Video games and South Park are one of those perfect "peanut butter and chocolate" combinations. Over the years, the series has tackled gaming culture countless times, including the infamous World of Warcraft episode, which is one of the show's biggest hits. Likewise, the series has been among the top downloaded TV shows on the Xbox Live Video Marketplace. Since South Park loves games and games love South Park, a new video game combining the two sounds like a pretty sweet idea. Sadly, Let's Go Tower Defense Play! fails to capitalize on the immense potential, providing only a meager offering to fans and gamers alike.
In the game, a mysterious evil presence has let loose a variety of minions to destroy South Park, and it's up to the town's four foul-mouthed lads to stop it. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of a tower defense game, it's pretty simple. Players have to set up defenses and protect an area from ever-growing waves of enemies moving across the screen. It's an old staple of gaming, but it still makes for an engaging challenge.
At the outset, only Eric, Kenny, Kyle and Stan are available as playable characters, but more characters are unlocked as the game progresses. There are about 15 characters in total, with the majority of the roster comprised of other South Park kids like Butters, Jimmy, Token and many others. Besides throwing snowballs at enemies, each character can charge up his own unique special attack. Some are defensive, like Stan's ability to heal the town if it gets damaged, and others offensive, like Clyde, who throws his exploding colostomy bag.
While those moves are important, enemies can only be completely defeated through the use of towers. Using coins collected from downed foes, players must build towers that shoot baseballs, lasers, rockets or cat urine (yes, you can "cheese" your enemies). The towers can also be upgraded to do more damage, or dismantled and moved somewhere else if enemies start to come from another direction.
The enemies in Let's Go Tower Defense Play! make for some memorable throwbacks to numerous South Park episodes, and fans will surely get a kick out of them. There are Christmas critters, crab people, ginger kids, Mongolians and sixth graders, just to name a few. Some enemies, like the Christmas critters, can move quickly and run past the front line, while elderly people are slow but can take a lot of damage. It's also important to tune defenses appropriately for new waves, as each enemy is vulnerable to certain kinds of towers.
The game takes players through all the main attractions in the town of South Park, like the schoolyard, Hell's Pass Hospital and Stark's pond. In the beginning, the flow of baddies will be directed down specific paths, but later on, it's up to the player to build towers and walls in strategic places. The key to victory lies in shuffling enemies into small choke points to make them more manageable, or else they'll walk all over your defenses.
Let's Go Tower Defense Play! gets off to a good start, but further into the campaign, it becomes apparent that the game just doesn't work as a single-player experience. When only one person is playing, the other three teammates are controlled by no AI at all. They each need to be taken control of and placed in certain areas because they can't move, build defenses or collect coins. This makes for just another list of things to manage in addition to building towers and fighting hordes of enemies. Later in the game, when enemies come from multiple locations, it was almost impossible to get some defenses set up because I basically had to fill in for three other players.
I understand Let's Go Tower Defense Play! is designed with a focus on co-op play, but the game should at least be playable for the individual. The same is done with far more complex co-op games like Left 4 Dead 2, where the AI can sub in for a friend, so why not here? It makes for a very deep cut in the game's value, as things gets so frustrating at times that it's near impossible to play unless someone is packing insane multi-tasking skills.
Throw in a few buddies, and Let's Go Tower Defense Play! is an entirely different game. Working in coordination with three other people feels good, since tasks can be split up and the game flows much more smoothly. New players can even jump in mid-battle, and online play goes off without a hitch. It's also easy to tell which character you're playing as because of a circle that forms around each player to display his attack range. The cooperative mode shows how the game was really meant to be played, but it's a shame this is the only way to enjoy it.
However, the fun probably won't last long, as a dedicated group of people should be able to clear the campaign in a day. Afterward, there are a few challenge levels with unique tweaks, such as having to fight enemies without the help of towers or maintaining rows of snow trenches as they're destroyed by zombies, but compared to the bigger stages in the main campaign, they feel underwhelming. Aside from some short unlockable clips from the TV show, there aren't too many reasons to come back for another round.
What makes Let's Go Tower Defense Play! an even harder sell is its sheer failure as a representation of South Park. I've loved the show since I had to try to watch it without the folks catching me, and I was anticipating a funny game almost more than a game that was fun to play. Any other SP fan can understand how disappointed I was when I hardly laughed once. First, there's absolutely no plot to speak of, which is due to the lack of any real cut scenes.
Instead of any animated clips, there are a bunch of pictures with some mundane script that makes rehashed jokes we've all heard a million times. Cartman makes fun of Kyle for being a Jew? No kidding. It almost feels like Matt and Trey weren't involved with the project at all.
It's too bad because graphically, the game presents the South Park world rather well. Both the art style and animations are completely identical to the cartoon, and all the character movements and behaviors are spot-on, right down to Eric Cartman's waddling. South Park may not inherently have a lot to offer visually because of the deliberately simplistic style, but the game uses it well and gives the sensation of playing the cartoon. All of the voices from the show are present and lend some legitimacy to the game, but it's a shame that none of the talent was put to good use.
Let's Go Tower Defense Play! will offer some good times for a group of tower defense fanatics, but anyone thinking about going solo should save his money, as managing the other characters in the single-player mode feels like trying to herd dead cats. Again, the game is short and is very disappointing as a South Park experience. It only costs 800 MS points, but I firmly believe people would rather pay a higher price for a South Park game with better gameplay, more features and a true representation of what makes the series great. We South Park fans are still ready to accept a game with open arms, but next time, guys, try a little harder, mmkay?
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