Just in time for Halloween, Double Fine Productions offers up Costume Quest, the first of the studio's slate of THQ published downloadable games. Centered on the candy collecting adventures of young Reynold and his sister Wren, is Costume Quest a sweet treat or a rotten trick? Read on to find out.
The game begins in the cozy suburbs of Autumn Pines, where the two children discover that monsters are ransacking the houses in their neighborhood, searching desperately for every last bit of candy. When Wren, dressed as candy corn, is abducted by the monsters, it is up to Reynold to come to her rescue. The quest will ultimately take our young hero to such far flung locations as the local mall and a fair in a valley just outside of town.
Mechanically, Costume Quest is every bit an old-school console role-playing game, albeit one with intentionally simple mechanics. What is remarkable is how well those mechanics are integrated into the setting and fiction of the game. As Reynold explores the neighborhood, any house with its lights on can, and must, be trick-or-treated. As he waits at the door, ominous music swells. Will it be answered by a costumed adult, ready to give out hand fulls of precious candy? Or will a monster come to the door, signifying the start of a battle?
Assigning random battles to the neighborhood houses works extremely well, not least because it places control over those battles in the player's hands. Unexpected, over-frequent encounters are not a problem for Costume Quest. Candy is the game's currency, and can be used to purchase Battle Patches which grant bonuses to the characters during battle. Candy can be obtained from monster-free houses, as well as from smacking such objects as pumpkins, boxes, and piles of leaves spread among the environment.
Turn based battles make up a significant portion of Costume Quest's play time. Though not terribly deep, they still require a measure of strategy. Thankfully, battles are generally quick, and keep players involved throughout. Reynold's attacks can be made more effective by performing button presses or analog stick maneuvers. Similarly, when being attacked, damage can be reduced by tapping a specified button at specific times. The windows for performing these actions are generous, but should players repeatedly fail to execute them, the battle will most likely be lost.
The game is not called Costume Quest for nothing. Over the course of the adventure Reynold will acquire a couple of new allies and a number of costume patterns. Once a pattern has been found, the materials for the costume must be collected. After everything is gathered up, the costume becomes wearable. Costumes grant unique abilities both in and out of battle. Need to get past some cherry pits thrown by a pesky squirrel? The Knight Costume can help with that. Are parts of the mall too dark to safely explore? Time to bust out the Space Warrior costume, complete with glowing light sword.
In battle, the costumes assume another set of powers, and the children wearing them transform into heroic versions of themselves. Reynold's cardboard robot costume transforms into a giant mech, complete with a Missile Barrage attack. The french fry costume, obviously, becomes a monstrous French Fry Crab, with a Salt Assault that stuns enemies for a turn.
Costume Quest is a linear game, though there are occasional mini-games and side-quests to break up the trick-or-treating action. Each new area is home to a group of children playing hide and seek. Find them all to earn a new candy bag. There are battle patches to buy and Creepy Treats cards to earn and trade, though that specific aspect of the game is almost entirely passive as cards are simply granted at the end of battles.
Fans have certain expectations of Double Fine games, specifically that they will be dense with inspired dialog. Certainly, many of the quips monsters make immediately before battle are clever ("You made me loose count of all the candy I'm stealing!"), but on the whole, Costume Quest is more droll than laugh-out-loud funny. It's pleasantly droll, agreeably droll even, but don't expect Psychonauts levels of hilarity.
Graphically, Costume Quest is unambitious, but appropriate. The aesthetically consistent expanse of Autumn Pines and its surrounding areas are attractively drawn and decorated, though texture detail is noticeably low. The huge-eyed, slightly cell shaded characters manage to convey a lot of personality despite limited animation. The game occasionally has issues with characters being obstructed by scenery, and at one point in the Autumn Haven Mall, an NPC appeared to be inexplicably floating above the action. In rare cases the game's frame-rate falters for no apparent reason.
Battles look crisper than exploration stages, with dynamic animation and flashy effects, but still wouldn't seem out of place on a previous generation of hardware. The game's speech-free soundtrack is rich and full, and its orchestral score does a fine job of evoking a Halloween atmosphere.
Prospective players may harbor a suspicion that Costume Quest is actually a parody of RPG conventions. Though it certainly has fun with the genre, that is not the case. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game is how straightforward it is. Costume Quest, at its core, tells a simple, sweet story about a brother and sister. It's a warm, endearing game, dedicated to both its streamlined mechanics and its holiday setting. It is also scaled perfectly - at about five and a half hours for a thorough play-through, the game is satisfying but doesn't overstay its welcome.
With its charming visual style, direct and engaging battle system, and frankly adorable characters, Costume Quest makes for all kinds of Halloween-themed fun. Trick or treat? This one's a treat, for sure.
Costume Quest is available now for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. Game Rant reviewed the PS3 version of the game.