Snow Day Learned Nothing From South Park 64?

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Highlights

  • The switch to 3D in the new South Park game takes away from the distinctive paper cutout stop-motion style that makes the show iconic.
  • While the 1998 South Park game was fun at the time due to the novelty of 3D, the use of 3D in the new game feels superfluous.
  • South Park is best suited to video game genres that can support the show’s distinctive art style..

It’s been a hot minute since I last watched South Park (it was a good friend to me during the pandemic), but I have a lot of sentimentality for the show. We’ve had some good times together: from the early (and now woefully dated) early seasons of the show, through to its more biting, topical approach as the seasons entered double-figures. I also thought the recent RPG duology, the Obsidian-developed Fractured But Hole and Stick of Truth, were excellent, staying light on complexity, high on humour, and marking the first time where the quality bar of a South Park game actually matched an episode of the show.

So I was cautiously excited for Snow Day, sucker as I am for four-player co-op experiences and South Park. Yet from the opening moments of the gameplay trailer revealed the other day, it was apparent that something was just wrong, starting with the fact that it’s 3D!

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Excess Dimension

Yes, I believe this is the first fully-fledged 3D South Park game since the 1998 first-person shooter South Park, released for the N64 and PS1, and from that 90-second trailer it seems that no amount of technological progress can obfuscate the fact that a lot of South Parks baseline comedy comes from its trademark paper cutout stop-motion style. Seeing these characters in full 3D, moving at smooth frame-rates, takes away a big part of what makes South Park South Park. Turn South Park 3D, and the distinctive cut-outs with their aggressively sudden movements and facial transitions just look like generic 3D bobbleheads. It looks ugly, because its so clearly never meant to be 3D.

I understand South Park doing that back in 1998. It was the 3D revolution in games, and everyone was at it. Even if the source material was 2D, taken from a cartoon or TV series, developers would feel the need to transmogrify it into rudimentary 3D models, because in a gaming context that’s what signalled the future, even if it would often end up to the detriment of the game itself.

And to give credit where it’s due, South Park for the N64 was somewhat fun for the two days I rented it out from Blockbuster. It deployed the absolute ass-end of South Park humour, but that suited 11-year-old me just fine. It was pretty swarmy, with plenty of enemies on-screen at once—from mad turkeys to those giant drooling mutants—and it had some world-appropriate weapons like the Cow Launcher, Sniper Chicken, and Alien Dancing Gizmo which would transfix enemies in a dancing limbo; multiplayer too! Ultimately, the game was extremely repetitive, with very little enemy and scenario variety, and a two-day rental was about enough for me.

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But where back then the novelty of 3D carried the game to an extent, in Snow Day it just feels superfluous. I get that they wanted to fit South Park into a particular format (a fairly generic-looking dungeon crawler that gives me echoes of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance), but here’s a thought: maybe South Park is best suited to video game genres that can support the distinctive art style of the TV show? Obsidian’s efforts show how well that works, so to go back to 3D is a bizarre direction.

So yeah, not sure about Snow Day, especially as it’s not written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone either. Some things in life are best kept 2D, and I suspect South Park is one of them.

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