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South Park: Snow Day! review – a crude, enjoyable playground tussle
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South Park: Snow Day! review – a crude, enjoyable playground tussle

The snow’s falling hard over South Park, Colorado, and little Eric Cartman spies an opportunity to miss school. Tucked up in bed, he clenches his fists, shuts his eyes tight, and wishes for the blizzard to worsen to biblical levels to ensure the schools call a snow day the following morning. He wakes to a town in panic – numerous deaths, an outbreak of panic-buying toilet paper, and weather so unprecedented that many fear it’s a sign of the end times. He is, of course, delighted.

The titular snow day that follows is the bright white canvas on which the neighbourhood kids paint a fantasy war, where elves and humans do battle according to rules that might change in an instant with the deployment of a “bullshit” card. South Park has always been wonderful at capturing the bits of childhood we forget about as we age, and with Snow Day!’s premise developer Question Games finds just such a nugget. Give some kids a day’s freedom and some cardboard swords, and they will build an entire universe then bicker about its precise workings.

What this means for the player is a co-op action game with roguelike elements that is completely removed from South Park’s previous two 2D, turn-based role-playing games, 2014’s The Stick of Truth and 2017’s sequel, The Fractured But Whole.

You’re permitted some chagrin for that departure. Those story-led games brought us countless gags too vulgar to sully this fine publication with, and in moments like the abrupt shift to retro 8-bit graphics when you entered Canada, they found ingenious ways to use the medium itself for comedy. Candidly, Snow Day!’s writing isn’t quite that sharp. But what it does have in its favour is pickup-and-play accessibility and unexpected depth as a roguelike.

As you barrel through the ’burbs battling small children in ramshackle Tolkien cosplay, deploying your basic melee and ranged attacks, you amass toilet paper (the new gold, since the panic-buying started) and modifier cards. These do extra damage to bleeding enemies, extend your farting range, that sort of thing. The further you get into a run, the more you can spec out a specialist play style, and the more interesting each fight gets.

Particularly when the bullshit card drops. This gives you and your enemies ridiculous abilities such as laser eyes or meteor showers on tap. They’re meted out sparingly and are always met with just enough outrage from Cartman and co to remind you that these rules are supposed to feel like 10-year-olds are improvising.

It doesn’t always feel great to control – in fact, it rarely does, since the attack and movement animations are blighted by floatiness that robs you of proper weapon feedback – but Snow Day! keeps your brain engaged by getting you to plot increasingly efficient builds. There’s always a tougher encounter round the corner, and a boss fight at the end of the run, so there’s a consequence to every card you pick. That won’t keep you and your mates in South Park’s perpetual winter for as long as co-op gaming’s favourite hangout spaces, such as Fortnite. But it will deliver a fun weekend of fart-infused chaos for anyone who misses the days when snowfall meant freedom.

Source: theguardian.com