Mo' candy, mo' problems
If there's one thing that the folks at Double Fine aren't known for, it's being pigeon-holed into making the same game. In fact, almost all of its titles are wildly different from one another. From the likes of Brütal Legend to Stacking to Broken Age, nothing the studio does is derivative of its past works.
It's not exactly a flag that Double Fine waves proudly, but it maybe kind of is, in a way. That's why when I sat down with publishing manager Greg Rice last month to talk about Costume Quest 2, he almost sheepishly started off with "Well, it's the first sequel we've ever done," (apart from the add-on to Double Fine Happy Action Theater, which hardly counts).
The statement struck me as unusual as I mentally ran down the company's list of titles. "Has Double Fine really gone this long without iterating on any of its other games?" I pondered. Apparently so, and Costume Quest 2 will be the game that finally breaks the streak.
And, that's okay, because more Costume Quest is never a bad thing.
This time around, the action's set to pick up almost immediately after the original's add-on Grubbins on Ice ended. While the timeline's a bit fuzzy at this point, one thing is evident, and it's that Reynold and Wren are eager to get back to what they love most - Trick or Treatin'. Beyond that, Rice was hesitant to reveal anything about the narrative, giving the frustratingly boilerplate "We're not talking about that yet."
The demo took place in the game's first area, a bayou that segues into a French Quarter part of town. It was a sample size that was adequate to show off what it has to offer, and it was all so wonderfully Costume Quest. The bayou had a kid that wanted us to find pieces for a pterodactyl costume. The French Quarter was filled with bustling NPCs that were itching to assign sidequests as jazz music filled the air. Houses by the swamp had doorbells that were begging to be rang -- some occupied by adults that were dishing out candy, others by Grubbins looking to ambush our pint-sized protagonists.
Upon being attacked, we got a look at how the combat system has been altered. While Double Fine's touting Costume Quest 2 as having a "deeper and juicier" battle system, don't expect that to translate to increased difficulty. One of the defining traits of Costume Quest that made it so beloved was its accessibility, and that hasn't changed -- it's just gotten tweaked a bit to make things more interesting.
One of the biggest moves was lending itself toward making combat more action-oriented. Now, when attacked, a perfectly-timed button press will result in increased defense and a counter-attack. Likewise, when on the offensive, the original had prompts flash on-screen that needed to be executed. Costume Quest 2 utilizes a system reminiscent of Super Mario RPG where coordinating a button press to the exact moment a strike lands will result in extra damage. It's not the most revolutionary of upgrades, but it makes combat feel more involved than ever before.
Of the many costumes that are sure to be on display in the full game (which is coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Mac, and Linux), we were only shown three. Two of those were a clown that has some truly bizarre animations, and a superhero. The third was a humorous salute to the unplayable candy corn costume in the first game. This time, you can wear it into battle, but it does absolutely nothing, effectively reducing the team size from three to two. Rice commented that the nod is for players looking for an extra challenge, and those that complete the whole game with the corn costume in the party will unlock an Achievement called "Hardcorn Mode."
Truth be told, that feat probably won't be all that difficult to achieve. Even though health doesn't automatically replenish after every fight in this installment, there are water fountains located around each map that fill your party's HP up. When I asked Rice if these would be a pain to get to between encounters, he didn't think so, but that he always wants to try to get one more fight in before retreating to a fountain.
However, maybe the most welcomed modification of all has to do with the traversal of the locales. In the original, only the robot was able to zoom around thanks to the use of rollerblades, leading most to play with that costume equipped at all times. Now, rollerblades are always available by default, making getting around much more convenient. That's probably a good thing too, because according to Rice, the maps are going to be bigger and more involved than in Costume Quest.
For all the changes that are going into Costume Quest 2, honestly, the biggest takeaway might be that it still feels so much like Costume Quest. That's a revelation that any fan of the original will be elated to hear. And, if you fall into that category, Costume Quest 2 has probably already won your heart and your sweet tooth.