"There have been some truly awful South Park games over the years. This isn't one of them, but it's still no triumph."
South Park: Letís Go Tower Defense Play! is a tower defense game that makes use of the South Park intellectual property, precisely as its title suggests. Released in 2009, the game serves as a decent dividing line between the awful South Park games of old and the newer ones that surprised a lot of older gamers by featuring compelling design.
Developed by Doublesix, a short-lived studio not otherwise known for much of anything you are likely to have played, the game was published by none other than Microsoft Game Studios. Itís rated M for Mature, and features plenty of the signature humor you may love from the television show, including unlockable clips from episodes available up to that point. The characters offer rude quips in their proper voices, and thereís a suitably juvenile story about a great evil causing chaos around the town. You stop the evil from achieving its ultimate goals only by mounting a good defense against a variety of adversaries that include ginger children, sixth graders, hippies, old people, and more.
I love a good tower defense game, and thereís stuff to like here even beyond pretty solid use of the license, but thereís a lot I wish the developers had done differently. Gameplay features eleven lengthy stages broken into smaller chunks, which you can tackle on any of three difficulties initially available. A fourth difficulty level unlocks once you clear the campaign, which you can technically do without even triumphing over evil. When you fail a piece of a stage, thereís the option to just keep going so you can watch additional video clips and unlock more characters for use in the Challenge stages.
While I appreciate that the developers offer players the option to skip unpleasant bits, I wish the stages were designed in a way that didnít make it so tempting to do so. The ďNormalĒ difficulty setting is fine in the early going, but the game quickly grows frustrating rather than fun. By the end of the campaign, I had dropped to ďCasualĒ and still found forces overwhelming me or frustrating me. This is true for a few reasons beyond even my general suckitude.
Firstly, the game doesnít always give players enough time to set up their towers ahead of the first wave, let alone between any that follow. There are four kids on the field, for the most part. You can either switch between them by pressing a shoulder button, or invite a local friend or three along to control alternate characters. If you leave an unmanned friend in a bad location, they will fall in battle and you have to rush over to revive them. It would have been nice if the AI versions made any effort to move out of the way of enemy hordes, but they do not.
Secondly, the game comes to rely on wall building, which is simply not an enjoyable mechanic. You can build walls to slow the advance of the hordes, but they find tiny openings if you arenít extremely careful about your placement. All walls (and for that matter, towers) must be built over snow. Youíre forced to pay attention to the background to make sure youíre in an acceptable position. Then when you build a wall, you step to the side to build another, but your character may realign through no fault of your own. Itís too easy to build a compromised wall that wonít divert a single foe, all because you donít have enough time for more considered construction.
Enemy types are usually only weak to particular tower types, so that you need to build a variety of them across the play area. Shifting between the various options as youíre building isnít especially intuitive, and some of them look similar enough that you need to pay close attention and could lose precious time just because of the interface. Itís a surmountable obstacle, but still unfortunate and adds to my personal dissatisfaction. I also donít like that thereís only one upgrade for each tower. They simply do more damage, which means updates are a no-brainer, except that they cost way too much gold.
As you defeat enemies, they sometimes drop coins. However, you might not be able to safely cross to the coins to retrieve them, because enemies are in the way and you donít want to get hit and fall. Also, tower construction and upgrades cost a lot more coins than you can easily acquire even when expertly clearing waves. You must use the kidsí special abilities (which charge up over time and are rarely available when you need them most) to buy yourself some breathing room. Kennyís ability lets him rob a bunch of coins from all enemies on the field, but you must use it when everything is at its most crowded to see any real benefit. And then youíre busy grabbing coins while letting enemies through because you canít do everything at once. Itís infuriating.
If you enjoy South Park humor and you like tower defense games and you have a few friends who might care to join you for some multiplayer tower defense gameplay, South Park: Letís Go Tower Defense Play! is a pretty decent bet for a reasonably good session or two. If you try to get much more out of it than that, however, the designís underlying sloppiness becomes apparent. Itís difficult to tolerate, especially by the time you encounter more creative setups in the final stages. I consider it unlikely Microsoft or anyone else will resurrect this title at any point in the future, instead leaving it to languish as a licensed oddity that fewer people even remember exists with each passing year. All things considered, thatís probably not for the worst.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 05, 2022)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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