wallacethegreat's Costume Quest (Xbox 360 Games Store) review

Too Sweet To Hate

 Adorable.
There’s something to be said on what affect cuteness can have on one’s judgment, or on a person’s ability to see past the adorable outer layer – covered in glittered cardboard and face-paint – and look at what really makes something tick. But in the special case of Double Fine’s new Halloween-centric RPG, Costume Quest, I think charm actually outweighs substance. Big-eyed, unabashedly charming characters and wonderful storytelling provide a needed reprieve from an all too unnecessary need for repetition.

Set over the events of Halloween night, you play as one of a pair of twins – either Wren or Reynold depending on your gender preference – and go door to door trick-or-treating to your heart’s content. But events take a turn for the worse when monsters consumed by a need for delicious sweets kidnap your candy corned costumed twin, begging you to find a way to rescue him/her while still building a successful Halloween stash.

As odd and whimsical as that sounds, the writing in Costume Quest is superb. There’s a youthful innocence in some of the dialogue that plays well with the game’s tone, as well as some more mature or out-of-place jokes and references that appeal to the older crowd. Not much can be said about the character’s voice acting, as there are no voiced characters in the game. This might be construed as one of the Costume Quest’s faults, but I personally have no issue with it. My complaint would be the speed at which the text scrolls, and the lack of control you have over the text. In some cases, you’re given a prompt to continue to the next text bubble, but then there are other times where no prompt is given, and on occasion the text scrolls too fast to adequately read. Now, I don’t think of myself as a slow reader, but there were points where I would be distracted by something not related to the game and then miss an entire section of dialogue.  

Being a game titled Costume Quest, one would think your choice of costume would affect gameplay, and this notion holds true. Each costume has a basic attack and a special move – which becomes available after a few turns – and modifies each character’s health and attack power. Finding the right mix of costumes for your party is key, as each costume has a different special ability, some involving attack and some centered more on support. As for the actual gameplay in Costume Quest, I believe it is most akin to turn-based RPG’s like the Persona series (more explicitly, Persona 3 & 4) or, to go way back in time, Earthbound, mixed with context sensitive battle mechanics found most recently in games like the Mario & Luigi series on the Nintendo DS. Outside of the door-to-door fights/trick-or-treating that takes place, most monsters in an area can be hit from behind to deliver a surprise attack, which inflicts damage at the beginning of the battle.

 You'll be seeing this quite a bit.
Once you engage in these turn-based struggles, attacks are delivered via button presses or “stick-waggling”, where the timing of those actions affect the damage enemies receive. Defending from an attack acts under the principle, allowing you to mitigate some of the damage to your party. While these mechanics are implemented well, there’s not much variety from one battle to the next. Excluding boss characters, every altercation with a group of monsters will tend to play out the same way. Battle stamps, which act as health/damage modifiers or grant the use of extra abilities – dodge, stun, poison attacks, etc – help to alleviate some of the repetition, but the grind can still be a bit too tiring.

Some quests are recycled as well; in each area the same apple bobbing and “hide ‘n seek” quests would appear, along with some kids wanting you to trade candy-cards with them. I still don’t know what use those cards have, other than the achievement/trophy attached to collecting all of them.

Thankfully, Costume Quest is a bit on the short side, lasting me about five hours or so. Price vs. value judgments aside, I think this is an acceptable length for a downloadable title given how wearing and repetitive the combat can become. Fortunately, excellent writing and the lovable charm in its setting and characters help to keep the game fresh and interesting. Costume Quest carries itself on the idea, if not on the execution, and for that I give it my recommendation.

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