Review: Costume Quest (XBLA)
Title: Costume Quest
Platform: XLBA (also available on PSN)
Developer: Double Fine
TWOLS (Ten Word or Less Summary): Slick and sharp, CQuest is anything but a scary buy.
It’s tempting not to take Double Fine’s Costume Quest too seriously. A cute adventure game from the same studio that brought the beautifully-looking – if perhaps poorly executed – Brutal Legend, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it has the hallmarks of a fun if forgettable seasonal hit. But underneath the cutesy, agreeable exterior beats the heart of a sassy, slick little RPG that’s as sweet and addictive as the Halloween candy we’re tasked with collecting.
Expertly straddling both the quirky childlike premise and Double Fine’s trademark (and occasionally dark) humour, Costume Quest is as appealing to parents as it is to their kids. For whilst we have a market saturated with games that promise fun for all the family, in practice – and certainly my own experience – it seems that it’s the exception rather than the rule that actually can deliver games that simultaneously satisfy kids and adults alike. Amazingly, Costume Quest is able to do just that, thanks to the perfect blend of jokes, japes and gigantic battling monsters.
CQ plunges us into the lives of Wren and Reynold, twins forced to play nice and accompany each other as they go trick-or-treating on a typical Halloween night. It all goes a tad pear-shaped when monsters, intent on snatching candy-filled children and their bulging candy pails, take over the town and our heroes find themselves inexplicably mired in a mishmash of puzzles, quests and turn-based battles.
Well, at least one twin does; the other – incidentally, whichever twin you deign not to play as at the beginning of the game – manages to get themselves kidnapped by head candy thief and all round spooky bad-gal Dorsilla and her boss, Big Bones.
And so our premise is set: the search to reclaim your stolen sibling, whilst collecting candy from strangers and battling a host of monsters, goblins and Dumbo-esque black birds along the way. With each door you knock in the hope of topping up your candy pail, there’s every chance you’ll encounter a weird and wonderful Grubbin instead of a friendly neighbour with treats to spare – Grubbins that want your candy in their stash and our unsuspecting heroes dead in a ditch.
Thankfully – for reasons yet explained – when a monster does step in and challenge you to a battle, your chosen flavour of twin transforms into whichever costume they happen to be wearing at the time. Dress up in tin foil and cardboard and – BANG! – you turn into an intimidating mech of Gozilla-like proportions. A cape and plastic fangs? You turn into a tall, blood-sucking vampire. Unsurprisingly, this means that the need to seek out bigger and better costumes is a must. Be warned: this is not as easy as it seems. Whilst several costumes come ready-to-wear, several do not, and to complete them you need to think strategically – and sometimes a little experimentally – and explore your surroundings to locate the materials and patterns necessary to create your costume. That said, the costume selection is by no means a pre-requisite, and it’s actually pretty easy to sail through the game with nothing but the costumes you and your friends arrive wearing. As amusing as the chip-scented costume is to see, and as helpful as it is nudging forward the narrative and solving a quest, there’s little strategic advantage in dressing up as a fast food snack when a goblin is shooting fire at your ass. Trust me, I know.
Which brings us onto the battles themselves. Rarely challenging, the turn-based combat offers up the bog-standard mix of basic attack with the occasional individual special power, although these can be enhanced by collecting/purchasing battle stamps, which – bizarrely as it may seem – are exactly what you think they are: postage stamps that magically enhance your battling skills. Time-based responses and button-prompts are your tools and whilst they’re rarely difficult, it’s easy to mis-time the odd attack and have a colleague expire as a consequence. The key, as you might expect, is to mix up the stamps and your characters so that each contributor brings something different to the fighting arena. Each victory brings your experience points and a trading card, the latter of which can be used for quests along the way.
Amazingly, the game’s holiday-themed foundation rarely feels cheesy or forced. The environments are colourful and detailed, crammed with Halloween-based props that lend a rich, warm and comfortable glow to the various backdrops that are the perfect setting for this warm, laugh-out-loud story. And even though you can often see the next twist or turn coming a mile off, that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment in any way thanks to a sharp, witty script … even if the script sometimes requires the skimming skills of a Mensa candidate to finish reading the speech bubbles before they disappear.
The game’s not long, but it isn’t all that short either, offering up what I’d consider to be a good run for a XBLA title. There’s the perfect mix of exploration and combat, and whilst the latter can, on occasion, be a little tiresome, it’s not enough to tamper the enjoyment. In fact, very little does – Costume Quest is fun, funky and funny way to while away a few hours long after the Halloween decorations and candy pails have been boxed away for another year.
Kid Kritique: Sammy is a seven-year-old lad with a burgeoning love of video games, particularly football games and titles based on his favourite costume-wearing superheroes like Ironman and Spiderman. He loves SpongeBob, Doctor Who and Tottenham Hotspur Football Team.
Although Sam has had some help typing and formatting his contribution, the words and thoughts below are entirely his own and have been transcribed without interference.
It was hard to know what was happening because I couldn’t read the bubbles so Mum had to read them for me. But a good thing is its got trick-n-treaters on it and I like those and I like waiting with my Mum to see if a good guy or bad guy opens the door when we knock it. The game was very fun to play and watch and my Mum asked me to help do the battles which I was good at. But there were too many battles which made my hands tired.
My favourite part of the game was the start when we were walking around the streets. It had lots of trick-or-treaters. My worst part was when in the Mall – there were bad guys everywhere and I was tired of seeing and fighting them. I also loved the decorations.
Next time, I would like better costumes like a Mummy or a Zombie or a Skeleton. I didn’t like the Unicorn costume or the Knight. The Pumpkin was my favourite. I also liked the Spaceman costume. I would also like multiplayer because my Mum and me love playing games together.
Kids, you will like to play this but don’t make your hands sweaty!
Parental Perspective: Vikki is the mother of aforementioned seven-year-old who spends much of her life juggling home, work, parenthood and a love of gaming – although not always in that order. She loves survival horror games, puerile humour and men dressed up like doctors and is constantly searching for the perfect family game that she and her son can play together and both completely enjoy.
Did Double Fine miss a trick by making this game single player? It certainly feels that way. It seemed remiss that what develops into a three-man mission can only be controlled by a single controller, inexplicably side-stepping what could’ve been a hearty and deeply enjoyable multiplayer experience.
The script is sharp and witty and entirely appropriate for children, although the comic-book font makes for difficult reading, and – as aforementioned – the speech bubbles are gone too damned quickly for me to read clearly, let alone a child. It’s also unfortunate that the game lacked speech for I feel that kids could appreciate the jokes more if they were able to hear them firsthand.
Sam’s always been pretty good at understanding the difference between reality and TV-based fiction which makes it difficult to ascertain the impact of the visuals on the general kid-shaped public, but I can confirm that he watched the entire game without fear, even the slightly spooky End Boss, Big Bones. We were both mesmerised by the game’s beautifully colourful environments, and looked forward to exploring each costume’s unique battling power.
In summary, Costume Quest is a rare thing indeed – a family-marketed game that is exactly that: a game suitable and enjoyable for all, without exception.