When I was a kid, every day was about waiting for the next big holiday. Whether it was March waiting for Easter, November waiting for Christmas, or October waiting for Halloween, there’s something about holidays that makes most think back to days gone by. Double Fine is hoping to tap into this overwhelming fountain of nostalgia with a Halloween inspired RPG called Costume Quest.
You play as one half of a brother/sister pair trying to have a fun Halloween when their sibling gets kidnapped by monsters. At the beginning of the game you get to choose whether to play as the brother Reynold or the sister Wren. Apparently, a sorceress named Dorsilla is out to steal all of the neighborhood’s candy and her stupid minions have mistakenly labeled your sibling as candy, due to his/her crappy candy corn costume (unintentional alliteration I promise). Obviously, your parents aren't going to appreciate you coming home alone, so you set off on a quest to save your lesser half and discover the mystery behind the peppermint pilfering pythoness (ok I’ll admit that was on purpose, and required a thesaurus).
Costume Quest’s story is all about putting together equal helpings of cuteness and comedy to make something light but enjoyable. There’s a tiny bit of drama, but it's always wrapped tightly in hilarity, so you don’t mind how predictable the bare events of the story are. Sure, there were a few misses when it came to jokes, but for the most part Double Fine succeeded in making an enjoyable, light and fun story that kept me from gagging at the adorableness of the characters or cringing at the gags.
The main way in which you work towards your goal is by going trick or treating, which is lucky, since you’re already prepared with a badass robot costume. Once you have knocked on all of the neighborhood’s doors, the story will progress and you can move on to the next area. Obviously this would be done in no time at all if obstacles weren’t put in front of you, so you will have to work on quests to unlock other sections of the current neighborhood, and not all of the houses you knock on will be inhabited by friendly parents. Instead, you are often greeted by a monster that was in the middle of looting the house and doesn’t appreciate the interruption. It’s at these times that you have to fight back and the powers of your costumes manifest themselves.
When push comes to shove, your costumes become more than just a representation of a childhood fantasy; they actually transform you into a powerful robot, stealthy ninja, or patriotic symbol of American pride (Statue of Liberty). Once the transformation is complete, the battle system is an extremely simple turn-based RPG system. Your only options are a regular attack, a special move that recharges every three turns and differs based on your costume, and a variable special ability you can get from customization with battle stamps. I tended not to use this third ability, outside of a boss fight or two, because each of your three characters can only have one battle stamp, and passive battle stamps - like increased health or damage - are much more useful.
Each time you start a basic attack you are prompted to press a specific button, or time a button press correctly, in order to do critical damage. The same happens whenever you take damage in order to block some of that damage. It’s a nice way to help keep you slightly engaged in more mundane fights, but it isn’t taxing enough to be entertaining in its own right. Strategy comes into play somewhat when you have multiple enemy types to fight at once or during boss battles, but many times it’s a mindless affair. Overall, the gameplay can get repetitive as you fight off house after house of monsters - mainly because of the simplistic battle system. However, exploration and minigames help to keep the game fun. Double Fine did themselves a disservice by letting most of the costumes out of the bag before release, as seeing them in action is a major impetus to exploration and I would still be working towards that last costume if I hadn’t already seen it in a video.
Working in sync with the story is some adorable presentation that makes it hard not to love the characters. Technically speaking, it's pretty unattractive when the action zooms in, but the funny faces the kids pull during some of the scenes really help to mitigate this. I dislike how the cut scenes use text boxes that appear and disappear without button presses, since it's not always possible to read them quickly enough to get every joke. I searched for an option to decrease the speed but had no luck. The sound design is pretty sparse, with zero voice acting and music that keeps itself mostly in the background, though it does suit the mood of the game.
Costume Quest’s biggest flaw would have to be the value. For $15 I only got 5 hours of somewhat repetitive play time out of the game, and there was no incentive to go back for a second run through. I suppose you could go back to see how much the dialogue changes when you choose to play as the other sibling, but that’s as much replay value as the game can muster.
Going into Costume Quest, hearing about Double Fine's sources of inspiration (Earthbound being among that list), I had high hopes for something unique and amazing in the genre of RPGs and was left feeling somewhat disappointed. While it succeeds in creating a unique and wonderful backdrop, with a cute story that had me laughing most of the way through, the battle system is too simplistic to hold your attention for long and it's all over far too quickly. RPG fans with a love of the scariest of holidays should definitely look into Costume Quest, but otherwise you can skip this downloadable title without missing too much.