The first time I saw Costume Quest, it was late summer, and the only thing on my mind was my upcoming vacation. Then a gentleman from THQ pulled me over to the console running Double Fine’s latest, as yet unannounced, video game. Before the man with the controller could even say two words, I asked, “When’s it coming out? Can I have it now?” I didn’t hear a thing he said. The game playing on the television was mesmerizing. The art style hooked me immediately, and the Halloween setting struck a chord with me I didn’t even realize existed. The wait for Costume Quest was totally worth it though. The finished game is both fun to play, and wonderfully representative of a time of innocence and adventure. Combined with Double Fine’s development sensibilities, it’s the perfect combination for success.
It’s Halloween, and you and your twin sister are heading out for a night on the town collecting candy. There’s only one problem. A group of monsters, headed up by an evil witch, are trying to steal all the candy in your town. You happen to stumble upon their plan when they mistake your sibling, dressed in the finest candy corn costume one can make, for a giant piece of talking candy. That leaves you to try and save her from being eaten, and stopping the monsters from succeeding in their plan. Along the way, you’ll meet some friends who can help you on your journey, and with their help, you’ll explore your neighborhood, the town mall, and a mysterious carnival. The plot is simple, but well executed. Much of the game is built around quests that you complete in order to obtain more candy, the in-game currency, or costume parts, to build new costumes. You’ll also do your fair share of actual trick-or-treating. Going door-to-door asking people for candy can lead to one of two things happening. One, you’ll actually get candy. Or two, a monster will attack you, which sets off the battle portion of the game.
Combat in Costume Quest plays out like a turn-based RPG. You only have two attacks, one of which is a special attack that takes a few turns to fully charge. The great thing about the combat is whatever costume you’re currently wearing is what you turn into at the start of the fight. If you’re dressed as a robot, you turn into a giant mech. If you’re disguised as a unicorn, you turn into an armored version of the mythical beast. Every character has a standard attack, but the specials can either be stronger attacks or provide aid to the party. For example, the Statue of Liberty allows you to partially heal your entire party, which comes in handy quite a bit. You’ll earn experience, which in turn will boost your attack power and health every time you level. You’ll also earn trading cards and candy, both of which come in handy during quests. The candy is actually used to purchase Battle Stamps, which act as modifiers for your characters. Battle Stamps can do anything from boost your health to add an additional third attack. You can only equip one on any individual member of your party at a time, so there’s a smidgen of strategy involved in choosing which to equip, but that’s about as deep as the combat gets. Like the plot, there isn’t a ton of depth to the gameplay, but there doesn’t need to be. Costume Quest provides the perfect amount of challenge with an easy learning curve, and even though it can become rather repetitive, you won’t mind one bit because the game is so wonderful to look at.
The mood and tone of the game and setting are perfectly captured by the artistic styling of Costume Quest’s project lead, Tasha Harris. The world is realized with a child-like eye, where everything has the potential to become something fantastic as long as you have the imagination to make it so. Watching the kids transform from their cardboard and aluminum foil costumes into giant spacemen or knights is a delight, and if you’re not won over the first time it happens, you may not have a heart. The cel-shaded simplicity of the game only adds to its charm and the all-ages aesthetic. The game’s score is subtle, but perfectly compliments the Halloween theme. Double Fine games have always had a uniquely interesting look and feel, and even though Costume Quest is but a mere downloadable title, the same attention and care that the developer gives to its major releases has been given here.
Sweet, funny, sentimental, and full of charm and heart, Costume Quest is a game that’s easy to fall in love with. While it certainly doesn’t redefine the genre, Costume Quest does a lot of things right, and is a complete package that’s difficult to resist. Even though RPG veterans may find the game a bit too easy, it’s really hard to put the controller down once you start playing. Pick this game up. Share it. Enjoy it. And hope that somewhere down the line, Double Fine will be back with more.