South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Nintendo Switch) Review

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Just over six months after its original release, South Park: The Fractured But Whole makes a surprise release on Nintendo’s latest system in a turn of events far beyond my own expectations. Oddly without its predecessor, it stands as one of few mature games for the system, but should you be forking out for the portable park?

First Impressions

After getting past the splash screens and general accreditations, you are greeted to a snowy scene of South Park in darkness. With the text “Press A to Start” flashing in the centre of the screen and a score befitting an epic tale such as Skyrim, I found myself eager to start, and a little conflicted on the tone of the game. This intensified as I continued to the main menu. A logo reminiscent of Back to the Future smashed into the top-left of the screen, and a fairly clean and simplistic menu occupying the right, the game feels modern. It feels calculated, and scientific; it doesn’t match the soundtrack. This contrast stuck with me as I started the game, and I soon began to piece together its intent.

Entering into a new game sees you join the fray in an epic battle of kings and wizards, the setting of the previous game Stick of Truth. After a few tense battles as you approach the enemy’s castle, the whole thing is called off to play superheroes instead. It was here I started to give the game its due credit. The epic RPG themes of the title’s soundtrack bled into this opening section perfectly, before soon getting swept aside just as it did moving to the sleek and stylised main menu. These small attentions to detail demonstrated a level of polish and forward thinking I had honestly not expected from what I know to be a crude and straightforward brand.

Character Creation

Before starting the game, you must first create an avatar to use throughout your time in South Park. With a plethora of options and colours to choose from, you should have no issues finding a unique look to play the game with. There are two particularly interesting options here, both rather reflective of South Park in general; these being your character’s skin colour and gender. Making waves when it originally launched last year, difficulty in the game is controlled by skin tone—the darker your skin, the more difficult the game becomes. What elevates this from a normal difficulty slider is Cartman’s narration as you are deciding: “Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect combat. Just every other aspect of your whole life.” This difficulty comes in the form of altered dialogue and interactions with other characters, as well as the amount of money received throughout the game. It shines a harsh light on inequality in a way that may seem out of place in any game other than this.

The character’s gender is notable for the lack of option when first creating your character. While the avatar is fairly generic in nature, I found myself seeing then as a male character, and as it were, so does much of the world once you begin the game. Only a few hours in does it actually ask you how you identify after you approach the school councillor. Should you tell him you’re female, he expresses disbelief, calling your parents to ask about your response. This really stuck with me when realistically it was a minor plot point in filling out details about your character. Its handling of these themes and social ideas were sensitive and critical within the bounds of familiar South Park mockery and humour, allowing for it to feel perfectly in line with the rest of the world.

It’s South Park

What I found most engaging when it came to this game was its parity with the series as a whole. It feels less like a game than it does a long, interactive episode of the show. This is enforced throughout the experience through various means. The most obvious of these is the cutscenes woven throughout the game; they are South Park at its purest, something you look forward to watching as a short break from gameplay. What I perhaps find more striking are the smaller tweaks to make any fan feel at home. From the graphical style as a complete look and feel, to the low-budget and familiarly lazy-looking style of movement; they put forward the essence of the show in a way that almost feels like a natural evolution. Put this with the game’s crude and uncensored line of humour and you have a complete South Park package.

I felt comfortable in the world as I explored, able to pick out landmarks and features from the show. Everything felt crafted in such a way as to spark a brilliant nostalgia whilst pulling it out of my memory and breathing into it new life. While navigating it can at first feel cumbersome, it allows you time to learn the layout before giving you the power of fast travel. Progression through the world and games’ systems flow similarly well, pacing itself in a way to allow understanding and appreciation of each aspect without actively holding your hand nor dragging out the experience.

Strategic Strategy

From everything I played, I found greatest appreciation in the combat system. It features a grid of varying sizes for each battle, where each character uses skills unique to their class to inflict damage over set areas. The system in itself actually feels quite standard, with no particular feature standing out as revolutionary. It put across a fine example of a refined combat system, but this in itself is not where it shines. It’s in the characters where this combat system proves itself unique. In presenting a standard system, the developers were given the freedom to toy with your understanding of it and bend it to suit their needs.

A memorable instance of this was against the Alternate Human Kite, an early boss fight. As he is getting beaten, he decides the fight is unfair, and chooses instead to add rules of his own to cheat. It’s childish, with your ally Human Kite criticising him in the background for this. Through this cheating, he creates new skills, and goes as far as stealing your turn by saying you attacked him while he was taking a break. It’s stupid, and fourth wall-breaking, but brilliant in that is stays within the bounds of the game while doing this. This fourth wall-breaking also occurs randomly in fights happening on roads, the characters occasionally noticing an oncoming car. Seeing this, they react by pausing the fight, moving out of the road, and getting shouted at by the driver. These details stuck with me. They reminded me through the charade of the gameplay, that it is a group of children having fun. It’s a purity I hadn’t expected to see in a South Park game I couldn’t help but appreciate.

Closing Thoughts

A criticism of the game I held throughout playing was the feel of Ubisoft throughout. This feeling is particularly difficult to quantify, but showed itself in small areas. Things like costumes being in my inventory I couldn’t access without being a Ubisoft Club member, or having South Park adverts visible on the main menu. They don’t go far in taking away from the stellar gameplay experience, but they become noticeable. They put a slightly generic spin on the game that could have been mocked by the characters, that could have been woven into the gameplay, but simply weren’t. South Park: The Fractured But Whole remains a game I would wholeheartedly recommend to any lover of the series, or anybody looking for a good laugh, but I can’t help but be a little sad the developers couldn’t toy with their reputation a little more. While I can’t say how it compares to the other versions of the game, the Switch provides a perfect vessel to play without any real drawback; the portable experience was one worth waiting for.

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