For a lot of young children, Halloween is the greatest night of the year. And can you blame them? It's the one night where they stay up late, play dress-up and beg total strangers for candy. Even if everybody knows that the scares aren't real, a night of terrors is enough to send a child's imagination into overdrive. Is it any wonder so many people love Halloween?
Costume Quest perfectly captures what it's like to be a child searching for candy and concocting horrifying adventures out of shadows and distant sounds. You play either Reynold or Wren, a brother/sister team getting ready to hunt down treats on this fateful Halloween night. Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. Before having a chance to fill up on delicious candy, a monster with a sweet tooth shows up to ruin the day.
It turns out that this $15 Xbox Live Arcade game is a bite-size role-playing game, one that has you fighting turn-based battles in order to save your sibling. With all of the adventure game trappings in tow, you set out on an adventure that takes you all around your neighborhood, through the local mall and to the creepy county fair. Along the way you'll need to take out bad guys, bob for apples and construct some very powerful costumes.
To an adult these costumes are nothing more than cardboard and Styrofoam, but in the mind of a child it's a robot the size of Godzilla with laser eyes and a nasty punch. And so you adventure around your city, occasionally bumping into random monsters and getting into turn-based scrapes. When you fight you tower hundreds of feet in the air, taking on all enemies using a nice variety of fun costumes, each with their own unique powers.
You start with a robot and knight costume, a nice offensive/defensive pairing. Before long you'll assemble the parts needed to turn into a ninja, space man, giant pumpkin and more. You can assign each of the three people in your party a different costume, and knowing the pros and cons of each costume is the key to mastering this game. What's more, these costumes will also give you special powers beyond the turn-based combat. The robot costume will allow players to zip around the map faster, while the ninja costume will allow our heroes a way to sneak past enemies. Some costumes aren't used very often (such as the Statue of Liberty costume), while others are only good at specific moments (such as the knight being able to shield the team from water).
Along the way players will buy and earn special power-up cards which can be equipped to the different characters. Some are as simple as giving a character extra health or a counter attack, while others will poison opponents and even add a third, more powerful attack. But be careful, because you can only equip one skill to each party member.The actual combat is fairly simplistic, taking cues from the Paper Mario series. Each player only has three possible attacks, so don't expect a Final Fantasy-level of depth to the battles. Each attack is met with a short mini-game, inane things like mashing the "A" button. When an enemy attacks, you'll have a chance to block your opponent by pushing the correct button. Learning the timing and each attack's mini-game is essential, but it's all easy enough for pretty much any age group.
The game clocks in at only a couple hours, but there's a lot of good natured comedy keeping things fun along the way. Unlike other Double Fine games, there's no voice acting in Costume Quest. But the game hardly needs it; the writing is witty and full of pop culture references. This may be the only game I've ever seen that can seamlessly go from a Project Runway reference to a nod towards Arrested Development. There are also a lot of great jokes about Halloween itself, which makes this a great game for the holidays (not just this Halloween, but future celebrations as well).
There's nothing about the gameplay that is especially original, but when you put it together with a winning script and likeable characters it's easy to fall in love with Costume Quest. The bite-size RPG elements work extremely well; it feels like a gateway drug to a bigger, deeper adventure game. Even if this doesn't turn new people on to role-playing games, I like the idea of telling a complete story using the trappings of an epic quest game.
Few games capture the spirit of Halloween as well as Costume Quest, which is just one of the many reasons why this game is so easy to recommend. The game has some minor control quirks, but the writing is constantly funny and there's a good sense of pacing. Hopefully this is just the start of many other holiday games, including Christmas Quest, Easter Quest and, of course, Arbor Day Quest.