South Park, whether you're a fan of the franchise or not, is a bonafide cultural phenomenon. The creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park debuted in 1997 and quickly gained a cult following that appreciated the show's adult humour and unique animation style; and it wasn't long before the games industry took notice of the popularity of the series. What better subject matter to turn into a game? With simple stylised visuals, catchphrases and soundbites aplenty, highly-recognisable characters and a fan-base who were champing at the bit to spend money in order to actually be a part of the fictitious world they loved; South Park: The Game wasn't just waiting to happen - it was waiting to be huge.
Ultimately it was the now-defunct outfit Acclaim that managed to bag the rights to South Park, but the highly-anticipated virtual adaptation of the story of four foul-mouthed kids (and the extensive ensemble cast) living in a surreal Colorado backwater turned out to be little more than a massive disappointment.
|This is an emulated N64 shot - the original is a lot fuzzier|
"Between the abysmal graphics, bad sound, and horrible gameplay, South Park is definitely one of those games that is bound to come up when you start thinking about the worst game you've ever played. It's a real throwback to the days of completely worthless games with decent licenses - the kind Acclaim used to be infamous for back in the days of 8-bit and 16-bit gaming."
- Gamespot on the PS1 port of South Park
This wasn't the last time Acclaim - unperturbed by an almost universal critical panning - attempted to bring an authentic South Park experience to consoles though, and the N64 wasn't the only platform to play host to licensed offerings rooted in Stone and Parker's odd, snowy little town.
The Dreamcast was treated to two further South Park titles, and here I present them for dissection. Will this trip down to South Park end well? Or will we all end up being dragged to Hell by Satan and forced to eat Mr Hanky over and over again until the end of time? Don your best woolly hat and join me as we attempt to find out...
South Park: Chef's Luv Shack
Taking the form of a party game, Chef's Luv Shack sees the eponymous sex-addicted Chef host his own public access TV gameshow. The show's voice-over actor promises Chef that the contestants will be bikini-clad models and that the grand prize is a night of love-making with the host...but sadly due to the lack of any bikini-clad models in South Park, children from the local elementary school will be standing in. Whether this makes Chef a paedophile, I don't know - but it's the premise for the game so don't shoot the messenger. It's all in good humour and I actually found myself quite enjoying Luv Shack, if only because the styling of the game is spot on and the interaction between Chef and voice over guy is so faithful to the style of the TV show.
South Park Rally
The second South Park title released for the Dreamcast is Rally, and it's not hard to see why Acclaim thought it would be a good idea. The kart racer has always been a firm favourite on consoles and contemporaries like Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing were all big players of the era. The difference between those games and South Park Rally, however, is that the aforementioned racers are actually fun to play. Rally features a fairly large roster of characters and plenty of tracks, and even though the game lends heavily from the overly-simplistic visual style of the show (it'd be odd if it didn't, to be fair), it still manages to look pretty nice.
South Park Rally is not a fun experience for these reasons. It has plenty of inventive (by which I mean crude) weaponry on offer, the karts handle well (although the triggers are not the default acceleration/brake controls, oddly) and there are tonnes of voice clips...but the bizarre set-up of the point-to-point races just doesn't work in a racer of this style. It's weird, but I've also noticed recently that South Park Rally seems to be becoming one of the more expensive racers for the Dreamcast. After playing it for a while in order to write this feature, I just cannot see why.
While both games are clearly aimed at a more mature audience (bot have their fair share of expected vulgarity and expletives), I would have no problem recommending Luv Shack over Rally. The former is an enjoyable quiz that gives a lot of fan service with obscure references and the like. Rally smacks to me of being a cheap cash-in game, designed solely to ride the crest of popularity the 'kart' racer was experiencing at the time. There are superior games on the Dreamcast in this genre (see Wacky Races and Looney Tunes Space Race for more info) so it's hard to recommend. Luv Shack on the other hand doesn't have much in the way of competition when it comes to party games. Planet Ring is redundant and Sonic Shuffle is apparently sleep-inducingly dull (or so I'm told). If I could only have one of these games, it'd be Luv Shack every time.