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South Park: The Fractured but Whole reminds a lapsed fan why he loved the series

South Park: The Fractured but Whole reminds a lapsed fan why he loved the series

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I’m a lapsed South Park fan. I can’t say why. Maybe I lost my sense of humor? Maybe I got soft? Maybe I found its creators’ philosophy, thinly hidden within a cloud of fart jokes, to be too simplistic, self-righteous, and often just plain mean. Whatever the case, I was reminded why I quit the show throughout the demo for The Fractured but Whole. I also remembered, here and there, why I fell for the show in the first place.

The roleplaying game swaps the fantasy trappings of its predecessor, 2014’s The Stick of Truth, for handmade superhero costumes. All the boys are heroes now, including Cartman, who goes by, what else, The Coon. The story is inspired, in part, by a 2009 episode, but "The Coon" jokes have been updated for present day. Cartman’s social network? Coonstagram. His superhero squad? Coon and Friends.

If that’s your preferred flavor of comedy, you might enjoy the gag at the end of the demo. Cartman, battered on the ground, tells his friend how Timmy, now a member of a rival superhero squad, entered his head with telekinesis, then fucked his brain and raped his mind. The jokes are tasteless, sure, but they’re also tired.

South Park

I said I enjoyed parts of the presentation though, and I did. I’m not here to Julius Caesar a video game demo. There are, plotted between the main story beats, sweet little moments that capture the utter weirdness of being a kid.

The kids’ superhero costumes and identities are built around household items. The Human Kite is a kid with a kite strapped on his back. Super Craig is just a better version of Craig. Our hero — who has selected, from a handful of character styles, something akin to The Flash — wears a bright orange bike helmet with yellow fins stuck to its sides by Scotch tape.

Super Craig is just a better version of Craig

For all its adult gags, South Park is at its best when it captures that feeling of being a kid, living an in-between space populated by the real world and the creations of one’s imagination. The hero’s origin story for example, begins with a superhero battle with late-night home intruders, but ends with him accidentally walking in on his parents having sex. Midway through a flashy battle on a downtown street, the kids move to the sidewalk, allowing a car to pass by.

And the game does the adult stuff well, too. The trailer hints at the story of Cartman and company hoping to land a Netflix television deal, a first step in ripping off the decade-long production roadmap drawn by Marvel Studios.

Yes, the title is pretty funny, too.

Maybe the trick to enjoying South Park as I get older, and become a soft, humorless grown-up, is to compartmentalize. I instinctually do this with the most violent games, and I wonder if I could do the same for a game I find funny as often as I find it repugnant.

Or let’s be honest, I don’t matter. This is for non-lapsed South Park fans. And as far as South Park goes, The Fracture but Whole is... a gas.