If Costume Quest was to play on your television straight out of a child’s imagination rather than your console, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Overflowing with charm and imagination, and uncertain and overly simplistic at the same time, it weaves the story of how monsters picked the worst imaginable night of the year to steal candy from kids – Halloween.
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It’s a night of mystery and sorcery, with monsters running rampant in a suburban neighbourhood. Through its cheeky dialogue, cartoon art and gameplay, Costume Quest is a peek into the beautiful world of make-believe that we spent hours exploring in our childhood, fighting imaginary monsters with plastic toys, and ignoring the real ones waiting in the shadows of imminent adulthood. Its success is in such fleeting moments of nostalgia.
It is also a bloody good excuse to have a robot, a medieval knight and the statue of liberty fighting side by side. You play as either Reynold or Wren, siblings who have recently moved into the neighbourhood, and have been shovelled out by their parents for trick-or-treating so they can make some new friends. It doesn’t take long before the non-playable one of the two is mistaken for an oversized candy by one of the aforementioned monsters, and the player must rescue their sibling with the help of the costumes they acquire along the way, as well as put an end to all the candy-stealing nonsense with the help of some friends who join in on the quest.
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They will, of course, need all the help they can get, and that’s where the costumes come in, also giving the game the identity of a turn-based RPG, albeit a simplified one. Each costume you acquire comes with its own powers – a basic attack, and a special attack that depends on the nature of the costume. For example, the Robot unloads a barrage of missiles doing splash damage, and the Statue of Liberty heals the entire party. The battles happen on a separate screen, kicking off with a cool transition where the cute costume turns into a more intimidating version, ready for battle. Each victory rewards the player with experience (for leveling), and candy (which can be used to buy offensive and defensive modifiers).
If all this makes you RPG genre fans log on to PSN/XBLA immediately and put $15 on the game, I’d advise you to read on before you put your hard-earned candy on it, because under what seems to be a rather elaborate hood is a very simple and mostly ordinary, if competent, game. The tactics and micro-management that usually come as part and parcel of the genre are completely missing from Costume Quest, because all battles in the game are very easy. Keeping the Robot and the Statue of Liberty costume equipped throughout the game will get you by, with any costume on the third party member once she’s unlocked, leaving out any scope for strategising in battle. While trying out new costumes and seeing them in action will be fun initially, you’ll probably start losing interest halfway through the 6-7 hour adventure when you push through each battle in an almost identical manner. There isn’t much variety to the buffs and debuffs either, with the later stamps only turning out to be stronger versions of the initial ones. To make matters worse, stamps like T.P. (which initially stuns one enemy for one turn, and later stuns an enemy for two) tips the battle further in favour of the player.
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The battles are broken up by a few side quests and a mini-game, which are also repeated in the different areas of the game. Hence, the novelty wears off quicker than you can say “trick or treat”, leaving you to push on solely for the excellent writing and script. But that is something we have come to expect from any game where Tim Schafer is involved. No one would question the ability of Double Fine in delivering unique, interesting and intelligent experiences, but it’s high time they pull up their socks in the gameplay department.
It is much easier to recommend Costume Quest to someone who wants to test the waters in the turn-based RPG genre, so they can get a taste of what to expect when they move onwards to the more serious and complex offerings. But as an experience that is a throwback to the days long gone and forgotten, when we laughed just a little bit louder, cried just a little bit harder, and believed that there really are monsters under the bed, I whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone. Smiles guaranteed.