Wren, Reynold, Lucy, and Everett return in the first expansion to Double Fine's charming Halloween-themed RPG, Costume Quest. Does the new adventure, Grubbins on Ice, recapture the magic of the first game, or is this just more of the same in a fresh coat of paint? Read on for the full review.
After the events of Costume Quest, life has returned to normal in the cozy confines of Autumn Pines. No trace of the Grubbin invasion remains, and no one will believe the children's story of what happened. This irks science-obsessed Lucy to no end, and she is determined to produce some sort of evidence. Her single minded quest unfortunately lands her right in the heart of Repugia, home of the Grubbins, where she is promptly captured, dressed as candy corn, and taken away to prepare for the worst.
Needless to say, it is up to the remaining children to save her. Upon arriving in Repugia, our young heroes are quickly bested in combat and hurled off a cliff, where they meet members of the Grubbin resistance. It soon becomes clear that to save Lucy the other three children will need to strengthen the resistance by going house to house, recruiting members, and gathering candy. Sound familiar?
Grubbins on Ice plays all but identically to Costume Quest. There are a few new costumes, one of which -- the pirate suit -- adds a new traversal mechanic to the proceedings by allowing its wearer to slide along zip lines, but otherwise this is the same game players remember. Turn based battles? Check. Hidden children to find? Check. Battle Patches and Creepy Treats cards to earn and collect? They're all in there.
Grubbins on Ice is much less story focused then Costume Quest was, though it retains its predecessor's snappy dialog, as when an anti-resistance Grubbin quips to the kids, "I'm not going to let you jeopardize my pension!" The goal of the game is set up at the very beginning, and though there are some minor complications along the way, players proceed straight toward the end battle with very little to distract them.
The wintery touch-up given to the briefly glimpsed Autumn Pines looks pleasant enough, and Repugia, with its bulbous flora and candy filled slugs, is fun to explore, but the previous game's detailed environments seem to have been dialed back, and the playfields come across as both more confined and more straightforward in layout. Despite its wintery setting, Grubbins on Ice is not actually themed to any holiday, and the lack of decoration hurts the game's presentation.
Costume Quest was built on simple but engaging mechanics. Grubbins on Ice continues that trend, and if anything is even simpler. For instance, one area in the game promises to be a maze, but the path players need to follow is either literally spelled out on the floor or pointed out by one of the party members. A bit more challenge would have been welcome.
As a roughly two hour addition to a five hour game, Grubbins on Ice offers a fair return on investment for players, but is ultimately less satisfying than the original. The freshness of the setting and characters has worn off a bit, and unfortunately Grubbins on Ice fails to add anything to the gameplay formula to make up for it. The whole experience feels a bit rushed and under-developed.
In the end, players who had a ball with Costume Quest will likely enjoy a quick play through Grubbins on Ice. Though it doesn't expand on its predecessor's achievements in any measurable way, it remains an agreeable enough way to spend a couple of hours. For players who passed the first time around, Grubbins on Ice simply doesn't offer a reason to start playing the series now.
As a final note, the end of the game makes it absolutely clear that players can expect more Costume Quest. Let's hope that Double Fine is more ambitious with the next installment. While one expansion like Grubbins on Ice is fine, the series can't afford to rest on its laurels again, and it would be a real shame for such a promising property to wear out its welcome so soon.
Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice is available now for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360