Launching just over three weeks after the brilliant The Fractured But Whole, the new South Park mobile game largely holds its own but ends up feeling like a slightly inferior companion piece.
As a fan of TFBW and its 2014 predecessor The Stick of Truth, I was equally intrigued and concerned by the prospect of this semi-sequel. I wondered to myself before the game had even finished downloading: will this work?
Honestly, there were a few times throughout Phone Destroyer where I found myself making excuses for potential problems, conceding that “it’s just an app”. For example, I experienced some trouble actually starting the game. With a subtitle like ‘Phone Destroyer’, my original preference was to play the game on a tablet or phone that wasn’t being used regularly, all of which didn’t meet the compatibility requirements. Even after giving up and downloading it on my phone, issues with Google Play delayed my playthrough.
However, at least on the Android version, it seems like the title is thankfully just a joke since its effects on battery life were relatively unnoticeable for a game of this size. Indeed, for “just an app”, there’s an impressive amount to do.
Firstly, the new card system offers a huge level of customisation. Kudos to developer RedLynx for creating a gameplay style that’s both distinct enough from past games to feel fresh, while making sense for the handheld format. Basically, in battle a player will be locked in place opposite their opponent and draw cards from their customised deck, summoning versions of South Park characters that deal damage. Whether the designs were relatively straightforward (‘Choirboy Butters’), pop culture references (‘Tron Stan’), or callbacks to South Park itself (Cartman as Awesom-O), the cards regularly made me laugh and were a clever way to include a variety of characters. The depth of this system is also surprisingly comparable to TFBW’s class customisation and should be intuitive to players of that game or other RPGs. Interest in the metagame already appears to be growing rapidly online and suggests that there’s a significant amount of replay value for those willing to put in the time and effort.
Despite this, I found the inability to move during battles obvious and felt that this restricted my gameplay options regardless of the amount of time I spent perfecting my deck. There’s also one other common mobile game issue that I’m sure most readers knew would be discussed eventually: Yes, there are microtransactions in Phone Destroyer. Are you forced to take part in them? No; they’re used to purchase packs of cards, which can also be bought with in-game XP. In fact, the game actively uses disclaimers to let players make informed decisions about real-world spending on virtual items. Does it sometimes feel like microtransactions are a necessary evil to make progress? Also yes; finding the right rare card to suit a battle can occasionally feel impossible. The disclaimers feel like the kind of commentary that Trey Parker and Matt Stone themselves would think of, and while they’re sharp, I’m not sure they totally stick the landing.
Meanwhile, although I’d previously heard that Phone Destroyer’s storyline was huge, it’s unexpectedly subdued compared to the epic scale the last two games adopted. Again, this makes sense given the different format, and I even thought it was clever that this time the kids simply couldn’t agree on which game to play, like normal kids do, instead of seeking out a legendary item or fulfilling a prophecy. Similarly, the references to the app format that are made throughout the story mode feel much more organic than the disclaimers mentioned above, such as (spoiler alert) the ending changing depending on how much the player has ‘contributed’ to the kids’ game during their playthrough. However, my one issue with the story is that it ignores TFBW and appears to be an alternate sequel to Stick of Truth, which sadly means that the New Kid’s complex backstory from the former game is disregarded for now.
Overall, the smaller scale plot and distinctive approach to strategy mean that Phone Destroyer doesn’t quite capture the impression of a deeply interactive South Park episode seen in the other recent games. By contrast, this feels like a South Park variation on a pre-existing RPG, and to me at least, suffers from being released so close to a much more expansive adaptation of the same show (even though the developers couldn’t have expected that).
If you’re a diehard fan of the show, I’d recommend it regardless of familiarity with other games since it can stand on its own. Likewise, RPG fans will love the level of engagement and learning curve required to master the mechanics. Anyone else is welcome to share my dream that Ubisoft will eventually port Stick of Truth or TFBW to Nintendo Switch, which will hopefully be the definitive South Park handheld gaming experience.
South Park: Phone Destroyer can be downloaded for free on iOs or Android now.