As a licensed video game property, South Park can be admired for being ambitious. The first game on the Nintendo 64 was a first-person shooter. The next one was a kart racer that went multiplatform, followed by a trivia game hosted by Chef. With those three mediocre titles, the series took a break from games until a few years ago, with the release of a tower defense title that, unlike previous efforts, was hailed by critics and players alike. We're now treated to another South Park game that, like its predecessors, explores a new genre with the license. Unfortunately for fans, South Park: Tenorman's Revenge could have been much better.
The plot is rather silly but almost par for the show. After the events in the "South Park" episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die," the titular character enacts his revenge on the boy who made him eat his parents by breaking into his house and stealing his Xbox 360 hard drive. At first, the boys lament that they have to slog through L.A. Noire and Batman: Arkham City again because their save files have gone missing. However, as told by futuristic atheist sea otters, Cartman rallies them for a quest through time to defeat Tenorman's ginger bots and retrieve their Xbox 360 hard drive.
At heart, the game is a 2-D side-scrolling platformer. You'll move around in all directions as you locate checkpoints, fight bosses, and collect the time cores needed to unlock future levels. Along the way through the game's 22 levels, you'll fight Tenorman's bots and other minions with a myriad of weapons, including baseball bats, bubble guns and crowbars — or by simply jumping on top of them.
The boys have unique abilities from the outset, with Kenny being able to jump higher than normal, Cartman able to bust down weak walls, Stan's football chucking, and Kyle being able to pass through force fields because of his ginger afro. The wrinkle to the standard platforming formula comes in the form of suits that transform the boys into superheroes with unique powers. Cartman gains wall-jumping abilities when he becomes The Coon. As Mysterion, Kenny dies and passes through deathtraps. Kyle becomes The Human Kite to glide through areas, and Stan breaks through weak platforms as Toolshed. These abilities, both normal and super-powered, are intended to bypass obstacles instead of defeating enemies, so don't expect one character to be better against bots than another. Another change is with the timer. The normal pick-ups you gather work toward reducing time, and medals are given if you pass the level with a negative time goal instead of a positive one. It really isn't too different from similar games, but it slightly changes your line of thinking.
What is surprising is how the game simply doesn't work that well as a single-player experience, and this is clearly evident in the layout of the level. The branching paths are all blocked off one way or another unless you have the right kid with the right power handy. Some of these paths can easily be traversed with one child but there are more than enough that require the abilities of two or more kids. You can't switch to a different kid at any time and replaying the level doesn't save your progress, making it near impossible to explore a good deal of the game alone and making it even much more difficult to get to the later levels which require a high number of cores to unlock.
The game's layout encourages really multiplayer play and it works, albeit imperfectly. Tenorman's Revenge does a great job of tracking the locations of all four players, and the camera never seems to be zoomed out too far. Interestingly, despite the presence of areas that require two or more kids to pass, the title likes to encourage competition more than cooperation. Though you won't lose health, you can push your fellow players or hit them with weapons to knock them down. You can do this when they're in front of an enemy and get them to lose health via an enemy's touch. There are issues you'll run into, including spawning into areas already out of camera view, but it never gets bad enough to be frustrating. Alas, the title lacks drop-in/drop-out co-op, which would've been ideal given the length of each level. Also frustrating is the amount of lag in online play. The stuttering and generally slow online gameplay makes this a title best enjoyed locally with friends.
There is a host of other issues. Continuing from a save point is quite cumbersome, as it takes you to the level select menu instead of directly to your last level. Even then, the level must be "purchased" with the various time cores you've collected, although that's not really explained to you in the game. The various pathways break up the linear nature of the game, but those alternate paths and secret rooms don't offer much that's worthwhile. A few offer a time core or two, but most give you time reduction orbs — although the effect is negated by the time it takes to obtain them. The overall difficulty is challenging, but some of that difficulty is a result of cheap tactics. Cameras that produce various blind spots in rather difficult areas and enemies in infinite respawn points provide some unnecessary frustration for the player. The big mark against the game is that it doesn't feel fun. Everything you do feels like it's been done before but with no big payoff this time around. You can predict exactly where the plot will go, so you won't have a chance to experience any surprises, and every conquered boss leaves you feeling unsatisfied. You're going through the motions and wondering when it'll all end; when you feel like that during a game, you know something is wrong.
When it comes to appearance, the game falls into a weird spot because of the source material. The show isn't exactly a technical marvel since it is composed of colored paper and simple geometry slapped together with the barest of animation. Amazingly, the first games based on the license got things wrong by smoothing out things with fluid animations and making everything 3-D. This one does things right by sticking with something like the show, flaws and all. The characters look exactly like their TV counterparts and animate similarly, where turns are immediate and general movement lacks fluidity. Environments are kept simple with muted colors and simple looks. The future environments look fine with some flying cars in the background, but everything else is rather flat. If this were anything else, it would be valid to call the work lazy, but since this is a South Park title, the game did a great job of capturing the look.
For something so simple, the sound is anything but. The music strives for an epic feel in each level, and that becomes evident whenever you transform into one of the boys' alter-egos. It's fully orchestrated material that elevates the score quality and is a bit humorous due to how out of place it is in contrast to the visuals. The effects play out well, but you'll be surprised to find things that are silent, such as the action of your character jumping. Like the rest of the South Park games, the voices are done by the original cast members, so the authenticity is there. The game contains no censorship, so the cursing is in full effect. What seems to be missing is the humor. Unlike the show, the game has no new and unexpected jokes. The jokes are only there because you're seeing material previously seen in the show, so all of the quips feel recycled. The reduced amount of vocal feedback from the cast doesn't help, either.
While there's nothing blatantly wrong with South Park: Tenorman's Revenge, there's not much right with it, either. Technically, the game does a good job of looking and sounding like the source material, even though it isn't as funny. From a gameplay perspective, the level layout seems overly complicated; the alternate paths in each level barely offer any incentive to take them in the first place. The amount of lag in an online multiplayer game discourages anyone from using that feature. Most importantly, the game isn't that fun to play. It certainly isn't the worst game in the series, but as it stands, there isn't any incentive to pick up this title.
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