South Park hasn't had the most luxurious history when it comes to getting the video game treatment. There's been a decent release here or there throughout the years, but for the most part we've been subjected to repetitive first-person shooters and uninspired platformers. That is until earlier this year when South Park: The Stick of Truth proved that, with a talented and passionate development team, a high-end licensed product can exist. So when we found out that the pinball wizards at Zen Studios would be bringing South Park to Pinball FX2, we thought we'd have another bonafide hit on our hands. Instead, we've received something that's good, but not quite as good as the developers past work has been.
South Park Pinball is a two pack of tables, one based on the entire South Park gang, called Super-Sweet Pinball, and the other focused on Butters and his superhero alter ego Professor Chaos, called Butters' Very Own Pinball Game. If fan service is what you're after, you'll be happy to know that the amount on display is almost overwhelming (most specifically in Super-Sweet Pinball). The sights and sounds are direct references to classic episodes, and the mini-game activities are matched fittingly to the character's respective personalities. For example, one mini-game will have you hitting a lane to keep Stan from vomiting during a kiss with Wendy, while another has Kyle seeking the presence of Mr. Hankey by locking balls in a toilet. In that regard, the consideration for the license is commendable.
Super-Sweet Pinball is the more rambunctious and interesting of the two tables, but that's not entirely a compliment. You see, not only is the playfield jam-packed with ramps, lanes, and targets, but the board is almost overloaded with graphics and various indicators, making it a challenging table to read. It feels as though the developer got a little carried away making references to the past 18 seasons of South Park and tried to cram as much as they possibly could into a very limited space. Additionally, it's one of the only Pinball FX2 tables we can recall that allows multiple objectives to be triggered simultaneously, which leads to occasional bouts of chaos. While it would've been nice had the design shown more restraint and was simplified a bit, Super-Sweet Pinball is still a lot of fun to play, especially once you've got a grasp on what's what.
If Super-Sweet Pinball is too intense for your tastes, Butters' Very Own Pinball Game dials things back to make for welcoming pinball experience. Acting like the polar opposite of its partner, the playfield design leaves much space in the center of the table, with the ramps and lanes restricted to the upper half. It's smooth-playing and comprehensible, yet slightly bland by comparison. Part of this is due to the happy-go-lucky music track that removes a sense of urgency from the proceedings. Activating mini-games causes things to become more engrossing, but the spirit of the table is very casual overall. Whether that's a pro or a con will depend on your personal preference.
The biggest problem we have with this duo of tables is the audio, which can be pretty poor. Sounds clips — which give the impression that they were taken directly from show footage — are of varying quality and can be triggered with such frequency that they overlap and crackle like they're overwhelming the speakers. Honestly, it's just a sloppy mix in general. The default physics volume was initially dialed so low that we couldn't even make out the noise emitted from the flippers. Audio inadequacies are typically the easiest thing to overlook when playing a game, but here they can work to grate on the nerves. Thankfully, after a while we were able to balance the settings enough to minimize the negative impact of the sound clips, though it never got to the point where it sounded ideal.
If we had to pick between Super-Sweet Pinball and Butters' Very Own Pinball Game, we'd go with the former. In fact, during our review session, we commonly gravitated toward Super-Sweet Pinball and, even despite its shortcomings, found it to be the more engaging and exciting of the two. Plus, it's a gorgeous table to look at, with a diverse palette of eye-catching colors and more South Park faces and references than you can shake a stick at. As we previously stated, the densely populated playfield can be a problem at times, but it comes nowhere near ruining its strengths. And if it sounds like we're down on Butters' Game, well, that's not entirely the case. It's still a solid pinball table, it's just one that we find a bit weaker than Zen's usual top-notch work.
When it comes to the actual game of pinball, these two South Park tables each have their share of jackpots and ball-outs, aka hits and misses. A couple questionable design choices mixed with inconsistent audio elements are the main offenders that keep the quality from matching that of Pinball FX2's best offerings. But, even if neither table is an absolute home run, they both retain more than enough redeeming qualities to earn our recommendation. Fan service is what South Park Pinball does best, so if you're reading this because of your affinity for the television series, rest assured that this mini celebration of the brand totally delivers in that regard.
That Zen studios love making pinball games
Love their tables and LOVE South Park so I am in!
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