Costume Quest, like every other Double Fine game before it, can be summed up with one sentence: good game, better concept. The developer has an uncanny knack for creating wonderful characters and worlds, and writing genuinely funny, often engaging storylines, but, when it comes to the actual gameplay, it never quite matches up.
It’s Halloween night and our heroes, Wren and Reynold, are suiting up for their evening of revelry. The twins argue with their parents over which one of them should be in charge, before the mother and player is given the choice. The entire scene plays out in a humorous display as the father sits behind his newspaper, barely paying any attention to the family at all, relegating all responsibility to his wife. Choosing one decides the player’s character, while the other is unknowingly sentenced to become the damsel in distress, abducted by the monsters running amok in Costume Quest.
With your brother or sister kidnapped, there can only be one logical solution: continue trick or treating. The monsters, known as the Grubbins, are collecting candy for an unknown master, and for the player to progress they have to accumulate a certain amount of candy. The evening starts with the children lugging around a sad looking pillow case, moving from house to house in their own neighborhood and either receiving candy from eccentric home-owners, or running into an angry Grubbin. Encountering the latter dumps the player – and their current party of costumed kids – into a turn-based JRPG style encounter.
Combat in Costume Quest is an extremely straight-forward affair that implements the timed button presses of the Super NES classic, Super Mario RPG. Of course these kids wouldn’t normally be able to stand up to a monster in a fight, but with the help of the magic costumes they’ve donned on this All Hallow’s Eve, the children transform into their dream versions of each costume. In the early goings you’ll have access to a Gundam-inspired robot, and a hulking knight, but the outfits continue to get weirder and more hilarious as the game goes on.
The player’s options in combat are restricted to attack, special – think Limit Break – and defend. The small repertoire of actions available isn’t necessarily a bad direction, but the problem is every single encounter devolves into the same exact cycle. It takes two player turns to accumulate enough energy to use a special move, and once you have it, there’s very little strategy to employ when using it. As long as you get the timing down of the various button presses that correspond which each action, there is absolutely no difficulty or thought to be found in any situation.
Another major concern connected to combat is once you’ve gathered most of the costumes it becomes perfectly clear which are the best. The only differences between one costume and the next, other than cosmetics, are the special moves specific to each, and there are only a pair that can heal – remember there are no items in the game. Given you spend a large portion of the game finding fabrics and items to assemble the hilarious get-ups, it’s really disappointing that you’ll likely leave your main character in the robot costume for the entire game, only changing it out for specific environmental obstacles associated with a different costume type. But even then, you’ll switch right back because the robot outfit lets the party move faster.
In between encounters the majority of Costume Quest is spent piloting the band of kids around a trio of Halloween-decorated locations. Along the way the children are tasked with a myriad of random quests from townsfolk and other brats out for the evening. All of the quests essentially boil down to retrieval missions, whether it be monster trading cards, a specific costume, or some other miscellaneous item, and the biggest problem is quest recycling. In each of the three main locations you can expect a handful of the exact same quests to show up. With all the witty dialogue and attention to detail with the Halloween-themed events, it feels lazy that Double Fine has you bobbing for apples nine times – three per locale.
Despite all these issues it’s hard to refute the quirky allure of the game. The dialogue and art style effortlessly capture that feeling of being a kid on Halloween, and in this case, being one of only a select few who can actually see the Grubbins – stupid adults. The costumes themselves especially illustrate the wild creativity of the minds at Double Fine, and are an absolute testament to the joy they take in crafting unique characters and game-worlds.
Costume Quest ultimately fills the same void as the candy filling the kids’ buckets: it tastes good, but it’s not terribly filling. It is a fun, charming little game that no gamer should find a lick of trouble completing. However, by these same tokens, and with the trademark personality Double Fine is known for, Costume Quest feels like it could’ve – should’ve – been a whole lot more.