Review Costume Quest

With Halloween fast approaching, it’s quite fitting that Double Fine have released Costume Quest for PSN and XBLA. From the company behind titles such as the sublime Psychonauts and the deeply flawed gem that was Brutal Legend, Costume Quest is their first foray into the downloadable market.

Set on All Hallows Eve, the game places the player in the shoes of a trick or treating boy or girl (depending on the players preference), entrusted with babysitting their sibling through the annual candy gathering festivities. Things take a marked downturn however when instead of getting a handful of candies, the first house they visit is occupied by a burly monster who mistakes the players sibling for a giant sweet and makes off with them. Cue the player needing to rescue them before something horrible happens and they’re forced to explain to mum and dad why they’re returning home sans sibling.

This sets the stage for Costume Quest’s mixture of explorative adventure and RPG-lite combat. To follow the monstrous kidnapper the player must amass enough candy to unlock the gates into the next area. This is done in a number of ways such as bashing objects with your stout candy pale, finding them secreted around the level, bobbing for apples or completing various side quests. However the main source of candy gathering involves trick or treating all the establishments in the level, which will vary from houses to shops. The game flips the Halloween tradition back on to the player since its they who are subjected to the trick or treat element – treat in that, if you’re lucky, then the door will be answered by a human doling out lots of teeth rotting goodies. If it’s trick then you’re heading for a battle with one of the various monsters who were raiding it for sweets.

Rather than pit ordinary children against monsters (which would probably end in a messy score of Monsters 1 – Children 0), with a touch of Halloween magic the costumes that they wear imbue them with magic powers. So as well as allowing them to scoot around the exploration levels on heeleys, wearing the robot costume transforms them into a giant missile launching robot during fights. While the Knight outfit provides a shield in the exploration segments to help pass under obstacles like torrents of water which would otherwise ruin their cardboard costumes, during battles it transforms the wearer into a giant Knight. Costumes can be changed at any time during the exploration parts and there are several to unlock throughout the course of the game by completing side quests, rewarding you with the various materials needed to make each ensemble.

The fights themselves are a scaled back version of the real time battles found in titles like the Final Fantasy series, with the player selecting which enemies to attack. Attacking builds up the battle gauge and the ability to use more powerful attacks which will vary depending on the costume. These range from the Robots missile attack and the Ninja’s stealth slash, to Lady Liberties healing power. There’s an element of interactivity within the fight sequences which requires the player to hit a button or waggle the analogue stick at the right time to release the full potential of the attack and score more damage.

It’s clear that the game is intentionally going for a fast and loose system rather than anything in-depth, but this turns out to be problematic because it becomes quite repetitive by two thirds of the way through the game. Fighting will quickly fall into a cyclic pattern of two attacks, followed by a super attack, with perhaps a second round of this to mop things up. With no real tactics required to defeat enemies, the repeated encounters get stale very quickly. Only the variety of the costumes add to the attacks on offer and while the player can spend candy to purchase Battle Stamp cards to add extra abilities such as increased hit points, or a chance to counter attack each time they’re hit, these need for these is very limited outside of a few choice items.

There’s also the question of the Costume Quest’s length in relation to its current price of 1200 Microsoft Points / £9.99. It isn’t necessarily the longest title and while the three areas will keep you busy for a few hours, what you get for your money is far too repetitive to warrant the cost. Which is a genuine shame because the game exudes the sort of character you’ve come to expect from a Double Fine game. A mixture of some subtle (and not so subtle) humour and the Gregory Horror Show style visuals means it looks great, but scratch below its adorable surface and the game feels like it struggles to support its initial idea for more than the first hour or two.

Costume Quest does feel like the perfect game to sit and play when it reaches Halloween wherever you are, but sadly this limits it as something of a novelty that makes it even harder to justify the price tag. There is some entertainment to be had from the title, and it’s by no means a terrible game, it’s just it feels like something which could have done with more time invested in its ideas to produce something truly memorable. As it stands Costume Quest is probably likely to leave you with a candy hangover, regardless of whether you love it or hate it.