|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Double Fine||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 20, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
Much like Christmas, Halloween holds a special significance to children. Aside from the allure of staying out late and getting more candy than a kid can reasonably handle, Halloween is, of course, all about using your imaginationâsomething that grown ups often take for granted, or simply abandon sometime during the chaos of adolescence. It's easy for adults to forget, but all the effort that children put into making sure their costumes for All Hallow's Eve are both interesting and creative (not to mention better than their peers) is no small matter; arguably, most of us can recall at least one instance from our own childhoods where the design of a costume, or even just the notion of coming up with the best on the proverbial block, was paramount. (Go ahead, try it.)
Once the perfect costume is decided on, though, kids can disappear into those identities, whatever they may be. Though for many adults the enjoyment factor of Halloween eventually erodes, Double Fine is clearly very much in tune with the sense of childlike fun Halloween that Halloween is supposed to be aboutâCostume Quest is the proof.
When the game was first announced, I didn't exactly know what to think about it. A Halloween-RPG would be one thing; we've already seen shades of that in The Nightmare Before Christmas sections of the Kingdom Hearts series. But a game (RPG or otherwise) based around the concept of Halloween is something else entirely. For a creative designer like Tim Schaferâa man who over the years has given us games featuring everything from undead private eyes to the Zelda-esque, strategic adventures of a roadie tasked with no less than the salvation of a heavy metal fantasy realmâthis is child's play. But it's still a pretty unique idea. Essentially, Costume Quest is the tale of two twin siblings that, while partaking in what begins as a seemingly innocuous night of trick-or-treating one Halloween, stumble on an evil race of monsters hell-bent on robbing humanity of its precious candy. Shortly after an initial choice over whether you want to play as Wren or her younger brother Reynold, your other half gets kidnapped, leaving you with naught but your candy pail, a couple friends, and your own imagination with which to vanquish your monstrous foes.
The Halloween theme and aesthetic is hardly just the window dressing you might expect, however. Instead, the tenets of holiday (namely dressing-up and trick-or-treating) are built into Costume Quest's overall design, and the results are both clever and pretty charming. Since the game is RPG, equipment and abilities come from what costume you're wearing. Don a cardboard robot getup and suddenly you can blast your enemies with a volley of missiles; wear ninja garb and you'll get special stealth evasion tactics; or put on a suit of knight's armor to gain a protective shield you can use in and out of battles. In order to create new costumes, you must first find patterns for their construction, as well as the requisite materials needed to make your new creations, giving the game some light incidental adventure design when you're not caught in battle. Skirmishes with your enemies aren't handled in a traditional manner, eitherâeach of the three environments throughout the game is populated with trick-or-treating locations from stores in the local mall or Wren and Reynold's neighborhood, and behind each front door is either a grown-up waiting for you with candy or a minion monster sent to steal any there. Appropriately, the sugary lifeblood of Halloween is also the game's currency, so depending on whether you meet human or monster, knocking on a stranger's door is a crapshoot that could yield either treats or tricks. Thankfully, this avoids the more traditional 'random encounter with monsters on the way to your current destination' RPG design while sticking to the spirit of the holiday.
There's still a fair bit of battling to be done here, though. At least half of the doors you knock on will be concealing monsters, and more sentries and guard minions will be wandering around levels for two-thirds of the game on top of that. Though it's cute and imaginative to see the transition of your party from tykes dressed in random household items to costumed heroes, the amount of emphasis Costume Quest puts on combat may grow a little tiresome by the end of this four-to-six-hour jaunt, particularly since they require you to pay attention. The streamlined mechanics mean you don't have to worry about HP or MP, but in order to keep the game from devolving into a slogfest, every move or defensive maneuver you perform is accompanied by a quicktime action such as, say, hitting a certain face button on the controller to improve strength, accuracy, evasion, and the like. If this was simply an offensive tactic, it probably wouldn't be that big a deal, but considering it becomes essentially mandatory to perform similar moves in order to deflect some damage from your enemies as the game goes on, this isn't exactly a passive RPG. The tradeoff comes in the form of health that autofills after each battle, while special abilities (bought with candy from battle emblem stands throughout the game) are only limited by a two-to-three charge between uses, effectively killing the need for much management outside of battle. It's also worth noting that a seasoned RPG player will be able to beat just about any battle thrown at them in three to four turns, provided they have the right costumes equipped. There's not a lot of strategy needed here.
To help balance out the gameplay there are slight elements of adventure design that help keep things theoretically interesting. Hitting things with your candy pail will net you additional candy, and if you sneak up a monster and hit him, you'll be rewarded with a pre-emptive strike in battle. Costume Quest is at its best when you're wandering around the game world rather than in a battle; often times you'll have to use your costume's special abilities to progress past various obstacles, and collecting fabric, cardboard, and other assorted odds and ends to see what the next costume will be is fun. The game's script also gets a chance to shine more outside of the near-silent battles, where Double Fine shows off their trademark wit. Costume Quest isn't exactly laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it'll make you chuckle here or there. It has both engaging, cutesy characters and some pretty funny pop-culture references that'll sail over kids' heads. In short, it's a quaint little game whose character keeps up with the whimsical, cartoony Tim Burton-esque aesthetic.
As the first of four new games from Double Fine, Costume Quest is a pretty solid opener. It's an imaginative take on Halloween, and a pretty decent RPG to boot, albeit a short one. Repetitive battling can be a problem, but there's probably enough here for Schafer fans to enjoy.
CCC Freelance Writer