Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Costume Quest (Review)

October 15, 2010
PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360

Developed by Double Fine Productions

Published by THQ

You now have a place where you can always go trick-or-treating. Costume Quest (2010)
Costume Quest is a sweet tribute to popular culture and suburban Halloween.

I'm an adult (or so they tell me), which is why I have not been trick-or-treating in years. In fact, as I write this on Halloween night I am having a quiet, relatively uneventful evening. We're going to watch a horror film, we got a candy bowl at hand should anyone ring our doorbell, and I am writing a review for a game I purposely completed this month, Costume Quest.

Released two years ago this Halloween as a downloaded title, Costume Quest was a somewhat unexpected treat from Tim Schafer and team at Double Fine (the creative crowd behind Psychonauts). This title was a result from one of their renowned "amnesia fortnight" sessions. Fittingly, the game takes place on Halloween night and you choose to play as one kid in a set a fraternal twins, Reynold and Wren. Your first costume is that of a robot made from cardboard boxes. The twin you do not play as gets stuck with the "lame" candy corn costume and is swiftly kidnapped by a Grubbin (a goblin-like monster) with a sweet tooth! Talk about getting the narrative ball rolling. The rest of the game, your quest if you will, pits you against these Grubbins as you follow the candy trail and attempt to rescue your sister (I played as Reynold).

In battle your costumes take on a whole new appearance and function. Costume Quest (2010)
The majority of Costume Quest is split between navigating the game world in your search and taking part in a turn-based battle system. Both work well as the game looks and feels polished (especially for a downloadable game that you can own for less than $20). That said, both aspects do grow laborious in their monotony as I will tell you soon enough. The visuals are charming and colorful in their own autumn palette. The world bears a distinct art style not unlike Animal Crossing. The battles take on a comic-book style all to themselves, complete with action panes and an occasional stylized backdrop. Your young character (and those you will meet and add to your party along the way) jump up and into a fantastic world of their design. Your robot is no longer made of household materials but is a shiny, intimidating  and towering presence. In this regard Costume Quest realizes the imaginations of children similarly to modern classics like Rugrats or Toy Story.

By far the best part of Costume Quest are the costumes themselves and using their abilities on and off the battlefield. You'll collect the ingredients needed to dress up as a knight, a unicorn, even the Statue of Liberty, and more throughout your travels. Each has a unique special attack that you must charge up to keep the monsters at bay.

A costume contest is just one of the side activities you can take part in. Costume Quest (2010)
When you're not smiting Grubbins you are interacting with other unassuming children going about their holiday business. The world is split into a few distinct levels with doors to knock, secrets to find, and side quests to take on. All of this is easy to keep track of in the game's notebook-like menu system. This is one facet of the game I am sure will be overlooked, but I adore what I see every time I pushed the "Start" button.

As I mentioned before, my main gripe against the experience is the overall lack of variety and the tediousness of the tasks. For example, each door you knock hides an adult or a goblin on the other side, the former fills your candy pail with more sugar, the latter starts yet another fight. I found myself groaning each and every time a monster opened the door as the battles practically play the same each time, making for a draining grind. Additional attacks/defenses, change of backgrounds, and a wider array of enemy types are desperately needed here. Furthermore, the experience of navigating the world sometimes falls into that camp of mindless wandering and backtracking in an effort to simply progress the game. That and the useless collect-a-thon of trading cards are on the list of activities I loathe in my video games.

The story here is nothing spectacular, but the text-only dialogue held my attention when each character spoke his/her mind and brought a smile to my face on many occasions. At the end of your quest one character says to another, "We should do this every Halloween." It is one of several winking moments that Double Fine included in the game. While it is not a game I consider to have strong replay value, I will mostly look back on my experience in Costume Quest with fondness and a possible place to re-kindle childhood fantasies. I also look forward to downloading and playing Grubbins on Ice, the game's only DLC, this holiday season. You can look for my review of it come Christmastime.


Words by J.S. Lewis

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