By Stephanie Gutowski

I developed an obsession for Costume Quest shortly after Double Fine released its initial screen shots of the Halloween-themed game. Considering my terrible phobia of cel-shaded graphics, I was surprised to find that the cartoony style did not offend me. Rather, it added to this inexplicable sense of joy that overcame me when I finally downloaded the game on Xbox Live. For those of us who spend months planning our Halloween costumes and scouting out the best possible candy varieties to pass out to trick-or-treaters, this game is a warm welcome home. A loving, but dysfunctional home.

You begin in your new neighborhood. It’s a quiet opening as this game is completely devoid of voice acting. It’s not a detractor, but it would have been nice to allow us to speed through or slow down chunks of text in these cut scenes. I found myself either racing to keep up, or slamming the A button, ready to rob the next house of all its Snickers. Your mother appoints one of you in charge of the evening’s festivities and this is where Double Fine cleverly hid the option to play as a boy or girl. I’m always appreciative of a developer’s effort to make each game a more personal experience for a player. I’m sure I would have been fine with playing as Reynold, questing to save Wren, but hey. I’m a girl. Of course I’ll jump at the chance to pick a character that better reflects me. Regardless of whoever you pick, Wren or Reynold, the costumes and story remain the same. The pronouns just switch around.  It’s still believable.

Off We Go On A Quest For Candy!!

Anyhoo, you start off your night with an unmitigated failure. The neighbors hate your brother/sister’s candy corn costume and you must suffer this outrage without receiving any candy. However, a grubbin mistakes the short kid for an actual piece of candy and whisks it away to be eaten by… something. You have to fight. How, exactly? I mean, you’re like eleven years old or something. You transform into the ultimate form of your costume. The cardboard robot becomes a giant blue mech, capable of laying waste to even the most shallow and pedantic of middle-management goblins.  Which you will find yourself doing repeatedly. Anyway, the dust settles and an awful witch gets all up in your business as you set off on the quest to rescue your charge. You’ll recruit other party members and assemble more costumes, each with their own special abilities and attack types. You must open special gates in order to reach the goblins that have taken your brother, but this can only be done by trick-or-treating at every house in the neighborhood until all the candy is gone. Some of these houses, however, will be more about tricks than treats.

I Have The Power!!

The combat itself was surprisingly simple. I expected the “your turn, my turn” mechanic, but not quite this stripped down. There’s no menu, but rather buttons that hover over your character. Usually, it’s a one-button ordeal. X to attack, followed by a randomly generated button to defend. When you’re charged up enough, you can release your special attack. These range from special damage moves to support skills. It all depends on the costume. While this takes a lot of the sometimes tedious strategy out of the mix, it does reduce battles to simple battles of endurance. There are no healing items, so you just have to stick it out until the end of the fight, and then your health will be restored. If your partner dies in battle, you just have to hold on and survive. As long as the enemy is defeated with one of you left standing, it’s a total victory. If you all die, then too bad. You just reappear behind the enemy and try again with a different strategy. It’s a forgiving, but not-so rewarding system.

Excelsior!!

Costumes definitely feel unique from one another. I had acquired four costumes by the time I’d decided to deliver my verdict and found the space explorer costume was my favorite. Melee and ranged costumes execute attacks differently with timed button events. None are difficult to land, but they make battles a bit more exciting. Battle stamps help boost your prowess in fights, but you’re limited to one stamp per character (at least early on in the game) and this left me feeling totally under-equipped for most of the encounters. So, no, combat isn’t really this game’s strong suit. Yet, it’s entertaining enough and easy to get the hang of, but nothing all that revolutionary.

The atmosphere is where this game truly shines. Double Fine, while not known for high-brow humor, has a way of making me snort out loud. I had one such moment after trick-or-treating at a house (there’s an orchestral swell before each door opens, so you never know whether or not you’ll be facing a goblin in battle) and out popped a grubbin. He yelled at me, “Ah, you look like my parents, FROM WHOM I AM BITTERLY ESTRANGED!” The battle commenced and I had to compose myself. The irreverence and absurdity Double Fine brings to the game just adds to the fun. You may want to sit back and pick out all the imperfections- there are many, trust me, but then you eventually find yourself sucked back into Halloween, scouring the neighborhood for that next quest. The downside is that you’ll be doing this again… and again… and again.

Candy is Dandy

There are smaller mini games and objectives within the game. Trading candy stamps with other trick-or-treaters usually gets you bag upgrades and costume materials. Using candy as currency, you can buy more battle stamps to pimp out your team with. You can bob for apples, play hide-and-seek, wash, rinse, and repeat throughout the county until you’ve completed all the neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has a boss waiting for you at the end, each with minimal strategy required.

The only serious gripe I have about this game is its total lack of a manual save. You have to either complete a quest or do something totally momentous in order for the game to decide you’re worthy of a checkpoint. Time to go to work? Too bad. You have to finish building your Statue of Liberty costume or it’ll all go to hell. No one wants to be told when they’re allowed to stop playing or that their past ten minutes of work was in vain. The auto save is just not frequent enough to help me overlook this problem. While I’d love to disappear into the whimsy of fake Halloween, I can’t. For me, the quests aren’t about rewards- they’re about activating an auto-save. Come on, that’s just wrong.

