Costume Quest Review
An enticing Halloween treat from Double Fine that's sure to please your RPG sweet tooth
Tim Schafer’s Double Fine studio hasn’t met with too much commercial success since their start-up in early 2000, despite their development of clever, quirky, and critically acclaimed games such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. With such an unfortunate track record as this, the studio has instead opted to forgo the risks of a big budge retail game for their most recent project, Costume Quest, and have instead developed a seasonally-themed downloadable title for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. This title, a turn-based RPG set on Halloween night, retains all of the wit and quirkiness of previous Double Fine titles, though smaller and more compact in scope.
Make no mistake, though, the game still holds high-quality production values both in terms of the visuals and sound design. The graphics have a wonderful and endearing cartoon quality to them, and the enjoyable music and excellent sound effects, especially during battles, are overall a delight to the ears. The only complaint that I might give is that the music can at times seem a little repetitive, but it is not at all bad enough to detract from the sound quality overall, and is mostly mere nit-picking on my part. The visuals in battle, while still retaining that cartoon-like look to them, are a little more detailed, the main characters transforming into more fully realized version of their costume designs, along with some very nice looking monster designs.
The premise of the story involves a brother and sister setting forth on Halloween night on the usual trick-or-treat candy hunt. It’s not long, however, before they run across monsters involved in a scheme to steal all of the candy they can to feed their insatiably hungry master. It is one of these monsters who kidnap your fellow sibling, after mistaking them and their costume for an extraordinarily large piece of candy, prompting you on your quest to recover your sibling from the monsters’ clutches (so that your parents don’t ground you).
Gameplay involves the exploration of three primary locations while knocking on each house in the neighborhood for your main, trick-or-treat based quest, as well as completing other optional side quests in order to obtain additional material to make new costumes to use in battle or for collecting special ‘creepy treats’ cards (which are mainly significant only for completing the achievement associated with them). Battles are turn-based affairs involving timed button presses in order to successfully defend yourself or boost the amount of damage you inflict upon your enemy. This ultimately makes the game somewhat reminiscent of games such as the Paper Mario series, with victories earning you both experience points and candy. The candy you earn is primarily used for purchasing ‘battle stamps’, special stat boosting equipment that has such effects as increased HP or providing you with an attack that stuns the enemy.
These battle stamps, as well as the costume that each of the characters in your party are wearing, play a significant role in the way battles turn out, especially later on in the game. This is certainly where a lot of the strategy comes into play, sometimes perhaps more so than anything you do inside of actual battle, as each costume has its own special parameters and abilities associated with it. Fortunately the game is very forgiving in this aspect and allows you to experiment with your party’s outfitting, placing you at a point just prior to the battle where you met your untimely defeat occurred, in similar fashion to Final Fantasy XIII. Some costumes also provide specific ‘exploration abilities’ for navigating through the towns and other locations, and are at times essential in order to progress to the next part of the story.
Ultimately it’s a fairly short adventure, probably no more than ten hours, but that’s really about what might be expected for a downloadable title such as this. All the same, I found every minute of it to be well worth the price point, and it serves well as the perfect video game complement to this Halloween season, as well as perhaps future ones to come. It’s certainly a compelling example of how a unique setting and clever design can come together to form a rewarding and singularly original gaming experience.