South Park: Snow Day! review

One of the reasons we’ve never been treated to another South Park movie is because any ideas surrounding new plotlines and fresh directions are fed back into the series itself – it’s a beast that needs to consume, as Matt and Trey once put it. This stance applies to South Park video games too, with Ubisoft’s two RPGs devouring ideas that could be used for a movie’s premise.

Whereas ‘The Fractured But Whole’ and ‘The Stick of Truth’ felt reasonably cinematic in terms of plot complexity and pacing, Snow Day feels more like a couple of episode’s worth of plot developments and gags frugally spread across a few hours of entertainment. At £24.99 though, a shorter and breezier experience was always to be expected.

Snow Day’s plot is certainly quite breezy. The titular town has been hit with a blizzard, resulting in roads blocked and the school closed. Thrilled, the kids take to the streets to play a fantasy-themed game that utilises (purposely) crudely sketched MTG-style battle cards, augmenting their attacks and defences. Despite coming from a different publisher (THQ Nordic) the storyline is a direct continuation of ‘The Fractured But Whole’ with the ‘New Kid’ protagonist under fire for becoming too overpowered. A squabble over the game’s rules ensues, dividing humans against elves. Mid-way through the brief campaign the kids start to wonder if the blizzard is the work of an outside force. That’s the storyline’s one and only twist, leading into the fleeting finale. The five chapters last around 40 minutes each, culminating into a runtime of around 3-4 hours, the amount of chapter retries dependent.  

South Park: Snow Day! review

The opening and outro feature 2D animation identical to the show itself, presumably supplied by the show’s animators, while CGI cut-scenes are used elsewhere. These are reminiscent of the 2015 Peanuts CGI movie, mixing 2D sensibilities into a 3D animated style, and are reasonably appealing. Key characters are pulled in periodically, with 2-3 appearing per chapter, while the B-list kids take roles at Cartman’s back garden basecamp. Cartman, Jimmy and Butters guide you through the tutorial, and provide narration and quips throughout play. Stan, Kenny, and Kyle take the form of bosses, meanwhile, and once defeated, they join your cause – as stated in the rulebook. While there are a handful of amusing moments, there are also fewer standout scenes than expected, with many cut-scenes merely falling back on the kids saying “fuck” liberally.

What we have here is a linear co-op shooter that can be played solo with three nondescript and oddly silent AI bots, or three human players – all of which are confusingly referred to as ‘The New Kid’. The action is viewed from third-person, with the customisable ‘New Kid’ taking centre stage, armed with a melee and ranged weapon picked from a gradually increasing pool. You’re tasked with pushing forward while surviving ambushes and completing simple fetch quests, occasionally stopping to fire cannons and pick locks to progress, before taking on a boss. Teammates can revive one another, but if everyone falls, then it’s back to the hub. There’s a choice of difficulty and it’s possible to play (and replay) chapters out of order. I couldn’t actually tell you if I beat any chapters on the hardest difficulty, though, as this isn’t something charted.

South Park: Snow Day! review

Visually, it features a mange-et-trois of crunchy deformable snow, exaggerated coloured lighting, and glitzy particle effects when acquiring new cards. Problem is, this is all Snow Day has going for it visually – all five chapters take place on predominantly white battlefields spread across the town, with little in the way of backdrop variation. Whether you’re at Stark’s Pond or traversing the town’s blocked off streets, you’re going to be faced with walls of snow. Indoor locations, or perhaps the occasional splash of colour, would have been appreciated.

The battle cards are the game’s saving grace, forming its backbone, and helping to induce variety. These are, essentially, match modifiers. After choosing melee and ranged weapons, along with two sub-items (turrets, healing totems, fart clouds, exploding balloons, etc), you’ll get to pick a battle card that augments an attack or ability, plus a single ‘Bullshit’ card that acts like an ultimate ability – including puke gas, moon jumps, and mini-minions. Between locations, Jimmy is at hand to increase abilities further, turning single arrow shots into triple shots or adding bleeding/backstabbing boons. While I never felt delightfully or vastly overpowered, some augments are still neat, such as turning the flame wand into a lightning wand. Once returning to base, any acquired Dark Matter can be spent on permanent upgrades to health, stamina, and melee/ranged damage, while Platinum Points can be blown on cosmetics.

South Park: Snow Day! review

All the depth here is undermined by one fatal flaw: for all its farting and puking, Snow Day’s combat simply isn’t fun. Melee attacks lack crunch and weight, while ranged attacks are floaty and imprecise. It doesn’t help that battles can drag on, with more reinforcement appearing, or the enemy brandishing their ‘Bullshit’ card mid-battle. The only satisfaction comes from taking down a boss, with these battles being one of Snow Day’s rare highlights, calling for a mixture of melee and ranged attacks to be harnessed and for squads to work cooperatively. AI teammates take down enemies relatively quickly, but if you’re downed, they tend to mop up enemies before coming to your aid, which can be frustrating. Playing with humans improves the experience significantly.  

South Park: Snow Day never manages to reach any magnificent highs though, being a pretty mundane slog from start to finish, with only its minor plot revelations and new character appearances to keep it ticking over until the not-particularly-grand finale. While effort has clearly gone into its battle card system, I never felt deeply invested in it, and after spending just a few hours replaying chapters and seeing what the ‘end game’ had to offer (faster Dark Matter and Platinum Point unlocks, via harder ‘Satanic Pact’ challenges) I felt like I had seen everything it had to offer. The idea of a co-op battler set in the South Park universe with no live service bullshit (to use the game’s own terminology) is a sound one, but this is so inherently flawed that it’s hard to recommend. Perhaps it’s time to ditch the ‘New Kid’ and put the show’s stars centre stage again.

THQ Nordic’s South Park: Snow Day is out now on all formats, available both digitally and at retail. Developed by Question.