Review: Costume Quest (PS3)

Title: Costume Quest
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Original MSRP: $15.00

Tim Schafer and the folks at Double Fine know how to make you laugh.  Their game catalogue is an example of this (what with games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Full Throttle).  To say that titles like Brütal Legend ooze with personality and wit is an understatement.  And the same can be said about Costume Quest, a smaller, digital-only release that recently made its way into the PlayStation Store.

Double Fine has done something unique with Costume Quest.  Not only have they developed a game whose style and gameplay resemble games from the days of SNES and Genesis, but they have also touched on a subject that takes you back to the days when you were a kid playing these games.  You know how you still watch “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” because it reminds you of being a kid, watching the cartoon, and then going to your school’s Halloween Party?  The moment you press start on Costume Quest, you get that same feeling, as you down a couple of boxes and some hangar wire to become, what in your mind is, the biggest, baddest, robot this side of your neighborhood.

But when you were ten, the night ended when every neighbor was raided of his or her candy and the light glowing through each window went dark.  This is not the case with Costume Quest.  The night becomes young when your sister (or brother, depending on who you choose as your main character) is kidnapped by monsters in your neighborhood.  More than likely, they would have completely left her alone, except that she made the mistake of dressing like a giant candy corn, something that attracts the sweets-hunting monsters.

Our hero, Reynold, wants to avoid being punished for losing his sister, so he embarks on a quest to rescue her.  But he doesn’t have to do this alone.  Like with most adventure games, you will be joined by allies in your quest to save your sister.   Your first ally, Everett, doesn’t need much convincing, and he delivers one of the game’s first hilarious moments, “Shhh…you had me at quest.”

Much of the game consists of embarking on quests and engaging in turn-based battles.  In fact, your little notebook indicates what quests you have completed and which ones you have yet to complete before moving forward.  Which brings me to an important point.  Costume Quest is pretty linear.  This is by no means a bad thing.  But if you are expecting a huge overworld, or a non-linear adventure, this is not that kind of game.  That’s not to say that you can’t solve quests in whichever order you choose, or even return to previous areas to finish incomplete quests.  But for the most part, the quests you embark on will be very similar from area to area (some being repetitions of the previous level’s fetch quests).

That is not to say that Costume Quest becomes a chore to play.  Throughout your mini quests you will discover pieces to various costumes you can collect throughout the game.  Not only do these costumes give you some abilities that help with exploring previously-inaccessible areas, but they also come in handy in combat.  I mean, sure, you’re an awesome powerful robot, but what if you take too much damage in battle?  No problem…just have one of your companions dawn the Lady Liberty costume and cast heal on you and the party.  While your costumes consist of toilet paper rolls and trashcan lids during your the exploration sections of the game, they turn into ultra-awesome representations of that when you engage in battle.  So hunting down the components becomes part of the game’s charm.

Costume Quest provides stamps, a form of customization, your character can purchase from one of the neighborhood girls.  While your characters can only equip one stamp at a time, this also adds to the element of strategy in combat.  The stamps offer abilities like counterattacks (when successful buttons are pressed), or damage dealt to the entire enemy party.  I suppose Double Fine could have allowed you to place more than one stamp on your character, but honestly, by limiting it to one, they give you a bit more to think about before engaging in battle.

And speaking of battle, Costume Quest’s battles are handled in traditional turn-base, but your direct input greatly affects the outcome of each skirmish.  Since the game doesn’t have random encounters, there is very little chance to “Grind”.  Each battle counts towards leveling, and they aren’t exactly as easy as fighting slimes.  Most damage dealt to your characters is pretty severe until you figure out when to press the corresponding button relating to the cues shown on screen.  After which the battles become a lot more manageable.  This hands-on also makes the combat more enjoyable because your characters only have one attack apart from their special moves, so interacting with the on-screen action keeps the battles from becoming repetitive.

Costume Quest looks the part.  It’s a Halloween cartoon adventure, and its characters resemble something straight out of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, with huge almond-shaped eyes and stubby legs.  Seeing the characters take on their more “awesome” forms during battle is a great way to capture that feeling you had as a kid, when your toys were a lot more than the sum of their plastic parts.  The three areas in the game share the visual style in common, but provide enough distinction in the environment to keep things interesting.  I did see a bit of frame-rate stuttering during some of the exploration areas, but nothing that affected gameplay in any way.

Playful haunting tunes accompany your characters through their adventures, and while they compliment the game’s atmosphere, you won’t be looking for the remix online any time soon.

Costume Quest is a game that benefits both from the sum of its parts and by knowing exactly where it fits in.  It’s a short adventure game that borrows from different games, while injecting a lot of what makes Double Fine games such a pleasure to play: fantastic design, and brilliant dialogue and humor.


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