Review by Ryan Harrison
Uh, this game's bad, m'kay?
South Park is hands down, one of the funniest and most controversial animated comedy shows. For more than 20 years now, the show has continued to push the envelope with its level of toilet humour and political incorrectness, and is one of the few animated comedies that actually seems to have continually improved as time has gone by. The show was a hit right off the bat, and no sooner than within a year of the show's launch, there was a video game adaptation released for PCs, the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, simply titled South Park.
This game was the first of three South Park games that were made for the Nintendo 64 console; it was followed by Chef's Luv Shack and South Park Rally the following year. Being a fan of the South Park animated series and Nintendo games, I thought it seemed like a win-win when I first tried this game. Nintendo were starting to be a little more relaxed on the whole family-friendly image that they had been known for portraying with their video games, and it was good to see that this game did not cut down on the level of mature content that the show was notorious for, but by way of gameplay, it had tested my patience within 30 minutes, and exhausted it by 60.
The story of the game is that a giant meteor is headed straight for Earth, and all kinds of crazy stuff is going down in the heart of South Park. Apparently the meteor is a 'force of concentrated evil', and a swarm of crazed turkeys, zombie clones of the townspeople, aliens and robots begin invading the town. The four starring kid characters, upon hearing of these bizarre events from their friend Chef, take it upon themselves to defend South Park from the evil forces.
The game of South Park is a first-person shooter in which you can take control of one of the four main characters. When you start the game, you can choose to play as either Cartman, Kyle, Stan or Kenny. You navigate your way throughout numerous stages that involve meeting the other kids, fighting enemies with the use of a unique set of weapons like snowballs, dodge balls and dart guns, and finding the exit point in order to advance the story.
Seems like an interesting concept, and while there is the occasional bit of fun and entertainment to be found, you will soon see that the sub-par level design, laggy visuals and complicated controls soon start to make it feel like a chore. The control in the N64 version I personally found the most difficult to work with; you have to combine using the C buttons to move your kid, and look around/aim with the analog stick while using the Z button to fire. It takes a lot of getting used to, and proves most troublesome in areas packed with enemies, or boss battles that call on having to continually run around to avoid being hit while having to keep tilting the stick around at the same time. Other controls like A and B to cycle through your weapons is simple enough, as is the R button for jumping, though the response for this button is a little off, and it can at times be unnecessarily tricky in parts where platforming is involved.
There's not too much variety between the levels themselves and the first few will feel tiresome enough when you're doing little other than firing away at an endless horde of mad turkeys. They often tend to attack you in large groups and relentlessly peck away at your health while your own weapons are not quick or strong enough to fend them off in time. There's a basic radar screen in the bottom-left corner of the screen to show positions of nearby enemies – apart from enemies very close to the side or behind you, it's almost worthless as an enemy would have to be mere steps away from you for it to appear on the radar. Navigating the stages is also troublesome as there's no map or compass system to help you keep track of your position. While there are some arrow signs as a general guide, they don't always guide you towards the end of the stage – sometimes they may lead you to optional rooms with goodies.
There are some good points about the visuals; the polygonal sprites and backgrounds do a decent job of capturing the look and feel of the show and the cut-scenes, complete with voiced-over dialogue by the actors from the show, are quite entertaining. The characters themselves are drawn rather well and retain their recognisable looks. However, when you're actually playing, you'll see that many locations are full of empty, long stretches, and the backgrounds often look bland and empty. The early levels appear so visually unappealing with the sheer amount of snow and white sky blending together. The graphics are definitely at their worst when you're in the middle of a slugfest with large groups of enemies; the animation becomes sluggish and choppy, and there is plenty of clipping and sprites vanishing.
The sound has its good in that it contains the classic South Park theme music and voice acting from the show. Other background music, however is bland and very repetitive, much like the overall game itself. At first it's good to hear the kids' voice-overs and they do come out with a few amusing quips. However before long you do end up hearing them constantly shouting the same things over and over again – "Sweet!", "Die evil turkeys, die!", and "Respect my authori-tah!" serving to bore me out within the first couple of levels. I had also noticed that the voices do sound a bit muffled, too.
The main single-player mode is overall pretty dull with little changing from one level to the next. There is also a Multiplayer mode that allows up to four players to play head-to-head in a split-screen deathmatch game. You can play in any of the main stages and there may be a small bit of competitive fun, but again when stages are so difficult to navigate and full of long stretches of practically nothing, you're probably going to be spending most of your time looking around for other players rather than actually fighting them. Not only this, but the frame rate also again gets very slow and laggy when there are four players playing all at the same time.
Overall the presentation and humour within the game do give it something, but the dull gameplay, buggy visuals and lack of overall fun make this a game I wouldn't even recommend for fans of the South Park franchise. It is quite obvious that the game tried to mimic another classic N64 FPS in GoldenEye, which I would highly recommend for both an engrossing shooter and four-player N64 game that has aged a lot better than this one. The whole playing experience is sloppy and needed much more work, so if you love the cartoon and want the best experience in video game format, I'd stick to the South Park RPGs that have been released in more recent years, because it seems that the N64 games, especially this one, do not do the franchise the justice it deserves!
Product Release: South Park (EU, 05/03/99)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.