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

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A series of good ideas ruined by an insultingly simple execution.

While there are several Christmas games available to gamers ( Daze Before Christmas, Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, etc.), very few Halloween-themed games exist outside licensed games based on Halloween-themed material. Double Fine intended to rectify this when they released Costume Quest, a Halloween RPG available for the Xbox 360 and PS3. With this game, they have proved that it is possible to create a good game based on Halloween. Unfortunately, aiming to tailor the game for a younger audience, the developers have simplified a potentially good game to the point of annoyance.
Despite this, Costume Quest begins the experience very strongly. After choosing a main character, you start trick or treating with your twin sibling. Things quickly go awry, however, as monsters kidnap them, forcing the protagonist to rescue their sibling and end the monsters’ plan in the process. All of this is told through fairly humorous cutscenes that conveys an appropriately childish atmosphere. This atmosphere also includes a cartoony art style that, while technically average (characters can clip through walls and party members’ presence can cause minor graphical glitches), immensely helps what the writing tries to accomplish. Many of the characters look like very exaggerated Miis, something that makes Costume Quest appropriately feel like a kid’s show. Yet while the childish art style is an enjoyable part of the game, Costume Quest is at its graphical best during battles. Contrasting with the cartoony art style of the rest of the game, children transform into highly stylized interpretations of their costumes to defeat their enemies. Although the battles seem to aim for a B-movie/comic book motif, they oddly contribute very much to the game’s family friendly personality. In fact, it often seems like the children are imagining their encounters with the very real monsters, even if the dialogue often very directly states otherwise.

 Some costumes open certain areas of the world map, although how they achieve this feat is often noticeably repeated.
 Some costumes open certain areas of the world map, although how they achieve this feat is often noticeably repeated.
Sadly, this is the only strength that the battle system possesses, because simplification has eliminated any chance of this game being enjoyable. However, much like Costume Quest in general, the idea underneath the combat is strong: when in battle, the child protagonists become whatever costume they are wearing at the time. Each costume carries with it a different special abilities into battle, such as healing or status-inducing attacks. Unfortunately, outside a few equippable stamps, these are the only ways of performing these moves, and they can only be used once every three turns. In the interim, the only available option is to attack. There are no other battle commands, like changing costumes or using items, nor do the costumes change the nature of the attacks beyond what Paper Mario-esque timed button presses are required. Naturally, this means that battles soon become extremely repetitive and that they lack strategy. It does not help that the game recycles enemy groups both obviously and frequently, destroying any chance of strategy that Costume Quest could ever hope to have.
However, the enemies often have a wider array of moves available at any given time. While your characters are limited to two or three actions, at best, (and only one of which has no major restrictions) monsters can perform a variety of moves any time they desire, such as healing and casting status-inducing spells, both on each other and on your party members. Interestingly, while any negative effects applied to an enemy disappear one turn after they were inflicted, status effects that harm playable characters rarely go away, if at all. Logically, this should make the game very challenging, especially when coupled with the combat’s shortage of depth, and indeed, certain areas of the game are very challenging. This is most pronounced in Autumn Haven Mall, the second part of the game; enemies suddenly become much more powerful, and none of the costumes available provide much help. Because of this, you will run away from battles often, stalling progress in multiple ways. Yet outside Autumn Haven Mall, Costume Quest is a very easy game. Many enemies die very easily, and there is no penalty for failure; should you die or run away, the game simply returns you to the world map with full health and no experience/candy (the game’s currency) lost.
 In terms of special abilities, the costume system is incredibly limited; only one costume can heal, and only one provides status benefits.
 In terms of special abilities, the costume system is incredibly limited; only one costume can heal, and only one provides status benefits.
Predictably, the world map is no better than the battles that litter it; in fact, the two are equally repetitive. Outside battle, the primary goal is to complete quests to advance the story. Some of these include collecting more costumes to explore a wider variety of areas, playing hide and seek with fellow trick or treaters, and, of course, trick or treating. The latter quest comprises a large portion of Costume Quest and (at least initially) is less repetitive than it may seem. Not all the houses contain adults who hand out candy; some hold aggressive monsters, adding an element of suspense to an otherwise mundane part of the game. Yet because of how much trick or treating the game includes, this suspense degrades incredibly quickly, transforming it into another chore. Other quests fare no better; the types of quests available repeat as early as the second portion of the game, very often to an exact degree. Surprisingly, there are only three areas to explore in the entire game, limiting any possible excuses for such a lack of ideas. To add insult to injury, the achievements for Costume Quest list achievements only available in the downloadable content, essentially forcing dedicated players to pay for a 100% completion rate.
Simply put, Costume Quest is not worth the $15 ($20 with the downloadable content) that Double Fine charges for it. The game exhausts all of its ideas in its first moments, and it forgets to include several good ideas (costumes not available include ghosts, skeletons, the Grim Reaper, etc.). What is left is a repetitive, overly easy, and extremely bare RPG. The only advantage that Costume Quest has is the charming atmosphere, yet it is not close to enough to redeem the game of its many flaws. Although it began with a potentially great premise for a game, the end result is hard to enjoy.

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