The Games of South Park

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 
This conclusion is drawn because the developer, Iguana merely took their successful N64-based Turok 2 game-engine, stripped out any mention of the Lazarus Concordance, hand-held nuclear weapons or the Primagen and lazily replaced them with even more fog, piss-soaked snowballs and thousands upon thousands of mindless turkeys. Quite appropriate then that this poor excuse for a game consists of little else than throwing said urine-doused snowballs at endless swarms of cartoon turkeys who just constantly charge at you from a thick blanket of fog. Still, it kept the nice Turok-based control system and the N64 Expansion Pak added some sharp hi-res visuals where available.

"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.
The game plays like any standard multi-player party title - each player picks one of the four main characters (that's Kyle, Kenny, Stan and Cartman, should you be one of the three people on Earth who don't know their names) and you are quickly whisked off to play a few rounds of quick-fire questions and 'amusing' mini-games. The questions range from being centred on the South Park universe to being completely unrelated to anything at all, and the mini games range from firing frogs onto lilypads to landing parachutes. These basic mini games do break up the monotony of answering a set of quite tough questions and are often governed by a strict time-limit. Today, the idea of being able to play an interactive episode of South Park is not so unbelievable (the Stick of Truth is just that, after all), but back in 1999 this was pretty much as good as it got. And it isn't half bad to be honest. The TV show is hardly Studio Gibli-esque in production value, so it's quite easy to forget you're playing a game and not just watching an interactive episode of the TV show at times. Luv Shack was never going to set the world on fire when it came out, but it does what it sets out to do, and does it well. A worthy title if you like party games and/or South Park.

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.
The frame-rate is smooth, the tracks have lots going on...but then you'd probably expect that from a game on a 128-bit system. No, the thing that stops Rally from being as good as it should have been is that the structure of the actual races is all messed up. In Mario Kart you race around a track, pick weapons up and generally have fun. In South Park Rally you generally do the same thing...but the tracks are free-roaming (of sorts) and the checkpoints are all in illogical sequence. Furthermore, you actually have to drive over the little patch on the floor in order to activate it and it's too easy to completely miss the checkpoint, think you've hit it and carry on to the next one...before realising you hadn't driven over the last one enough for the game to register it. It gets very confusing, and very annoying very quickly. Add to this the sheer number of obstacles littering and roaming around every course (school buses, snow ploughs, cows etc), all of which will bash you about and send you flying into the nearest piece of scenery...

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.
As a little bonus to end this South Park special, it's worth noting that the Dreamcast was actually featured as a plot device in one particular episode: the Season 4 opener involves Cartman discovering that the tooth fairy pays quite well for pristine pearly whites and deduces that with the cash he could raise from his friends' teeth...he could afford to buy a Dreamcast. Ultimately, Cartman's plan fails and he never gets his hands on a DC (and the console is never actually shown in the episode), but it's a nice little homage to our favourite system.


Robert Jones said...

I used to own South Park on the N64. You are definitely right Tom, it was absolutely appalling. I think it's the worst example of draw distance fog I've experienced. The Stick of Truth rocks though!

Tom Charnock said...

I've yet to play Stick of Truth but yeah - heard it's great! I totally forgot I actually have the original N64 cart in my collection too so I'll be updating that screen as soon as I can grab an image from my N64 version!

The GagaMan(n) said...

I still remember an article in the news section of a Official Dreamcast magazine where Try Parker and Matt Stone publicly stated that they hated all the South Park games. It's no wonder they went on to buy South Park back off of Comedy central and now have full control over it, which led to the excellent RPG the Stick of Truth.

Chef's Luv Shack was the 2nd Dreamcast game I ever owned. was mad into South Park at the time and traded my console bundle copy of Virtua Fighter 3 for it. It was entertaining for about hour. hahaha.

Tom Charnock said...

Yeah - I can imagine Luv Shack gets a bit repetitive after a while, especially when the questions start to repeat. Fun while it lasts though. I'd be interested to see how much speech the N64 game has compared to the CD-based versions.

nocarpayment said...

Never played either of them. However i might be interested in checking out lUv shack if its cheap enough..Even it keeps me entertained for a just few short outings...I hear its better as a multiplayer exp.