Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Costume Quest Review

Costume Quest is the latest creation from developer Double Fine, makers of Psychonauts and Brütal Legend. This adventure RPG is the first in a planned series of upcoming downloadable titles for XboxLive Arcade and Playstation Network as the studio shifts its focus toward smaller games with smaller budgets in lieu of disc-based retail outings. Set amidst the haunting glow of jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night, Costume Quest begins as brother and sister, Reynold & Wren, embark on their annual trip ‘round the neighborhood collecting candy. Things quickly go awry as one of the siblings (depending on who you choose to play as) is kidnapped by a pack of candy-coveting monsters. Costume Quest relies on Double Fine’s quick wit and a charming sense of humor as sweet as the treats those monsters so desperately seek. An easy but rewarding combat system keeps the action moving while side quests and the occasional bout of exploring are, for the most part, a fun addition.

As you journey through the neighborhood, you’ll encounter fellow trick-or-treaters to join your cause as you rid the town of enemies and liberate homes of their sugary morsels. Knocking on a door will bring either a costumed adult with a witty line and a bowl full of candy (the game’s all-too appropriate currency) or a battle-ready monster.

Battles are a mix of turn-based combat with an active twist. Similar to the combat of the Paper Mario series, Costume Quest’s battles are handled by selecting between normal and special attacks, the latter needing to be charged up before use, and applying it to your enemy. Time-sensitive prompts increase the damage you can inflict as well as increase your defense.

Costumes play a large role in combat as the outfit you’re wearing changes your abilities. What may appear as nothing more than a cardboard robot costume becomes a gigantic mech that towers over the city, delivering missile blasts to any Grubbin foolish enough to stand in your way. Other costumes include a knight, perfect for shielding you from attacks, the Statue of Liberty, a healing class, and many more which you discover over the course of the adventure. In addition, Battle Stamps increase the options available to players creating a little more variety and depth.

Along your travels, you’ll come across Sadie, an enterprising grade-schooler. (Think Lucy’s psychiatry stand in Peanuts.) In exchange for candy, she’ll give you Battle Stamps which alter abilities such as inflicting poison and put a few new tricks up your sleeve during combat like hitting an enemy after a successful dodge.

The combat is a lot of fun although it can get very easy. As an RPG-novice I was surprised by what little challenge the combat presented. It would have been nice to see a higher difficulty curve but, as it stands, Costume Quest doesn’t offer much. If you’re looking for a game with punishing difficulty, go elsewhere, that’s clearly not the intention here. Still, what’s there is good and encourages experimentation. It’s not the most complex system ever devised but its fun while it lasts and at six hours the game ends before fighting feels repetitive.

Side quests and exploring make up the time between battles as you trick-or-treat your way to the top. Bobbing for apples, card collecting, and playing hide & seek with the neighborhood kids are a fun addition to the overall experience however I was disappointed to see a lack of variety in these missions. In each of the three main areas to explore, you’ll find yourself doing the same thing in each level: bob for apples, find rare cards, find hiding children, repeat. The side quests seem to lack the same imagination that powers the game’s style and story.

As the game nears its conclusion, certain problems arise. For starters, the game feels short and not because of some arbitrary limit on dollars spent versus hours played. What makes the game feel short is the rapid pace at which things wrap up. With only the three main areas to explore, you and your costumed cohorts reach the end just when things are starting to pick up. It would have been nice to see at least one more level. Still, in a way it’s a testament to the game that I was left wanting more. That feeling isn’t something you reserve for a game you dislike.

Before the final credits, one of the characters declares, “We should do this every year!” and I have to agree. I can honestly see myself making Costume Quest an annual tradition this time of year. It’s not the longest nor the most-challenging game but what’s there is a fun, charming, and worthwhile adventure. The battle system is engaging and the game carries an imaginative spark that, simply put, makes me want to keep coming back.


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