The new kid is back in town, or well, he picks things up right where we left them in The Stick of Truth, but Cartman has a new idea. No longer interested in playing kings, wizards, he tells kids of South Park that they need to play as superheroes again. Afterall, Scrambles the cat is missing and there's a big superhero franchise to build with movies, spin-offs, Netflix series, etc.
There is certainly something magical about walking around South Park, interacting with the various inhabitants, much like in The Stick of Truth. While The Coon and his superhero friends were seen in the 13th and 14th seasons of South Park (aired in 2009 and 2010), the game certainly stands on its own. It borrows much from X-Men and in particularly Days of Future Past with its time travelling theme. Of course, the original shows also had Mint-Berry Crunch who was kind of the New Kid, but sadly he was nowhere to be seen in the game; maybe there's a cereal-flavoured easter egg we've missed.
The various superheroes (and villains) the kids dress up as are hilarious, and it's delightful to interact with Wendy as Call-Girl, Butters as Professor Chaos, Kenny as Mysterion, Kyle as Human Kite, Scott Malkinson as Captain Diabetes, and all the rest of them. At the end of the game, you will have unlocked the kids as playable characters, some of the as puzzle-solving tools, and a tremendous amount of the enjoyment comes from switching out the characters in combat and making use of all of them. The new kid will eventually learn to harness the time-bending qualities of his farts (thanks in part to burritos and Morgan Freeman).
Overall, the narrative feels very current, and while it is still silly, it feels fairly focused on a few key subjects including the current state of America, police and racial profiling, gender, and as always South Park points out problematic areas while making us laugh. One such example is the difficulty slider at the start that lets you pick skin colour. Now, while this doesn't affect your actual level of difficulty in the game, there is an achievement for playing the game on the highest difficulty with the darkest tone of skin, and the main storyline sees you taking down "drug dealers" on orders from the police chief. On a less serious note, the game tackles our fascination with social media and you'll be collecting followers on Coonstagram by taking selfies with various individuals in town (often you'll have to complete specific tasks to unlock the option). It all ties very neatly together and the various strands all fit into the greater narrative, and the finale wraps it up very nicely in a time-twisting bow.
One of the big changes compared to The Stick of Truth is the added layer of strategy that moving freely around the grind offers. Before you decide what to do you can move around the grid to position yourself for maximum effect. Pushing enemies into each other or your fellow superheroes and causing status effects are also important ingredients (fart on an enemy before the encounter and they'll start it "grossed out" and vomiting). Overall, the combat is enjoyable and surprisingly deep, but it's not as varied as we first thought and the grunt encounters will feel a bit meaningless after a while, just like in most role-playing games. You'll enjoy it more if you constantly switch the three heroes you bring into combat and you're always free to do so before a standard encounter.
While you level up and earn XP in the game, the key way in which you power your character is in the artifact slots you unlock as you level up. Here you can place various artifacts (different types and variants are given as quest rewards, found, crafted, or bought at vendors) boosting your might (base stats), but also granting you various perks (more knockback damage, boosting ally health, etc). It's a simple system; you can simply focus on just placing the artifacts that boost your might the most, but to really get the most out of your team you should also have perks that boost their abilities. If you use powers with lots of pushing it may be cool to increase the knockback damage, or if you tend to inflict a lot of status effects maybe boosting the effectiveness of those is the way to go, certain boss encounters will require specific approaches though.