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Review: Costume Quest

12:41 PM on 10.29.2010 // Nick Chester

Having been born in the fall, my earliest and fondest childhood memories sit neatly between the few weeks that make up late October and early November. I’d spend weeks thinking up the craziest craziest costumes I could (I’d usually settle on one of Universal’s classic monsters), run around in the dark collecting candy, and just a few weeks later, people would give me presents. Score!  

Double Fine’s first downloadable game (and its first stab a single-player role-playing game), Costume Quest, feeds on those memories. From the mind of long-time Double Fine animator Tasha Harris, it’s the story of siblings Wren and Reynold, whose Halloween turns into a wild adventure when they find that monsters (yes, real monsters!) are hoarding candy in the name of evil intent.   

Having been born in the fall, my earliest and fondest childhood memories sit neatly between the few weeks that make up late October and early November. I’d spend weeks thinking up the craziest craziest costumes I could (I’d usually settle on one of Universal’s classic monsters), run around in the dark collecting candy, and just a few weeks later, people would give me presents. Score!  

Double Fine’s first downloadable game (and its first stab a single-player role-playing game), Costume Quest, feeds on those memories. From the mind of long-time Double Fine animator Tasha Harris, it’s the story of siblings Wren and Reynold, whose Halloween turns into a wild adventure when they find that monsters (yes, real monsters!) are hoarding candy in the name of evil intent.   {{page_break}}

Costume Quest (Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)
Developer: Double Fine

Publisher: THQ

Release date: October 19, 2010 (PSN); October 20, 2010 (XBLA)

Price: $14.99/1200 MS Points

Players begin their quest by choosing their sibling -- Wren or Reynold -- at the outset of the adventure. Both are functionally identical (they are twins, after all), the choice basically boiling down to whether you want to be a male or a female. Choose one and the other, dressed in a sad candy corn outfit, gets kidnapped by monsters who are led to believe he (or she) is one of the sweet treats they’re after. As the older sibling, it’s up to you to right the wrong and stop the monsters, partially because you love your annoying brother/sister, and also because you’ll get grounded if you come home empty-handed. (Bags of candy don’t count.)   

Costume Quest is broken up into three explorable areas -- the Auburn Pines suburbs; Autumn Haven Mall; and Fall Valley, home base to the nasty, candy snatching fiends. Clearing each area consists of engaging in the activity that Halloween is all about -- trick or treating. Going door to door (or in the case of the mall, store to store) and clearing the sector of candy, you’ll then be able to progress to the next area. It’s not as easy as it first seems, however -- behind some doors await monsters, willing to battle you for your sweets. Some areas that need to be “liberated” of its candy aren’t accessible unless you’re wearing certain costumes, which contain various abilities that will allow you to explore new areas of the environment.   

There are two parts to obtaining costumes: finding the patterns, and then finding the materials. Some patterns and materials are easy to come by, simply sitting in a chest or handed over by a friendly non-player character who was just waiting for you to come along. Others require a bit of thinking or quests (mostly of the fetch variety) to complete in order to earn them.   

An early example will have you assembling a Statue of Liberty costume from found parts in order to get invited into a patriotic yard party, where you’ll find a cherry tree. Once you hand over the tree's ripe cherries to a teacher holding a neighborhood bake sale, you’re allowed passage to the remainder of the area, including houses which doors you’ve yet to knock on in your hunt for candy. Really, it really never gets more difficult than that, with only a few (if any) story-critical quests requiring serious thought or searching.   

With this exploration one side Costume Quest’s coin, combat is the other. Entering into battle sees imagination transforming you into giant, bad-ass anime-style versions of your costumes that tower over the world. It features a timing-based system for basic attacks and defense, not unlike Nintendo’s Paper Mario series. Each costume has its own set of abilities, so you’ll be able to swap them out between members of your party (you can fight alongside two other companions you meet on your adventure). The robot, for example, can shoot massive rockets; the Statue of Liberty has a spectacularly patriotic party-healing spell that involves both a bald eagle and a massive Abraham Lincoln face. With each costume unique in both visuals and abilities, half the fun is simply seeing what insanity each brings to the table.   

The easiest way to describe these turn-based encounters is “RPG-lite,” with extremely basic options for both offense and defense. The idea here is clearly to make the game accessible to newbies and young players alike, and while Double Fine has certainly nailed that, it is sometimes to the game’s detriment. Battles are never overly difficult, and anyone who is paying attention will find that they will rarely (if at all) find our costumed heroes falling in combat. These skirmishes can also get slightly repetitive, especially as you inch towards the game’s finale, fighting some of the same types of enemies over and over. The quicktime-style, timing events also tend to replicate themselves, some of them with no variations at all. At some points, it almost feels as if you’re simply going through the motions from battle to battle, with little incentive to try new tactics.   

With that said, the aforementioned costume-specific abilities are simply so much fun to watch and use, that this battle repetition never really kills the overall experience. It helps that the game never really forces you to “grind” in order to upgrade up your characters, the max level of which is 10; by the time you reach the game's big boss, you'll likely be fully maxed out. It’s also fortunate in this case that Costume Quest leans towards the short side; you can probably get through the entire main quest in under five hours. There is, however, plenty of side quests and non-story-essential costumes and bonus items to pick up which can extend the game length if you’re interested.   

Costume Quest’s biggest strength, however, is that it’s so deliciously charming. Everything about the game from the art style to the dialogue gives the feel of a classic children’s story, one that both parents and kids alike will find easy to enjoy. Despite the game’s simplicity, I found that it did a surprisingly remarkable job of capturing the creativity, fun, and the child-like imagination and whimsy that makes Halloween so great.

As a busy parent who finds it difficult enough to make time to do grocery shopping -- much less put on a costume once a year and have some fun -- Costume Quest is exactly the diversion I needed to recapture the spirit of the holiday.   

Score: 8




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Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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