I love Halloween and I love games that can capture the atmosphere and spirit of the day. Double Fine does this well. It doesn’t, however, give me the means to enjoy this world in spurts. A game of this size should be something you can pick up and put down whenever. When you deny the player this, the game suffers. It’s still worth a go, but those who are less-than-obsessed with Halloween might not get the same enjoyment out of it as others.  Happy Halloween!!

The Rundown:

+ Great dialogue and ambiance
+ Simple but fun costume combat
- Absolutely no manual saves
- Trick-or-treating gets repetitive

Second Opinion (Aaron Alexander)

Costume Quest is an Adventure RPG, in which two children set off to trick or treat but are quickly confronted by an Alien race named the “Grubbin”. This confrontation leads to a variety of often funny and exciting events that fuel a somewhat basic RPG game along the way. Costume Quest is the creation of the fine-folk of Double Fine who also put out such titles as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, so expect their distinct brand of humor to shine throughout this simple downloadable game.

Costume Quest opens with two children about to go out for Halloween, who happen to be Brother and Sister. The game will quickly ask you which character you want to control for the rest of the journey, either Reynold, the young man or Wren, the young lady. Soon enough after your choice you’re off to the first house to trick-or-treat and when the door opens it reveals a Goblin like creature – stylistically reminiscent of enemies found in Dragon Quest games. The “Grubbin” is quick to snatch whichever sibling you did not select when prompted earlier and speeds off toward an ominous gate near the edge of town. Now this is where the actual questing for costumes begins.

As the title implies the main quest revolves collecting different costumes which in turn grants you more combat powers and new abilities that eventually help you through the gates. To do so you travel around 3 different areas (Suburban, Shopping mall and Farmtown/Carnival), completing quests such as trick or treating and bobbing for apples. Knocking on doors to trick-or-treat can go one of two ways – either a person will open the door and throw a bunch of candy in your bag ( which is used as currency to buy stamps) or it will be an enemy raiding the houses for candy, which results in a fight. Quickly you’ll see how the child’s imagination guides the game, he will become gargantuan in size and your enemy will transform into an even more grotesque giant version of itself. The sheer ridiculousness of the fight-scenes is often hilarious whilst still being a charm filled experience, however the gameplay becomes very basic and formulaic. Each costume has a basic attack, of which has a different quick time event such as rotating the stick or a timed button press to cause critical hits. After three turns fighting back and forth with your basic attacks you’ll eventually be able to use your costumes special move. For example the Robot costume will launch a barrage of rockets at an enemy whilst the Statue of Liberty costume uses “Anthem” which causes the American colors to appear onscreen, as well as a photo of Abe Lincoln and an Eagle which lets out a deathly scream. It heals you and your parties HP, obviously. For winning each encounter you’re rewarded with more candy and XP which levels you up in traditional RPG fashion. With the candy you have procured you may purchase stamps from a local vendor. The stamps grant stat bonuses such as more attack and some even grant new abilities like “2 Ply Toilet Paper: Stuns enemy for 2 turns”. The combat system all feels very basic, however it becomes less of a chore when you have a variety of costumes, stamps and some more Children in your party to work with.

The costumes also grant benefits in the Overworld as well, such as rocket booster skates or a shield to block water from dripping on you. Most of these abilities are essential in the quests, and often times I’d forget to use them as the game does a poor job of telling you where to go next and what to do. It’s only a slight problem though as each overworld isn’t very big and are easily fully-explored, however that’s a problem in itself. The game could have used more variety, such as a team-up attack or an extra variation of mini-game side-quests or two. That being said, whatever the game lacks in quantity certainly more than makes up for itself in quality. From the delightful cell-shaded models, hilarious animations and mischievous feeling soundtrack it really does make for a game to remember. On top of all that, pile on a hearty serving of Double Fine’s signature brilliant writing and you’re sure to be smiling the way through the night.

Even though the combat eventually feels stale and tedious and the quests basically repeat themselves 3 times (once for each Overworld ) something about Costume Quest kept me playing. It could be the charm and personality oozing throughout the games design, or the Bully like musical chimes playing throughout your escapades during the night. Perhaps it’s the well written and actually funny dialogue the game delivers. Whatever it is, it’s absolutely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Double Fine’s previous work or if you’re a fan of charming, funny games. However if you have low tolerance for repetitive game play mechanics then maybe Costume Quest is worth a pass for you.

Here’s The Rundown:

+ Cute and charming characters
+ Well written dialogue. No lack of funny and humourous moments

- Gameplay can feel repetitive and tedious at times

- Lack of innovative quests/minigames towards the endgame

Costume Quest was developed by Double Fine for Xbox Live Arcade/Playstation Network.  The game was released on October 19th (Playstation 3) and October 20th (Xbox 360) 2010, with a retail price of 1200 MSP ($15). A download code was provided by THQ for the purposes of review. The game was finished with all side quests complete in about 7 hours.