Change The Channel – South Park

In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1998’s South Park for the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation…

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Let’s set the scene. It’s the summer of 1997, Hanson’s “Mmmbop” and The Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” are on repeat on pretty much every radio station, and movies such as Batman & Robin, Men In Black and The Lost World are dominating box offices across the world. We also saw the debut of a cartoon that follows the misadventures of four boys in their quiet little mountain town.

That show was South Park, and at the time of writing has been on the air for 21 seasons (that’s 287 episodes!), spawning a movie and more merchandise than you can shake a stick at!

The show was a success (both critically and commercially), seemingly taking aim at absolutely everyone and everything with its hilariously volatile, satirical humour. South Park‘s popularity was seemingly boundless, so it was only a matter of time before it would get its own video game, and that’s where part 4 of our “Change The Channel” series comes in…

Originally released on Nintendo 64 in December 1998, South Park is a first-person shooter developed by Turok creators Iguana Entertainment, and published by Acclaim. The story is as follows;

A mysterious comet is approaching the earth, described by the opening narration as a force of concentrated evil that no force of good can stand against. As it comes closer, South Park is beset by enemies, including rabid mutant turkeys, deformed clones of the townsfolk, alien visitors, berserk robots, and sentient killer toys. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny hear about the dangers from Chef, and take up arms to investigate their sources and defend the town.

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Gameplay is broken up into two modes; Single Player and Multiplayer. Single player mode sees players take control of one of the main characters of the show (those being Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny), defeating enemies using various weapons found in the different levels, then reaching an exit point. In addition to this, players must prevent larger “tank” enemies from reaching the exit point before they do, otherwise a mini-game is triggered in which players must defend the town from these “tanks”.

Multiplayer is a pretty standard deathmatch affair, with players selecting one of the four characters from single player mode, and fighting to be the last man standing. There are also a number of unlockable characters from the show. From fan favourites such as Stan Marsh, Mr. Garrison and Big Gay Al, to the lesser used residents such as Mephesto, Ned Gerblanski and Starvin’ Marvin, there’s plenty of characters to play as in the game, adding a bit more replay value into the mix.

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While it isn’t perfect, the game is pretty funny and, as the game utilises the same engine as Turok 2, it offers some decent enough shooting action with a variety of weapons that range from dodgeballs and sponge dart guns, to yellow snowballs (…yeah, it’s exactly what you think). The graphics aren’t too terrible either (if you’re willing to look past the short draw distance in the levels), as the blocky 3D iterations of the characters carry a certain charm to them.

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So, if the Nintendo 64 version was a pretty OK-ish game, then the PlayStation and PC ports that arrived a few months later would surely match that quality, if not surpass it? As it turns out, absolutely not.

Both the PC and the PlayStation versions were overwhelmingly panned by critics, with some calling the PlayStation port “one of those games that is bound to come up when you start thinking about the worst game you’ve ever played“. These versions both suffered from a number of flaws, such as poor graphics, low quality visuals and disappointing voice acting (which was insanely repetitive at times).

By the time these versions were released, the Nintendo 64 version was already at least 10 months old, so this added to the negative reception upon their release.

The PC version offers slightly more in multiplayer mode, allowing players to play online deathmatches with all the characters readily unlocked (as well as some exclusive characters), but with how bad the overall experience of the game on that platform was, there really wasn’t much point in having this feature at all.

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Overall, depending on which version you got, the original South Park game is a mixed bag quality-wise, and is still worth a look for fans of the show (as long as you stick with the Nintendo 64 version!).

Since this game’s release, the quality of South Park games has improved rather dramatically, with games such as The Stick Of Truth and The Fractured But Whole doing a much better job of capturing the abrasive satire and iconic visual style of the show, so it goes without saying that those are the ones that people should try instead.

Have you played the original South Park game? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!

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