System: PS3 and Xbox 360 (downloadable only; PS3 version used for review)
Developer: Double Fine
Released: October 19, 2010
Cost: $14.99 USD
Ah, Halloween. Dressing up in costumes, trick-or-treating, rolling in piles of candy. Remember when Halloween was fun? When the night was filled with kids instead of parents who jump at shadows, and imagination was king? You can relive a little of those days with Double Fine’s Costume Quest.
Costume Quest takes place on Halloween (of course). Playing as either of the new kids to the neighborhood, Reynold or Wren (fraternal twins), your mom boots you out of the house to go trick-or-treating and to make some friends. Your character has a sweet robot costume, while your sibling is stuck with a candy corn costume so bad that neighbors refuse to give you candy… however, some foul candy-hoarding monsters mistake your sibling for a piece of candy corn and kidnap him or her, leading you on a quest to rescue them (lest you be grounded for life).
However, you’re not just some kid in a dinky cardboard costume, mind you. When you go into combat against the Repugian hordes, you (and your two teammates, once you recruit them) morph into gigantic mecha, flying spacemen with laser swords, rainbow unicorns, the Statue of Liberty, and more – you and your foes both tower over the landscape, and battles are suddenly much more epic. Also, the Statue of Liberty’s healing spell, Anthem, is completely ridiculous.
Costume Quest is a very cleverly-written little game. As one might expect from the company founded by Tim Schafer, responsible for Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, the humor in this game is everywhere. Even in a game that seems to be clearly aimed at younger generations, I found myself with several laugh-out-loud moments. (Watch for the Arrested Development joke in the final area.) The art is also awesome – as should be expected from a game directed by one of Double Fine’s animators, Costume Quest has great visuals that look like a collaboration between Tim Burton and Pixar. In fact, I couldn’t help shaking the thought that this would make a great kids’ movie.
The game is easily accessible for people who aren’t RPG fans, younger gamers, or gamers looking for a somewhat easier game than normal. If you lose, you’re just booted out of combat back to where you were before it started – no penalties! In addition, Costume Quest isn’t going to chew up hours and hours of your time – it takes approximately four hours to beat, five if you’re a completionist like me. Initially I considered this a con, but the more I thought about it… I buy a lot of games that I never manage to complete because of the time involved. Costume Quest is the first game I can think of where I sat down and just played a game straight through. It brought back memories of sitting down with an NES game and punching the buttons til my thumbs were sore (and so was my hind end from sitting on a wooden floor), but the final boss was down.
There’s more to do than just the main storyline, too. Costume Quest has 30 or 40 sidequests, from bobbing for apples to completing a trading card set, as well as winning a costume contest and picking up pieces for not-strictly-required costumes like the unicorn and the vampire. Each costume has its own strengths and special attack – like the Statue of Liberty’s “Anthem” heal, the Robot’s “Missile Barrage,” the Unicorn’s “My Pretty Panacea” resurrection spell (notably the only rez in the entire game), or the Vampire’s “There’s a Bat in My Hair!” area-of-effect health drain. Don’t worry, you can complete all the sidequests and you’ll still make it home by curfew.
Also: the French Fry costume. Trust me on this one.
Let’s just put it out there: if you’re any good at gaming, Costume Quest is not going to challenge you. I had a bit of a stumbling block against the first boss (turns out I was slightly underleveled, which was alleviated by going back to the first area and completing a couple sidequests). This is not a game you’re going to play for the challenge. Costume Quest is fun, but if you’re into grindfests or bosses with in-depth strategy and Guide Dang It moments, this isn’t for you.
On the hardware side of things, I’m not sure how it is on the 360 version, but there was some occasional slowdown on the PS3 – especially when using the Robot’s Rocket Skates to move around areas at a fast pace. Your mileage may vary.
The combat system can get a little redundant. Each area introduces a new ‘species’ of Repugian soldier, but they truthfully don’t seem to be much different other than in art style – you have a standard melee, a ‘bruiser’ type with more health, a ranged class, a healer/buffer, and a caster/debuffer for each species. Their animations are different, but they all work exactly the same. Furthermore, the combat system isn’t exactly deep and engaging. Moreso than most JRPGs, maybe – your attacks all take the form of a “press X repeatedly,” “press X when the line is at this point on the bar,” or “rapidly move the left stick” type rhythm ‘game’, while attacks can be actively blocked by pressing the right button when commanded to do so – but this game seriously could’ve used a hard mode. Boss fights spice it up a little, but not much.
At the same time, though, the combat system can occasionally waffle between ‘brutal’ and ‘a joke’ for no apparent reason. Against the first boss, I took two or three tries, finally concluding that I needed to return to the first neighborhood and complete one quest so I could level up – and I had to return with a specific pair of costumes, otherwise I simply took too much damage. There’s no “item” system in this game, so basically I had to wait every 3 turns for the Statue of Liberty’s “Anthem” heal to be usable, then use it. However, after that, I completed every quest and fought every monster, and no boss after that was challenging – heck, I even cheesed the final boss (as Lucy, the science-oriented member of your team informs you, you should probably stun her to prevent her attacks from going off – instead of running away and equipping a Battle Stamp to give myself a stun, I simply overpowered the fight).
The out-of-combat activity can also get a little repetitive, what with some activities – namely trick-or-treating at every lit-up house (or, in the case of the mall, store) in order to move the story forward – appearing in every area. At least with Bob, the guy running the apple-bobbing minigame, his game continually gets harder (and his dialogue gets funnier) – by the time I got to Fall Valley, the only thing pushing me to trick-or-treat was the fact that I had to do so.
While playing Costume Quest, I was more than acutely aware of its faults. But you know what? I found myself just plain not caring. Yeah, trick-or-treating again kinda sucked, but it was worth it to see that next ridiculous costume, that next beautiful area, or that next funny boss fight. Metxel actually made me laugh out loud every time he was in a fight (or about to be) – he’s a great boss, even if he’s not terribly effective. The truly final boss is also a sight to behold.
As I said, Costume Quest is not a game to buy if you want a 100-hour grindfest or a deep, intricate combat system. On the other hand, if you’ve ever wanted to watch a pumpkin fling flaming bundles of leaves at a goblin mage while the Statue of Liberty fires a flamethrower at his burly compadre (while an eagle screams!), all the while being buffed into invulnerability by a 40-story-tall ninja? Yeah. Costume Quest is probably for you. The game’s just so over the top and fun that I frankly didn’t care about the downsides, and if you give it a shot, you might not either.