For those stumped parents, brothers and sisters out there, Double Fine's new RPG-lite Costume Quest is going to be sweeter than the candy the game's heroes and villains pursue so relentlessly. But even the mature, grown-up adults among you may be tempted to indulge in a piece or two, if you've got the patience.
This being a Double Fine game and all, Costume Quest's off-kilter premise should come as no surprise. As one of a pair of children (Wren, the sister, or my choice, Reynold) you're stuck spending your Halloween night trying to rescue your sibling after they're hauled off by candy-obsessed, orc-like monsters.
Luckily and inexplicably, Reynold and whatever friends he has tagging along have the ability to harness the power of the costumes they're wearing to defend themselves. Reynold as cardboard robot, for example, transforms into a missile-toting mech when provoked. More costumes are pieced together with the cardboard, tape, feather dusters, etc. that you'll find scattered through the neighborhood, after you've secured the requisite recipes.
Battles are okay in moderation, but strung together in more combat-heavy sections, they're just drudgery.
When you start scrapping with a monster, you'll watch Reynold transform and grow as you enter the battle screen, a completely separate entity from the main game world. You'll choose which enemy to attack (every costume has its own unique animations and effects) and try to block enemy reciprocation. Every third attack enables a super ability (a storm of missiles from the robot; a healing, hilariously patriotic anthem from the Statue of Liberty) that can turn even the most desperate situation in your favor.
While the battles are turn-based, your success or failure is really determined by the timed button presses you use to add extra mustard to your attacks or defend against your opponents'. If you pull them off, you'll almost always win. If not, you'll probably lose (but don't fret, you can instantly try the fight again with no penalty). In the end, combat is more quick-time event than strategic battle.
If you're a kid, it's a wonderful setup, providing plenty of reward without a lot of planning or consideration. Adults, on the other hand, are probably going to get bored pretty quickly, which makes it tough to recommend to them without reservation. The battles are okay in moderation, but strung together in the few more combat-heavy sections, they're just drudgery.
There's a little bit of depth provided by "battle stamps" (purchased with candy, of course) that let you augment your character with better stats and new abilities. They certainly streamline some fights, but choosing the right set to take into battle (each character can equip just one stamp) didn't become necessary until the very last fight.
Smartly, most of the fighting is interlaced over the five-hour adventure with some light puzzle-solving (can't get past the waterfall? hold the knight's shield over your head!) and some superb writing. In fact, the biggest problem I had with Costume Quest was that none of the characters are voiced and the text often moves too fast for this adult to read, to say nothing of kids who may have to struggle with it a bit before sussing it out.
While it's hilarious first and foremost (again, this is a Double Fine game) there's also a surprising amount of heart. As much as Halloween is about candy and scares, it's also about letting kids pretend to be grown up, empowering them at a time of their life when they need it most. It's something project lead Tasha Harris clearly understands and capitalizes on both with Costume Quest's premise and sweetly mature kiddie cast.
You know, the more I think on it, the less concerned I am with the parts of Costume Quest that aren't tailored well for adults. Sure, it may drag on at times, especially for those accustomed to more cerebral RPG fare, but it's also kind of magical, and I'm not convinced you're ever old enough to pass that up. It is, after all, Halloween: Who says a grown-up can't pretend to be a kid for a day?
This review is based on the early 360 review code of Costume Quest provided by THQ.