Licensed games almost universally suck. Usually they are made as quick cash-ins on the buzz surrounding recent movies or TV shows. They are made on low budgets and harsh production schedules, and they are almost always carbon copy action games with a fresh coat of “IP of the month” paint.
There are, however, some exceptions. Telltale’s The Walking Dead has been praised as one of the greatest pieces of gaming art that the industry has to offer, and it is! It is incredibly emotional, wonderfully immersive, and is one of the only games that succeeds in making you feel like the main character. It is, without a doubt, a licensed property that is a good game. But is it a good licensed game? In my opinion, these two things are completely separate and no, for as amazing as The Walking Dead is, it’s actually quite a bad licensed game. To look at something that is a good licensed game, we are going to have to venture into the world of fart jokes and dildos.
South Park: The Stuck of Truth just came out and is being hailed as a phenomenal part of the South Park franchise. It is the best example of a licensed game I can think of. Why? Because The Stick of Truth is not just a game based on South Park. It’s not just a game with a South Park coat of paint. No, South Park: The Stick of Truth IS South Park. It looks, sounds, and feels exactly like an episode of South Park that you are participating in.
You actually can’t say this about The Walking Dead. Though the game is great, it shares very little in common with the actual Walking Dead IP. The settings are mostly different. The characters, with the exception of some cameo appearances from way back in Season 1 Episode 1, are completely different. You don’t get to understand more about Rick or any of the other survivors in either the comic or the show by playing the game. The events of the comic almost never intersect with the events of the game, so it doesn’t feel like they are playing in a shared universe. You could probably have titled The Walking Dead something like “The Final Days” or “No One Left Behind” or something else dark and totally unrelated, and simply market it as its own standalone zombie game. No one would say, “Hey, wait a minute, this is taking place in The Walking Dead universe!” You aren’t really playing The Walking Dead. You are just playing a very, very good zombie game that has emotional tones similar to The Walking Dead.
South Park: The Stick of Truth, on the other hand, cannot be mistaken for anything other than South Park. The visual assets scream South Park. In fact, South Park, the show, is made in Maya, so they just ported the assets directly over to the game. The voice actors are the same ones from South Park. The characters are the same ones from South Park. Battle animations are based off of other animations we have seen in South Park. Even healing items are items we have seen in South Park. Cartman, Kenny, Stan, and Kyle act exactly as they do in the show. Even the attacks you perform in battle are references to South Park, from Cartman's V-Chip to Stan's gay dog! It's all just dripping with South Park. Saturated in South Park!
The end result, South Park: The Stick of Truth feels like you are playing an episode of South Park. This is basically what licensed titles should aspire to be, and by that I mean a piece of media that is unmistakable from its license of origin. That is why it’s a better licensed property than The Walking Dead, even if it’s not necessarily a better game. This isn't saying that The Walking Dead should suddenly add Rick and the rest of the crew to its cast. It’s great as it is, and doing so might make it a worse game overall. Standing on your own merits outside of your IP of origin is not a bad thing, but if you had to consider which game fits into its canonized universe better, it has to be South Park.
Senior Contributing Writer