Costume Quest (PS3)

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In a most fortunate turn of events (for us, anyway), Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners around the world have only had to wait a single year to get their hands on Double Fine Production’s next game, and while it doesn’t match up to the epic nature of the studio’s previous colossal titles, Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, this new game, Costume Quest, contains all of the hallmarks of what is becoming a ‘classic’ Double Fine experience – great characters, a wonderful story, dazzling art direction, vibrant settings, endearing charm and, of course, tons of sharp wit and humour.

Costume Quest isn’t an extraordinarily lengthy game or particularly deep in ways that matter to gamers, but you’ll get more than get your money’s worth from this downloadable title – there’s more raw entertainment packed into every five minutes of the game than a lot of other titles can manage to squeeze out in one hour… that, and the fact that it’s pretty addictive!

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Wren and Reynold are twins in a regular family who’ve recently moved to a new town, a new school and a new life, and they’re finding it a bit difficult to fit in and find friends. But on this night of Halloween, their mother sends them out to go ‘Trick or Treating’ around the local neighbourhood to have some fun on their favourite holiday, and hopefully make some friends along the way.

One of the twins (Wren or Reynold, depending on which character you wish to play as) is put in charge and the two waddle off into the night (one in an ‘awesome’ robot costume, and the other in a dull candy costume) in the hopes of filling their candy bags to the brim with delicious lucre.

After hitting up a house or two in search of delectable treats, your twin (again, either Wren or Reynold, depending on who you chose at the beginning) is stolen away by a candy-craving monster (your twin’s candy costume is mistaken for a giant piece of the stuff) and pretty soon you learn of a secret plot to steal all of the town’s sweets – a plan currently being carried out by a witch named Dorsilla and her army of Grubbins, as well as other nefarious fiends.

In order to rescue your twin from the candy-stealing monsters, you’ll need to Trick or Treat around various neighbourhoods and the local shopping mall, help residents with their troubles, and battle dozens of ugly ne’er do wells who stand between you and your goals.

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This setup is delivered with nary a word spoken out loud, and in a strangely refreshing approach, you’ll be required to read through dialogue balloons throughout the entire game. As a title filled with little humorous quips and verbal asides, this could have gone horribly wrong, but instead of getting some voice actor’s interpretation of the dialogue, players are able to get their own feel for characters’ delivery and vocal inflections, which can end up being much funnier – some jokes even rely on written text, which is a good indication that Double Fine (with its unique brand of humour) not only knows the difference between written and spoken humour, but that the writers took full advantage of the ‘limitation’ of text.

Costume Quest is mostly played from a top-down perspective as you (and eventually two other costume-equipped characters) roam about neighbourhoods Trick or Treating for candy. Every time you knock on the door of a house, you’ll either be met by the friendly face of the house owner to bestow upon you a sweet, bountiful harvest… or you’ll come face to face with a ghastly Grubbin who’s currently in the process of ransacking that house to discover every last bit of candy he can find (are there female Grubbins?).

If you meet a Grubbin (or any other monster that greets you at the door), after a usually humorous quip, you’ll have to fight it to get rid of it, which is where the turn-based role-playing game (RPG) aspect of Costume Quest comes in.

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Once you encounter a monster, you’ll enter an instanced combat scenario (similar to Final Fantasy titles), but instead of going into battle as a little defenceless kid (or pack of kids) in a costume against a pack of Grubbins and monsters, you’ll enter the encounter as the ‘real’ version of that costume, that is, the version of the costume that the child sees in their imagination.

In battle, a robot costume comprising cardboard panels and springs transforms into a mighty, towering, mechanical monstrosity which wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese mech-featuring manga. The poorly constructed Statue of Liberty costume springs to life as a lofty, fully mobile, torch-wielding fighter, while a flimsy knight costume clanks and swings into action with a gigantic shield, a just-as-immense (and very sharp) sword, and protective armour ready to take a beating from any ogre.

There are quite a few costumes in Costume Quest ready to collect and use, like the fabled Unicorn outfit, Ninja and space adventurer costumes, as well as a handful of others that I won’t mention because half the fun is building them up by finding the costume’s pieces located around the world, and then finally seeing them come to life in battle!

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The turn-based monster battles are as you would expect from a basic Japanese RPG – you select an attack for each of your characters to perform, and they dutifully pull off any number of sword swipes, punches and jabs in an effort to reduce an enemy’s health to zero, at which time your foes each take their turn to attack. Of course you can also perform special abilities in order to heal allies, improve their attack strength and more thanks to each costume’s specific skill.

A fun dynamic added to battles is the use of Quick Time Event (QTE) button presses in order to make your attacks and abilities more effective – maybe you’ll be required to hit a button at a specified time, or wiggle the left stick back and forth to build up a meter, for example. While I usually hate (READ: Loathe) QTEs in any form, I ended up not minding them during Costume Quest battles simply because it’s not the end of the world if you don’t mash the right button at the right time (unlike other games where you’ll be severely punished for not having snake-like reflexes). Also, I always expected these QTEs to show up in encounters, so I was always ready for them – another big difference.

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To add a little more strategy to battles, there are a variety of ‘Battle Stamps’ available to purchase (with candy as currency) and collect throughout the game which help turn encounters to your advantage. Once equipped (one per character), your costumed adventurers will receive increases to their health, the chance to dodge incoming attacks, the ability to counter-attack when it’s not their turn, and a dozen others, all of which have more powerful and more effective versions later on. Deciding which Battle Stamps to use, and with whom, can play a very important role in battle and by the end of the game these decisions will determine whether or not you’re consistently winning enemy encounters, or losing them.

As strange as it may seem to say, the gameplay of Costume Quest represented a relatively small part of my personal enjoyment of the game. While you’ll be doing a not-inconsiderable amount of RPG-lite battling and environment traversal, it was more of the in-between bits and cute details that pulled me through – the cleverly delivered dialogue quips and humour everywhere you look, the little facial animations, a few fantastic graphical touches, some great thematic and celebratory music, whisps of moody ambient sounds, and the simple charm of a childhood adventure – thanks to the power of the kids’ imagination, the world is alive with danger and possibilities.

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If your heart isn’t a lump of cold, black coal, and you don’t turn your nose up at anything that isn’t the most hardcore of Japanese RPGs, Costume Quest is a fantastic, easy to slip into game that is perfectly enjoyable at any time of year. While I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘must play’ because of this or that gameplay innovation, I would heartily recommend the game for its sheer charm.

I look forward to another, Double Fine.