destroy all surviving Tanks before South Park burns.
There are five episodes with four maps each, and the scenarios are inspired by the show. One bright spot is Chef, who is on hand to dispense advice and send the children into battle against rampaging aliens while he engages in his favorite pastime — something that has nothing do with food. On the first map in each episode gamers must locate the other three children; each child enables players to use more weapons, also called gadgets. Should people choose Stan, they have to collect all the gadgets Cartman can use to be able to switch to him. The characters have energy that controls their mood, and with each hit this is depleted. In an odd twist, the children do not die when their mood reaches zero; instead, they get mad and leave the game. Along the same lines, the game has no blood or gore; rather, dead creatures crumble to the ground and disappear. This avoids young players getting upset about death and violence, I suppose.
Some of the gadgets, such as the Terrance and Phillip dolls, are intended to gross people out. The Sponge Dart Launcher is ingenious since real children use it to battle pretend aliens all the time. The best weapons, though, are those that challenge creative boundaries, such as the Cow Launcher, which launches mooing mortars that latch onto victim’s heads. The weapons all have two modes, and this is where the designers go nuts. For instance, the main gadget is a snowball; in secondary mode, the child “creates” and tosses a yellow snowball. The toilet humor is not subtle, to be sure. While these destructive implements are original, most are powerless to stop the teeming alien onslaught. A crucial component in 3D shooters, especially ones that have gamers do nothing but shoot things, is well-paced combat. To accomplish this, the designers must create action that has forward momentum. However, the enemies are unleashed in incredible hordes, and the result is combat that is both overwhelming and prolonged. Good thing power-ups that increase damage, speed and so on are available to help. The best one is The Christmas Poo, which orbits gamers and damages everything it touches.
Although the animation and modeling leave oodles to be desired — the artists recreate the minimalistic approach the television show uses — there are more than 20 characters in deathmatch, and almost as many to slaughter in the solo game. Possessed turkeys, evil clones, cows, UFOs, robots, RC cars and homicidal dolls all have one thing in common — a mission to massacre the town we love. The combat should have been counterbalanced against exploration and puzzle solving, but the maps are linear and uninteresting. Faster than Cartman can inhale a bag of Cheesy Poofs, the sparse environments and all-too common fog implode the graphics. Still, there is the school, the bus, and other recognizable locales, and it does seem as though you are tooling through the little Colorado town. The artists created textures that are bright and garish, and the mappers constructed buildings that are small and featureless, somehow composing a three-dimensional game that recalls the two-dimensional cartoon. I must compliment them on creating a 3D title that has a unique, whimsical appearance, even though it did not hold me captive.
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