Video games themed around holidays like Christmas or Halloween aren’t nearly as prevalent as books or films. There’s definitely potential in the idea but game makers haven’t really touched upon it yet. Double Fine Productions decided to explore this new territory for games to bring us Costume Quest. Double Fine’s creativity shines through in this endearing XBLA/PSN release to deliver a memorable experience.
Costume Quest comes to us from Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Productions studio and has the same colorful sense of storytelling. It’s Halloween night and fraternal twins Reynold and Wren are about to go trick-or-treating in a new town they’ve just moved to. Once you choose either playable sibling you set out for a night of candy, but something wicked this way comes. Upon knocking at the first house your sibling is mistaken as a giant piece of candy by a strange monster called a Grubbin and is promptly abducted. Candy across the suburbs is being hoarded by monsters under the eye of evil witch Dorsilla. Your playable sibling must investigate this conspiracy, collect candy, make friends, and be home before curfew.
Everything about Costume Quest speaks to the imaginative nature Halloween brings out in kids is guaranteed to make you feel like a kid as you play. The ordinary mingles with the extraordinary, almost like the way a child imagines in the face of normal life. It presents an interesting contrast. On one hand you have the suburban street, shopping mall, and rural carnival where the game takes place. Conversely you have creative monsters like the ghoulish Grubbins, the ogre-like Trowbogs, or the avian Crestwailers. Halloween iconography seems to fuse these two dimensions and the result is a thoroughly creative world.
Within minutes it’s easy to be immersed in Costume Quest. Part of the appeal is the characters who act like real children would if they were caught in such a fantastical situation. Even in the beginning when Reynold and Wren first start arguing over who gets to be the leader (player character) these characters are extremely likable. The characters’ believability is augmented by the punchy, funny writing. Even talking to other trick-or-treaters on the streets will yield witticisms like the kid in the carnival who proudly announces that his banana costume is a real banana or that a girl is wearing a princess outfit ironically.
The same imaginative nature lends itself to the gameplay. The most basic idea is to go around to lit houses and knock on doors to trick-or-treat. Sometimes a normal person answers the door, in which case you’ll get candy, which functions as the game’s currency. Other times you’ll wind up interrupting a Repugian scouring the neighborhood for candy and have to engage in a fight. Beyond that there’s a fair amount to do. In each environment there are creative ways to progress the story that usually involve finding new costumes. At one point you’re refused entry to a “patriotic” party until you garb yourself in the Statue of Liberty costume.
Naturally, costumes are an integral part of gameplay. Each costume requires you to obtain a blueprint for the costume in question and then find three materials at which point it automatically becomes yours. Most costumes have special explorative abilities that let you progress the story or discover secret areas. The Knight costume, for example, lets you create a shield to bypass obstacles like water running downwards through a sewer pipe. The Ninja costume lets you become invisible and sneak past a grown-up to get to the top of a ferris wheel. Some have only limited use in the story but are just really funny to wear. When was the last time you walked around dressed as a cup of French fries?
These costumes will also be how you do battle. Whenever you encounter a Rapugian your characters immediately take on a far more dramatic form of the costume they’re wearing. For example, if Reynold is wearing the Robot costume he’ll transform into a giant mech robot to fight your foes. Combat is turn based but interactive in a way reminiscent of the Mario RPGs. When you attack you can time a button or quickly move the analog stick for extra damage and time a block when the enemy attacks. You have a basic attack and each costume has a unique special attack. The Robot costume unleashes a barrage of powerful missiles on all enemies, the Unicorn costume resurrects a dead ally and restores him or her to full health, and so on.
This is as good as turn-based combat generally gets in a game. Everything is streamlined with no stat crunching and combat moves at a brisk enough face to not feel like it plods. There are no random encounters and the interactivity of combat makes them far more involving than a normal turn-based battle system. Unfortunately it just never evolves. Aside from new costumes you have the same basic attack and special attack for every costume during the entire game. Costume Quest also falls into the same problem as a lot of turn-based games where luck becomes a factor in harder boss fights. I found myself pleading for the final boss to not use his strong attack on my weakest character which becomes the point where a game rewards chance rather than playing skills.
When you aren’t taking on Rapugians there are neat side quests that often reward a bit of extra exploration and willingness to explore the colorful locales. In each section you can find six kids playing hide and seek, bob for apples, or find trading cards for other costumed kids. Most of these diversions reward a costume part or candy, which can be spent at a shop that lets you purchase stamps. Each of your three characters can equip a stamp that can boost health, give a greater chance to avoid attacks, allow characters to cast status ailments on enemies, and the like. It’s really the only variable in combat outside of the costumes but it does a lot to spruce things up.
One perplexing interface issue is the lack of any mini-map. At one point in the suburbs I rocket-skated around for a good five minutes before finally discovering an open street that was off to the side and harder to notice. There’s no indication of where you can use your costumes to access secret pathways to advance the story. This normally isn’t too big of a deal but there was one point where I had to use the Space Man costume to light up a dark corridor but it took me a few minutes to notice because it was almost interchangeable with other shadowy corners.
Costume Quest also owes its appeal to the unique, flavorful art design. Everything is colorful, cartoony and exaggerated but individual costumes are well-detailed. Even ordinary places like suburban houses are richly colored and stand out. Appropriately, characters and monsters look like childrens’ drawings. The game runs fine although there were a few moments of slowdown. The soundtrack doesn’t necessarily stand out but that might be part of the idea. It blends neatly into the background with ambient, soft themes for the mall or suburbs and slightly more dangerous-sounding themes for combat and winds up being as imaginative as the rest of the presentation.
Costume Quest won’t last you longer than three or four hours depending on how many side quests you do but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable title all the same. It’s one of those quirky, innovative stories worth playing for the experience alone and another successful endeavor by Double Fine Productions. Happy Halloween!
The creative, colorful art, witty writing, and subtle themes about imagination and childhood make Costume Quest stand out
|How does our scoring system work?|
Gameplay dabbles in exploration, turn-based combat, and the occasional minigame in casual, enjoyable ways even if combat gets repetitive
The music is whimsical and fitting for the atmosphere that Costume Quest is going for
Costume Quest clocks in around four or five hours depending on how much you do but you get a lot for the price
Costume Quest is a fun, well-presented Halloween tale well worth the purchase