For a culture that seems to have an obsession with Halloween, there aren’t a lot of Halloween video games. For the last month, I’ve been bombarded with advertising urging me to see horror movies, friends asking me to attend Halloween themed nights at amusement parks, and a mountain of economy sized bags of candy beckoning to me when I go to the drugstore. Yet somehow, video games are all but immune to the commercialization of the holiday. Sure, there are enough Resident Evil games and other survival horrors to keep you playing straight through the month of October, but at their heart, they’re no more Halloween-y than a candy bar that’s not fun size. If the lack of Halloween titles has left a void in your life, Double Fine Productions’ Costume Quest is right up your alley.
In case the title and art promoting the game didn’t tip you off, anyone who’s sole interest in gaming is causing as much havoc and destruction as possible while leaving thousands of dead enemies in your wake will probably not be a fan of Costume Quest. After all, the game’s appeal lies in the fact that everything about it is uh… cute. From the cartoonish design of the characters, to features like bobbing for apples mini-games, to using candy as a form of currency, nearly everything about the game oozes charm and holds the allure of the Halloweens of your youth. You play as one of two siblings, Wren and Reynold, new residents of the quaint suburb of Autumn Pines who go out Halloween evening in hopes of making new friends while trick or treating. From the moment you leave the house, the plan for a laid-back night of fun is derailed when your sibling, dressed as a giant piece of candy corn, is kidnapped by a monster who mistakes him or her for an actual piece of candy. This sets off a quest that requires you to team up with other costumed kids and examine your neighborhood and other local areas, such as the mall, to try and find the missing child.
The game’s design is extremely cartoonish, but it succeeds in developing the childlike world that Double Fine was going for, and is fundamental to Costume Quest’s charm. The game plays like your run of the mill turn based RPG, but with a seasonal twist. Instead of finding chests containing gil, or other fictional cash, and rare items, you encounter coffins containing candy, which is used as money. When you acquire this currency in the world, after winning battles, or by trick or treating you can use it to purchase battle stamps that your characters can equip to give them an extra boost in combat. When you enter battle, your costume morphs into a gigantic version of itself, and each costume can pull off a special ability in battle. It’s hard to suppress a smile the first time you see your costume, a robot constructed from a cardboard box and roller skates, transform into something on par with Optimus Prime. The writing in the game is witty and there are a lot of genuinely funny bits of dialogue and design in the game (I cracked up when I saw “Clothes For Bros” and “Husky Toddler” were shops at the local mall) that make Costume Quest a pleasure to play. While the overall premise of the game is a creative one, it’s the little things like this that give this title character and make it as enjoyable as it is.
Though it has plenty of positive attributes, Costume Quest isn’t without its faults. If you have any experience with RPGs and have hit your teen years, you’ll probably feel the game doesn’t pose much of a challenge. Over the course of the game I only died once in the second to last boss battle, and once you discover the secret to beating this opponent (one of the other characters actually tells you, so there’s no guesswork on your part) it’s a cinch. Even some of the more difficult fights can be breezed through if you have a basic understanding of RPG strategy. The combat system is basic and never evolves over the course of the game. When you choose a basic attack a meter will show up at the bottom of the screen, prompting you to push the button on your controller that corresponds to the onscreen image. Additionally, you can select your costume’s special ability when the meter fills and the computer pulls the move off for you. It’s extremely easy to grasp, and mixed with the artistic style makes it a great game for younger children, but the simplicity is a slight turn-off if you’re used to more complex battle. Despite the game’s RPG roots, the characters never gain additional costume powers as they level up, so in battle you’re consistently limited to easy to master basic attacks, and your costume’s unique ability. Sadly, Costume Quest is a quick play. I spent approximately 5 hours on the game and feel like I’ve explored Autumn Pines and it’s local attractions to their fullest extent. It’s not a bad length for a game like this, but maybe it’s a testament to how enjoyable Costume Quest is that when I hit the final boss battle I felt disappointed that I was approaching the end.
Costume Quest manages to create a child friendly world without being childish, which is a difficult task to pull off. This title is the definition of family friendly gaming, as it contains nothing that could offend and appeals to a wide range of audiences. Kids will delight in the fun story and the wonder they experience watching shoddily made costumes morph into something beyond their expectations, while adults will enjoy the fond memories of childhood that the game conjures up and smart, clever writing. Arrested Development references, FTW. If you love Halloween and wish there was a game that represented everything fun about the holiday, Costume Quest is a necessary title for your gaming library. You may not want to play it again once you finish, but Costume Quest is a title you’ll return to next October, just like you’ll watch Frosty the Snowman every winter, even though you know damn well he’s just going to melt and come back the next time the temperature drops. Toward the end of the adventure, one character asks the others if they can do this again every Halloween. As far as I’m concerned, we most definitely can.
Costume Quest is available via Playstation Network and XBox Live Arcade.
[review title=”Costume Quest” pros=”Unique, innovative concept; great game for families and children without alienating older gamers; perfectly captures everything great about Halloween; witty dialogue pops off the screen; it’s just so darn cute.” cons=”A little too brief; combat system is simple to a fault; some soulless people may find the cuteness off-putting” verdict=”If you have a young child, this game is a must have, but it’s well crafted story and dialogue can be enjoyed by almost anyone with a love for Halloween, regardless of age.” score=88]