Last Halloween Double Fine Productions treated us to their first of a series of indie games in development, Costume Quest, which I promptly fell in love with after ten minutes of play time. It was imaginative, witty, and broke interesting new ground on the idea of video games themed around a particular holiday. Double Fine seems intent on testing the waters of settings beyond Halloween, and thus Grubbins on Ice was made available during the holiday season. It’s all the charm, humor, and cute gameplay for another three hours. Even if it does very little as far as expansion packs go there’s nothing wrong with a second helping.
Shortly after the events of Costume Quest, fraternal twins Reynold and Wren return along with friends Everett and Lucy. Lucy is determined to find evidence that the monsters of Repugia from the first game exist, but she gets more than she bargained for when she’s kidnapped through a portal by Repugian leader Araxia. Reynold, Wren, and Everett set out on a rescue mission, joining the Grubbins in a revolutionary movement to overthrow the oppressive Araxia and prove that you can’t mess with kids in costume.
The setting is the biggest change in Grubbins on Ice. Rather than traversing everyday suburbia Reynold, Wren, and Everett enter Repugia, which is depicted only as Double Fine could envision it. Repugia appears as a warped bizarro-world in comparison to the shopping mall or Halloween fair the first game. Grubbins lounge relaxingly in a green pond while twisted bridges loom over green rivers, mushroom-like fauna and plants line the sides of roads, and Grubbins will even donate candy to help with the “revolutionary efforts” when you trick or treat at their doors. Repugia’s appearance is one so alien to us that we couldn’t imagine anybody inhabiting it despite the Grubbins doing so, and fully embracing this is what makes the new environment a success.
Wait, you’re probably wondering, “How could it possibly make sense to trick or treat with costumes when the game has more of a winter holiday theme?” Remember, this is Repugia we’re in, and we’re celebrating Yeti Fest instead of Halloween. Grubbins on Ice embraces its theme so well that transitioning the trick-or-treating element to a winter theme works well and continues to be fun. Writing and dialogue continue to be sharp and funny as Everett develops a crush on Lucy and your little heroes banter back and forth with Grubbins. “Viva Repugia!” is even used in lieu of “Trick or treat” now, keeping in theme with the Grubbins’ revolution.
In terms of gameplay it’s easier to look at my review of the original game, since very little has changed. You still wander around environments obtaining blueprints and design pieces for costumes, which are an essential part of both Costume Quest and its expansion pack. Costumes often have a unique abilities designed to aid in exploration or bypass obstacles, and when you get into combat with Repugians you still transform into a much more dramatic version of your costume. Combat is turn-based but features timed button presses and different costumes have different specializations and roles.
There are three new absurdly cute costumes in addition to the entire costume arsenal returning from the first game. The Pirate costume lets you slide across zip lines or ropes scattered throughout the world and it has a melee focus in combat. The Eyeball has a special Survey ability that lets you search for hidden clues or secrets by zooming out the world map, while the Yeti costume has no special ability but is immensely powerful in combat. There are also some new battle stamps. Grubbins on Ice basically keeps what works. Costume Quest was memorable because of its writing, charm, humor, and clever gameplay and they’ve all been preserved finely here.
That being said, the usual issues of turn-based combat still persist, like the same reliance on hoping a boss doesn’t use his most dangerous move, especially in later areas of the game when bosses hit harder. The combat also never evolved throughout the original game and the expansion hasn’t done much to refresh or diversify the basic formula. With the exception of more memorable boss battles, by now the fighting may start to seem a little monotonous towards the end of the game.
If you enjoyed Costume Quest enough to add about three hours to it, Grubbins on Ice is a real bargain for five dollars. It keeps everything that made the original game so endearing and winds up being an expansion pack that doesn’t necessarily raise the bar but provides a fun little encore for fans. The game ends with a massive indication that there will be further adventures, though whether this will be more DLC or an outright sequel is yet to be seen.
The charming, whimsical art and punchy dialogue continue to be top notch in the expansion
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The costumes are still fun for puzzles and combat, even if the turn-based combat is getting a little stale now
It's the exact same lighthearted music from the original game, and there's nothing wrong with that
Grubbins on Ice is a lot of fun, but it clocks in at around three hours, although five bucks is a reasonable price
At the end of the day, Grubbins on Ice is three more hours of everything that made Costume Quest fun