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Costume Quest is a game that targets your inner child with pinpoint accuracy and drags it out into the daylight. From its cartoony aesthetics to its whimsical story about kids transforming into robots, ninjas and monsters, I was left with a big, goofy grin on my face while playing this game.
It’s the clever way that Costume Quest takes standard RPG mechanics and dresses them up as Halloween traditions that is its biggest strength. Enemies aren’t randomly encountered on a field; instead you fight monsters by trick-or-treating at different houses, some of which have candy-giving grownups while others hide treat-stealing monsters. Instead of money, you use your accumulated candy to purchase items (which come in the form of stat-boosting badges) and new abilities are learned by assembling new costumes for your party members to wear.
It’s these costumes, appropriately enough, that are the real stars of the game. You eventually recruit a party of three pint-sized adventurers and the different outfits you find allow you to turn the kids into combatants such as knights, unicorns, robots and a crab-like French fry monster. Each looks great, and seeing your costumed menagerie march onto the field of combat never gets old. One of my major motivations for playing was just to find what the next outfit would be.
Some costumes also give you unique abilities outside of combat, such as the robot costume’s roller skates which let you launch off ramps. This adds an adventure game element that rewards players for exploring the game’s Halloween-themed environments – a suburb, a mall and a carnival – instead of just bashing monsters.
Unfortunately, it seems most of the creativity went into designing the costumes as the enemies you fight are pretty bland. There are three main flavors – a short goblin, a fat goblin and a bird-man. Though they vary slightly in dress and attack style, some preferring magic to physical attacks, they all look and fight similarly to each other. The result is that you often feel like you’re playing the same battle over and over again.
Your own combat options are limited as well, and though this does not derail the game it did leave me craving more depth. Each costume has access to only two attacks, a basic attack and a special attack, which can range from the robot costume’s salvo of missile fire to the vampire’s health-steal ability. Unfortunately, the special attacks take a few turns to charge up, and combat moves so quickly in Costume Quest that most fights are practically over by the time the attack is ready to go.
This means you’ll be relying heavily on your normal attack, which can inflict more damage if a quick-time event is completed right before the hit connects. The events, which are specific to each costume, are things like mashing a specific button repeatedly or hitting a certain button when a gauge fills up to a certain level. Also, damage from enemy attacks can be reduced by a well-timed button press. The QTE events that accompany combat are nothing new, but they do keep you paying attention to the fight. There were quite a few bouts where I just squeaked by thanks to some well-timed blocks and damage boosts.
To its credit, combat in Costume Quest is refreshingly fast-paced, and the costume’s stats, special abilities and animations were different enough that I wanted to see them all in battle (the Jack Skellington-like Pumpkin costume is especially cool). While the fights often felt samey they don’t overstay their welcome either, especially since the game can be beaten in about 6 hours.
The different badges each character can equip give you a bit of customization as well, letting one character enjoy an HP boost, one deal splash damage while the third gets the ability to stun an enemy by wrapping it in toilet paper. I do wish more than one badge could be assigned to a party member at a time, though.
While I was a bit disappointed by Costume Quest’s shallow RPG mechanics, I was won over by its charming presentation. This is a game that oozes personality, from its bright, cartoony art style to its fantastic writing. The plot is fairly straightforward, but it’s packed with the great dialogue and personalities that Double Fine is known for. One trick-or-treater, dressed as a banana, comments, “Man, I hope I’m the only banana tonight. Last year – total banana fest.”
Costume Quest is a bit like a Halloween treat in and of itself – it doesn’t last long, it’s simple, but it’s got such a delightful wrapper that you can’t help but take a bite. For $15, I’d say it’s worth the indulgence.