Review: Costume Quest

CostumeQuest.jpg

What type of game do you normally associate with Halloween? Probably something scary or gory like Silent Hill, Dead Space or Alan Wake, am I right? But how about a trick-or-treating JRPG in which you play as a troop of youngsters on a pint-sized quest to save Halloween from a witch stealing everyone’s candy? Bet you never thought about that. Well, Tim Schafer and the wacky guys and gals at Double Fine did – and that’s why they are such geniuses.

As I already mentioned, Costume Quest is a Halloween-themed JRPG-lite. And by JRPG-lite I mean it brings together staple JRPG elements like turn-based battles, fetch questing, treasure hunting, town exploration and party management, but it does so on a smaller scale, without the incessant random encounters, level grinding, lengthy dialogue exposition, cliché characters and plot, or the snarky “emo” attitude that is running rampant through the JRPG genre.

Instead, Costume Quest has you roaming around a Grubbin-infested neighborhood, shopping mall and fall carnival, going door to door for candy and completing silly collection jobs for other kids and citizens to earn candy, experience and materials to build additional costumes – all on a quest that takes no more than six to eight hours from start to finish. Who says all RPGs have to be 40-plus-hour epics?

There are 13 different costumes to create — each providing special abilities in exploration and battle – and a handy radial menu makes switching back and forth a snap. The knight costume, for example, gives you a shield to deflect acorns being thrown at you by a pesky squirrel or to serve as an umbrella allowing you to walk underneath waterfalls or other falling objects. There is also a robot that gives you wheels to roll up ramps, a ninja with stealth mode capabilities, and a space warrior with a beam to light up dark hallways.

In place of the traditional random encounters, you visit every house/store/stall with its porch light on and knock on the door. If a human answers the door, you get gobs of candy, which acts as currency to purchase Battle Stamps that can be equipped to your party to provide buffs like increased attack damage, counterattacks, auto-revive and so on. If a Grubbin or other nasty critter answers the door, however, a battle is triggered. At certain times random monsters can also be found walking around the game world, and if you want to do some extra battling you can engage them on your own.

Combat in the game is completely turn-based and should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of the classic Final Fantasy games – though on a much lighter scale, of course. Your party of up to three characters stands opposite to a gang of up to three enemies, and from there you attack turn by turn until the monsters have been defeated. Don’t expect a whole lot of complexity, though, because this game is exceedingly simple and direct – and also a heck of a lot of fun!

During battle, you have one basic attack and one special attack which charges up after a few turns go by. Whenever you attack (and whenever you are on defense), a short quick time event pops up, and if you nail the button prompt with proper timing your attack deals more damage (or your defense holds firm and damage is reduced).

That’s all there is to it. No, seriously. This game really is that simple-minded. Hell, the level cap is 10 for crying out loud! Some light strategy is involved when setting up your party’s Battle Stamps and choosing costumes to find a good balance of special abilities. The Ninja, Robot and Statue of Liberty became my go-to lineup – the Ninja for its strong melee and protective shroud ability, the Robot for its powerful missile barrage attack, and the Statue of Liberty for its healing anthem. But by and large, the game is an easy, breezy romp that keeps the pace snappy and doesn’t require you to think a whole lot – and somehow it feels oh so right.

Something about watching big-eyed, cartoony kindergartners transform into powerful heroes satisfies that childhood fantasy of building a homemade costume and becoming the character/creature/thing of inspiration, and the cel-shaded graphics help bring the fantasy to life with tremendous whimsy and personality. As with any Tim Schafer production, the writing is sharp and witty, and while you won’t be laughing out loud like in many of his past titles, the game’s charming story, characters and dialogue deliver wholesome comedy for gamers of all ages.

On a sour note, I do have to point out that the game’s audio is disappointingly subdued. There isn’t a line of spoken dialogue, and the music, although appropriately haunting in a cutesy Halloween way, just gets lost in the shuffle far too often. At times I actually had to check to make sure the game hadn’t been muted, because for long stretches it would become so quiet. I think a more prominent score and maybe some form of fake gibberish dialogue would have provided an extra little punch of personality to completely round out the experience.

But that is a small complaint in an otherwise fun loving, easygoing role-playing adventure. Costume Quest is a sugary sweet gaming delight, tastier than any candied treat you can stuff into your face this Halloween or any other time of the year. I wouldn’t want all RPGs to be this brisk and this basic, but in this instance it works like a charm.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Dumbed-down JRPG design is actually really well balanced and a ton of fun
+ Costume changing system makes you feel like a kid again (if you’re an adult that is!)
+ Charming story and characters backed by humorous writing
+ Cute graphics

Cons:
– Audio is noticeably subdued across the board

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360, also available on PS3 via PSN
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Double Fine
Release Date: PSN – 10/19/2010; XBLA – 10/20/2010
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1482]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!