(Warning: Mild spoilers below.)
You may play "South Park: The Fractured But Whole" like you would any other video game, but you spend much of its 20 hours watching Cartman and company like you would any other episode of the long-running Comedy Central animated series. So its jokes — and there are many — invite about as much scrutiny as its battle and character creation systems. Here are the five best and five worst:
Canada: The Great White North, and its chirpy denizens with the mouths of ventriloquist's dummies, make another appearance in the sequel to "The Stick of Truth." Sort of. The northeast corner of the "Fractured But Whole" map leads to the border, but it's walled off. Better yet, the closer your New Kid gets to the wall, the farther the camera zooms out. It creates a desolate, meditative feeling that you wouldn't expect from a game where the central action is farting. But then the Canadian guy on the wall starts yapping at you, buddy, and you remember exactly where you are.
Towelie: The textile toker shows up in "The Fractured But Whole" as the clerk of marijuana dispensary Medicinal Fried Chicken. Fitting, right? But, in a beat I'm surprised Matt Stone and Trey Parker didn't save for their show, Towelie is now sober. He has a family. And he has a lot of marijuana to manage. So his nasal tones quickly fill with tension and anger — the joke, of course, being that he should revert to his old ways and smoke some of his product so he can chill the hell out. But he won't. The result is one of the game's more inspired boss fights: Sober Towelie.
Kanye: Kanye West may not appear in "The Fractured But Whole" by name, but there's no mistaking the rapper's cameo. It starts when you find Seaman at Stark's Pond, who leads you underwater to, yes, a garrulous gay fish with a gold chain. The fish tells you he's trying to get his mother to heaven. You agree to help, and so begins a modestly difficult "Flappy Bird"-style minigame in which you navigate her unicorn between pillars with, uh, propulsive rainbow farts. Some will recognize its resemblance to West's "Only One" video game concept. The best is saved for last, however, as after getting the gay fish's mom to heaven, he treats you to a classic stream-of-conscious rant about his genius and fame on the game's social media platform, Coonstagram.
Parents: When the New Kid joins Cartman's Coon & Friends superhero alliance, its leader asks your character to choose a class. Your class not only determines your attributes and abilities, but also sheds light on your origin story, the trauma that birthed your superhero persona. And that, according to Cartman, is walking into your parents' bedroom and finding, he says gravely, "your dad fucking your mom." It's one of many clever gags in the game that highlight how these are just fourth-graders playing make-believe — and how Cartman obliviously projects his many hangups on his friends.
Mephesto's: Toward the final act of "The Fractured But Whole," your New Kid and his superhero friends arrive at the hilltop laboratory that was more prominent in the first few seasons of "South Park." But its Marlon Brando-like mad doctor tells you to come back in six hours, when it's dark. So you wait. Then, in a light dig at "Skyrim" and other RPGs that allow you to fast-forward time at your leisure, nothing happens. Stan gripes: Do they really have to wait six hours? After a good 20 seconds, the New Kid finally acquires the fart-forward ability that lets him trade night for day with an all-powerful toot.
Farts: I mean, farting is funny. But 20 hours of it? To do everything? Farting to rewind time, farting to clear obstacles, farting because it's the only way to get a reaction from townspeople? I don't know, dude. At some point it just becomes noise. Wet, obnoxious noise.
Priests: As you figure out your New Kid's character data, you pay a visit to Father Maxi for religious counsel. But you quickly find your way into a back room at the church, where two other priests immediately try to rape you. "The Fractured But Whole" depicts them as bumbling fools, trying to find humor in them as if they were Leisure Suit Larry types. It fails. Making cheap light of a sexual assault epidemic is bad enough, but doing so the same week Harvey Weinstein's crimes became national news just highlights how cruelly out of touch "South Park" can be sometimes.
Police: The game makes a similar attempt at mining humor from sobering realities when the New Kid visits the South Park police. The chief immediately recruits you to take down a drug dealer, but when you get to his house, you realize the suspect is just a black guy the police have racially profiled. The game could have been clever and let you not pummel him bloody, but no, you just wind up doing the police's rotten work. Like the priest encounter, the scene — and a similar one later — sees Stone and Parker only able to point at painful injustice and, failing any kind of insight, laugh indifferently.
Pimps: A sidequest sees you giving Ms. Cartman's "tutoring" business cards to lonely patrons at the bar, only to run afoul of a local pimp for cutting into his action. So you fight the pimp, and his ladies, but your usual superpowers aren't available — all you can do is "pimp slap." But the really gross part is that slapping the sex workers "charms" them into fighting on your side. That's right: In this game, hitting women means winning their affection.
Wendy: Speaking of shitty sex worker jokes, the lone girl hero in the New Kid's party is Wendy, who can whack enemies with a selfie stick and summon electrifying push notifications through her belt of smartphones. But her superhero name? Call Girl. Yes, the empowering feminist girl at South Park Elementary who once beat Cartman's ass for making fun of breast cancer is given a name synonymous with sex workers. At least her super move — summoning a "Pokemon Go"-style flash mob — is maybe the strongest in the game, which sort of gives Wendy the last laugh, I guess.