South Park Rally
Another South Park-branded coaster for your collection - Review By Mad Carl
A few years back, long before anyone other than Trey Parker and Matt Stone had ever shouted "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!", a friend of mine got hold of a video about four little boys who were debating the meaning of Christmas. Was the focus of Christmas Santa Claus or Jesus? Was it presents and candy, or the birth of the Christian savior? The kindest way to describe the animation was "crude". The little boys were incredibly foul-mouthed, and there was a gargantuan battle between Jesus and Santa Claus. I laughed so hard my ribs hurt and my eyes were full of tears. We must have watched that tape fifteen times in a row (no exaggeration).
Of course, a short while later, those little boys were known to the world at large as Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman -- the four little bastards from South Park, Colorado. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that South Park is the single best show that Comedy Central has ever aired, except perhaps for Mystery Science Theater 3000. South Park is consistently original. It's consistently funny. And at least once an episode you find yourself thinking "I can't believe they just said that." In short, the South Park television show is highly entertaining and one of my great guilty pleasures. So, how does South Park Rally measure up? Well, the PlayStation and PC versions of the game were nothing to write home about. But it was with a touch of excitement that I picked up the Dreamcast version. Maybe things would be better here, I thought. Maybe... just maybe.
The Championship mode is one of the most original elements I've seen in a console kart racer to date. Not content to be just another Mario Kart clone, South Park Rally gives us convoluted race objectives that can really get the blood pumping. Players will find that they have to hold on to or collect specific items (Mad Cow Disease antidote, chickens, and candy, just to name a few) while racing through the course. Backtracking is often necessary, and objectives can and do change from moment to moment as the objects of desire change hands. This can result in some great action (especially in four-player games), with some nail-biting finishes as the leaders battle for control of that course's prized object.
Please ignore the dog humping the windshield.
The tracks themselves are well laid out and entertaining enough to drive around. The locations vary widely, including downtown South Park, Big Gay Al's, and a broken roller coaster. In several places you'll find sneaky shortcuts and back alleys where power ups or extra lives are hidden away. All of this is very smoothly laid out and it all flows quite nicely, allowing for some pretty fast race action. Since power ups are generously spread across the tracks, there's a fair number of them in use at any given time. Every single power up is an in-joke from one South Park episode or another (although it's a shame the legalities of the original Spooky Vision couldn't be ironed out). If you aren't up on your South Park trivia, play with a friend who is. For me, just the words "Mexican Staring Frog" get a laugh.
As you progress through the game you will unlock more and more characters -- eventually 35 in all. Some of them are just alternate versions of previously available characters (Cartman doing his COPS impersonation, Stan as Raggedy Andy) while others are from among the dozens of characters that populate South Park (Jesus, Mr. Garrison, and Satan, just to name a few). Each of these characters comes with a series of voice samples straight from the show. Again, if you're up on your trivia, you'll really enjoy these. Since all of the voices are original, they're easy to recognize and well-acted.
Remember the episode where Chef drove a go kart around a farm? Hmm, neither could we.
The controls are solid. Believe it or not, the Dreamcast analog stick works as well as Nintendo and Sony's efforts. While I'm no fan of the basic button layout, the options screen is kind enough to give you an almost Capcom-esque level of control over where your buttons are mapped. Since the D-pad isn't used for racing, you essentially get your choice of ten buttons to assign any way you like. This allowed me to easily reconfigure the controls to my preferred Wacky Races layout. From there, I was set.
A few little things that need to be mentioned, but don't require a lot of detail: The absolute lack of fog is great -- a testament to good level design. Various types of power ups offered up in a slot machine fashion lends a welcome element of unpredictability to the proceedings. Enemy AI is good. They use their weapons intelligently and almost always at the exact moment you were hoping that they wouldn't. And finally, it's always cool to be exposed to the South Park universe, no matter what form it takes.
Next: Lots of Bad, and The Final Word