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South Park: Snow Day review - A sometimes funny, often frustrating experience

South Park: Snow Day review - A sometimes funny, often frustrating experience

Not quite the fun day off school

South Park almost feels like a guilty pleasure nowadays. The show is hit or miss, but I still enjoy tuning in every once in a while. Its puerile toilet humour earns a silly grin, their meta-commentary on the world at large often skewers it enough to make me giggle. Hell, I don’t mind saying that at the age of 41, I enjoy a fart joke or a ‘deez nuts’ quip. I can’t help it, they make me feel like an immature schoolboy without a care in the world or the pressures of adult life.

I was hoping that South Park: Snow Day with its humour would win me over. It does, to a degree. Usually, the first time you hear a certain voice line while in battle it’ll raise a smile, but after the fifth or sixth time it gets old. This is kind of a theme with South Park: Snow Day. The jokes come thick and fast and some of them land, most of them feel as recycled as toilet paper, which is the currency used in this game - you get it? Because during the pandemic people were hoarding toilet paper.

The kids swear a lot (swearing is also funny when used correctly) and there are all the expected jokes about testicles and buttholes. The humour is the selling point here because not even a fart joke can save this game; a game that feels, essentially, like an early 2000s brawler with no charm whatsoever.

Part of South Park’s charm is in its ‘trashy’ animation style, it’s a style that carries humour, but here, outside of cutscenes, it’s eschewed for a weird 3D style that just strips it of any character or personality. The graphics are crude, with each area filled with cookie-cutter assets, and cookie-cutter enemies, the gameplay is often spoiled by the camera clipping through objects, especially high snow drifts meant to slow you down, but they just obscure your view. It shows that 3D doesn’t do justice to a 2D TV show, which seems all too obvious when you say it out loud.

Snow day
Snow day

Anyway, it’s a Snow Day, school has been cancelled and the kids are out on the streets despite the cold weather becoming life-threatening and stacking up a body count. The kids don’t care, they just want to play. Cartman is decked out in his wizard garb and you find yourself on his team, fighting against his friends in a weird deck-based brawler. We’ll come to the cards in a moment, but what you can expect is a game that asks you to wander around the snow-filled town - which is broken down into arenas - bashing other kids, rolling away from dangerous attacks and clearing waves of enemies before moving on to another small arena.

At the start of each match, which occurs over rounds which act like campaign chapters, you’ll pick some ability or buff cards as well as one super ability, as does the opposing team. These cards dictate your playstyle for the upcoming chapters and get upgraded using toilet paper before you leave each area. It’s usually things like bleeding enemies taking more damage, or a protective bubble healing nearby allies and these buffs grow with each round finished.

Without the cards and the South Park facade, it would be an utterly forgettable action game. There’s a lot of awkward camera movement, the attacking carries no weight and is nothing more than slamming a button repeatedly. There’s little tactical edge you can earn outside of a couple of special attacks. Every once in a while you’ll stumble across an enemy that hits a bit harder or is buffed with a higher health bar, they’re not fun to fight, it’s just a slog.

Snow day
Snow day

The fighting is so scrappy that I ended up paying little attention to what was happening because it just wasn’t interesting. When the levels try to be interesting it’s usually with objectives, like starting a truck by finding its keys and refuelling it, or fixing a trebuchet by finding used condoms, but it just devolves into nothing more than running around an arena fetching things or attacking boring enemies while waiting for the boss chapter.

As I mentioned, there are some special attacks to be used. At first, I got a fart that blasted me into the air to drift away from trouble. This could be upgraded to damage enemies lingering in the fart gas, or the gas would pull enemies inward to be bashed by another player. My second special move was a healing totem, which is helpful because you’ll take a lot of damage from obnoxious attacks that seem to come from everywhere. Oh, you have an energy bar that allows you to activate these abilities, it’s called a ‘pi**ed-off bar.’

There’s also a larger attack that can be activated by holding a button which varies in function. I liked the one that dropped meteors all over the arena to damage my enemies, plus another that poisoned anyone in a certain radius. I didn’t like the one that Kyle used on me that made me poop explosive turds as I walked as it cluttered up the screen. Oh, these abilities are called ‘Bulls**t.’ Because you’ll be saying, “Well, that’s bulls**t” quite often, as they’re activated.

Snow day
Snow day

You might be thinking I don’t like this game. You’d be right. It’s not that fun. Granted, I didn’t get a chance to play with other people on my team, so I was always accompanied by bots, but even with my mates it wouldn’t be fun. Because the bread and butter of the action is so goddamn dull. Everything is rinse and repeat - you exit the hub world after upgrading your character, you choose a campaign chapter, fight through arenas, and leave. Then do it all again.

Admittedly, each chapter is bookended with a boss fight that shakes things up a bit, but not always for the good. Battling against anime Kenny was often hilarious as the arena is flooded with rainbows and hearts that confuse you; while fighting Kyle is a chore because of his constant teleportation ability that drags out the fight.

I want to be able to sit here and tell you that it gets fun. It doesn’t. Even the South Park-isms like Mr Hanky, Stan’s dad talking about his balls, and the kindergarten kids swearing like sailors, can’t redeem a tedious game. There are only so many times you can hear the word ‘f**k’ uttered in an innocent childlike voice. There are only so many times you can beat up another kid using tin foil daggers.

Snow day
Snow day

Compared to other recent outings, Snow Day just misses the mark completely. Stick of Truth and Fractured But Whole are both successful because the game genre dictates a deeper story, and more varied gameplay mechanics, and allows the humour to thread its way through the action. With Snow Day, it feels like being attacked over and over again by annoying moments designed to ruin the one day that kids find fun.

Yes, Cartman is funny. Kyle is stuck up. Stan is the mediator. And Kenny, is, well, Kenny. You can’t fault the cut scenes which act like clips from the show and are the game’s redeeming feature, but it’s surrounded by recycled and uninspiring gameplay that might have worked on the PlayStation 3, but roguelike battlers, particularly ones involving cards, have come so far. As a South Park fan, I was disappointed. As a roguelike fan, it stung a bit more. The huge potential just falls flat and while it might be redeemed with your mates and a six-pack of beer, it’s unlikely it has legs to keep you returning.

Pros: South Park humour, some fun abilities, great cutscenes

Cons: Terrible AI teammates, repetitive and clunky combat, cluttered and messy gameplay

For fans of: South Park, Roguelikes

5/10: Average

South Park: Snow Day is out on 26 March for PC (version tested), Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 5. A review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: THQ Nordic

Topics: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation, Steam, Xbox