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South Park: Tenorman's Revenge Review1
by Alex Navarro on
Tenorman's Revenge would merely be another bland, unremarkable licensed video game were it not so fundamentally atrocious at its core.
Somewhere in between my roughly dozenth try at one of South Park: Tenorman's Revenge's later-game levels and the soul-crushing realization that I had nowhere near enough "time cores" to unlock the next level--not because I had been lazy about collecting them, but because that was the developer's intent all along--I tapped out. I gave up. I threw in the pot-smoking towel and said "no more."
This is not something I like to do very often. Even the worst games often have the potential somewhere within them to eventually do something cool (even if they rarely ever make good on that potential), and it's always struck me as unfair to judge a game until you've seen at least a taste of everything it has to offer. It takes a special kind of haphazardly designed junk to get me to throw down my controller out of frustration and outright hatred, and South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is such a game. Unless the endgame of Tenorman's Revenge suddenly repairs its busted controls, atrociously laggy netcode, and straight-up awful level design, I have a hard time imagining anything positive coming out of whatever chunk of this game remained untested by my hands.
I'm not sure why it's so remarkably difficult to turn South Park into a playable game. Other developers have tried and failed many times over, though Tenorman's Revenge deserves a special place in Hell for its outright butchering of the material. Things start out promisingly enough, with an opening preamble from an elder of the hyper-intelligent sea otters featured in the "Go God Go" episode describing Eric Cartman's sort of epic battle with noted ginger and accidental cannibal Scott Tenorman. Through this animated intro, we learn of Tenorman's plot for revenge, which includes stealing Cartman's Xbox 360 hard drive, and also unleashing hordes of ginger-haired robots on the world. The animation of this stuff immediately pops out as a positive point, doing a fine job of emulating the look and feel of the show. Unfortunately, that's the only thing developer Other Ocean Interactive got right.
Tenorman's Revenge is not funny. Not even a little bit. Even the worst licensed games usually find some way to tap into the core appeal of what people like about the thing that's been licensed, but the way Tenorman's Revenge tries to emulate South Park's sense of humor is by mailing it in with a bunch of lazily tossed together references. Hey, remember Mr. Hankey? Manbearpig? Towelie? They're all there, and you're supposed to laugh at them...um, being there? I guess? I can only assume this because there aren't any jokes here. Sometimes Cartman says something about Kenny's poor family. Sometimes Cartman makes a crack about Jews. Sometimes Cartman says "motherfucker." These are the things that you're theoretically supposed to chuckle at, but you don't, because they're not funny. They're badly timed, completely lazy, and frankly so overly familiar that you can't help but wonder if the developers wrote this script purely based on whatever South Park clips have the most hits on YouTube.
Without a solid story to care about or at least jokes to laugh at, Tenorman's Revenge is forced to rely on its gameplay to hook players in. This is borderline tragic for a couple of reasons. First off, this is a platformer in which the jump button does not work properly. Yes, it does make you jump, but it does so with just the slightest hint of delay, and features such floaty, bizarre physics that it's damn near impossible to land on any platform that's even a little bit awkwardly placed without multiple tries. I could see this being acceptable if Tenorman's Revenge were a relatively straightforward, no-frills platformer that mostly involved running to the right and occasionally jumping on bad guys, but this is not the case. If anything, Tenorman's Revenge is a convoluted nightmare of alternate paths, constantly moving platforms, endless collectables, and gobs and gobs of bad guys that like to spawn right on top of your head.
I'm not really sure what Other Ocean was going for here. There are glimmers of other classic platformers from the 8- and 16 bit eras here, so one can surmise that the idea here was to craft something that felt "old school" challenging. A delightful notion, except for the fact that the best games of that era demanded perfection while also providing you controls that felt correct for the challenges at hand. The lackluster control mechanics of Tenorman's Revenge aren't merely inadequate, they work aggressively against you. And then you have all these ginger robots to contend with. They're not overly difficult on their own, but they're hardly ever on their own. The game tosses piles of them (again, sometimes directly over top of your head) and expects you to somehow balance jumping on their heads over and over again without accidentally landing somewhere close to another one without getting hit. Fun fact: that never happens. The best bet is to use one of the few random weapons often floating around the world, though that gets pretty dull pretty fast.
Instead, whatever character you choose is beaten, pummeled, dunked in acid, dunked in human pee, and whatever the hell else over and over again until you just can't take it anymore. What makes it even more insulting is that the boss fights that come after all this abuse and torment are insipidly easy. Every boss I ran into operated on lazy, easy-to-recognize patterns and required only a modicum of effort to defeat. All that effort for so little payoff is just brutal on top of brutal. It's like surviving horrible trial after horrible trial just to survive, and then finding out all you have to do is kick a handicapped person in the shins to move forward.
That is, of course, assuming you've collected enough time cores to do so. Time cores are the game's currency for progress. If you collect enough, you can just move straight on to the next stage. If you haven't, you're stuck going back and replaying earlier levels until you have enough. The issue isn't really that lack of exploration ensures you won't find enough of them. In fact, you can explore all you want, but if you're playing solo, or frankly with anything less than four total players, you're hosed, because several cores in every level are hidden behind character-specific sections. You see, each character has a couple of unique abilities that let them do things like bust through walls (via Cartman's stomach) or jump really high, because apparently Kenny can do that. There are also bits that allow specific characters to turn into the superhero versions of themselves (The Coon, Mysterion, and so forth). Again, if you are playing solo, that means you will have to play through multiple levels multiple times as at least two or three different kids in order to collect more time cores.
So, here's the thing about this. This is always a terrible design decision. Always. I don't care how good your core gameplay is. If you have to force players to go back through your game multiple times over just to get to the later levels, you have fucked things up beyond any measure of repair. It's fairly obvious that Other Ocean paid no real mind to the notion that people would roll through Tenorman's Revenge with less than three friends at all times. The co-op has no easy drop-in/drop-out functionality, and playing solo ensures that you'll have to repeat levels a minimum of two more times just to get enough time cores to succeed. It's even worse because often the cores are hidden behind a 30 second side-section of a level that you haven't seen before, ensuring that 99% of what you're slogging through is something you've already done (and probably hated) before.
As if Tenorman's Revenge weren't already enough of a cruel joke, the co-op doesn't even work particularly well. Online, the netcode is a disaster. Players seemed to randomly drop in and out, and lag made the already unwieldy jumping controls about a thousand times worse. Offline co-op negates the lag, but it still suffers from the other fundamental issue: the camera. The developers tried to rectify the absurd amount of zoom required to fit all characters on screen by having players off-camera for too long respawn next to whoever is further along, but it's only half a fix. The camera still zooms out way too much, and does so in kind of a chuggy way that sometimes leaves your character and the pit/enemy/laser beam/whatever else in front of them totally obscured. It's a recipe for accidental death in a game that's already an accidental death smorgasbord.
Maybe my inability to soldier on through this half-busted garbage to its laborious conclusion puts an asterisk on this review for you. I don't mind, because I'm comfortable with my decision to abandon this thing in favor of doing literally anything else with my time. I'm comfortable with the notion that a game can be so fundamentally busted that there is no point in continuing on past the point of peak frustration. I'm comfortable in saying that South Park: Tenorman's Revenge is a gigantic middle-finger extended in the direction of anyone who might actually want to enjoy a game featuring the myriad memorable characters and storylines of South Park in video game form. And because of all of that, I'm completely comfortable declaring that you should stay the hell away from South Park: Tenorman's Revenge.