South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is Killer-Weak-Sweet [Review]

By Aaron Matteson in Reviews
Friday, March 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm
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South Park: Tenorman's Revenge -- it's, as Cartman might say, "pretty coo [sic]."

Let's get this out of the way -- the gameplay in South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is fine. If you're looking for a platformer that hearkens back to its old-school roots while incorporating the smooth animation and online functionality of modern gaming, it's a great fit. It has interesting, if not revolutionary elements like unique characters moves and a stage timer that can be rewound. The physics feel a little "floaty," and things get repetitive (as is common in platformers), but these aren't huge issues.

However, if you're looking for a groundbreaking game that discovers totally new possibilities for the genre, like Limbo or Braid, this will not meet your requirements. But you didn't expect a South Park XBLA game to play like Limbo. There's really only one reasonable explanation for why someone would want to buy a South Park game: they love South Park and are hoping some of the profane magic of the series can be captured in game form. As long as the gameplay is not downright bad, if the spirit of the series is intact, the developers have been successful.

And this game does a great job of converting the show as it is now into a generally fun, pretty challenging platformer. Any dissatisfaction with what the game is like probably stems from deeper dissatisfaction I have about what the show has become.

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If you are anything like me, you grew up loving South Park in equal parts for its social commentary and its delightful, vulgar nonsense. In South Park's early seasons, Cartman's voice was almost incomprehensible and the animation was hilariously lame. Episodes would be devoted to things like the boys building elaborate treehouses. As South Park grew older, this appreciation of the ridiculous remained a big part of the show's basic vision.

Tenorman's Revenge incorporates many of the oddball elements that have kept the show entertaining for so long. I don't want to spoil too many of the game's nice surprises, but right off the bat you get the hyper-intelligent atheist otters of the 10th season episode "Go God Go" -- one of them is the narrator of the game. Later on, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Mephisto's multi-assed and -boobed genetic experiments are featured.

And game mechanics will often highlight the ridiculousness of the references. The boys can transform into their superhero alter-egos at specific points in the game, and the combination of the ludicrous powers they acquire and the legitimately stirring, heroic music that plays during these sequences is comic gold. The ginger robots that Scott Tenorman uses as shock troopers are pretty funny, sporting laser-red freckles and deadly orange hair-spikes.

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What really sets this game apart from an endeavor like the Nintendo 64's baffling South Park FPS is the presentation. The cutscenes are integrated into the gameplay very well, and they do look and sound like clips from a South Park episode. Tenorman's voice acting is grating, but otherwise it's all excellent. Whereas the N64 game was all the ridiculousness with none of the presentation, this has both the polish and the silliness.

Here's where the "but" comes in. The game definitely captures the spirit of the show as it is now. But in doing so, my lack of enthusiasm about the current state of South Park carries over to the game. For the past few seasons, the show has seemed to me somewhat less capable of communicating that sense of effortless randomness in its humor that made me love it so much. The catchphrases that once came across as off-the-cuff and very funny have been replaced by others that seem vaguely strained. The goofiness of it all seems calculated, reheated.

And it comes through in the game, at points. The initial conflict is that Tenorman has taken Cartman's Xbox hard drive, which strikes me as needless pandering to gamers. And at this point the otter narrator, instead of wondering what in Science's name an Xbox is, makes a joke about LA Noire. If these seem like petty complaints, you probably won't have a problem with the game's humor -- but I have a feeling at least a few South Park fans will understand what I'm getting at.

The bottom line is that Tenorman's Revenge is a relatively effective platformer, and even for a jaded, cynical "I liked it better before" South Park fan like me, it still contains a few chuckles. But I am left with mixed feelings about this game overall. I think it could best be described, to quote Eric Cartman circa 1998, as "killer-weak-sweet."

The Official Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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