I’ll admit it. I’m a little overweight. But not because I’m a candy fiend, I’m a Nebraskan, it’s the meat and potatoes. I don’t even really like candy that much. But every once in a while, there will come a time when I decide to get a candy bar and I will get so excited about that candy bar that it’s silly. It is the same brand of giddiness that is the hallmark of most awesome childhood memories.
Costume Quest taps into those exact same feelings. The whole game feels like an homage to the joys of being a kid.
The game centers around trick-or-treating, tasking the player to throw down on the neighborhood giving the neighborhood and surrounding areas a good shakedown for candy. All in the name of saving your brother/sister, depending on which avatar you play as. The writing is sharp and funny, like any Double Fine production and it crafts a fun experience out of a story that is pure Kid Power, straight from an early 90’s cartoon.
To most of the kids I knew trick-or treating was a mission, and the game mirrors this, in that the main vehicle for the game play is that the player’s character, Reynold or Wren, intends to use the holiday pastime to save their sibling. Every time the player hits up a house in game, there is a moment of anticipation as the person opening up the door will either be a person, in costume, rewarding the player with candy, the game’s monetary system, or an enemy that will trigger a JRPG style turn-based battle. It perfectly captures that tantalizing moment of anticipation I felt every time I rang a doorbell to mooch candy off of strangers as a kid. This mechanic serves as an outstanding example of how a game can use a cut scene and a cleverly placed load time to actually evoke emotions that aren’t “KILL-KILL-KILL,” derived from some boring and typically poorly written and or voice acted cut scene or the same old heavy handed “artsy” indie game crap.
Truly though, the trick-or-treating is really only an example of how the whole game tries to capture feelings of being a kid again. The battles themselves are incredibly simplistic RPG fair, albeit with a little a little Mario RPG series button pressing for extra damage thrown in to keep the whole thing more interesting. But what is far more interesting is how they cut away from the game world into a different play space. In this scenario, opponents line up across from each other, towering over a representation of the level like the robot fights in Power Rangers taking place in a model town. It appeals to kids the same way that dinosaurs do — size equals power in their minds. The costumes that players find in game are what becomes the character’s in-fight representations — only the real thing. A cardboard robot suit becomes a full-on gigantic Japanese anime robot, complete with chest missiles, the way it does in a kid’s imagination.
Think of it this way, the game is a lot like all of the Halloween candy you collect throughout the game. The candy doesn’t have any real nutritional value but it’s still super enjoyable. Costume Quest is similar in that it has a great cartoony style, with quality writing and just a fun overall feel to it. But at the same time, the whole experience feels just a little hallow as the battles, the core of it, has little to offer but incredibly simple turn based battles.
Few games capture the feeling of being a kid quiet the way that Costume Quest does, and if a boring battle system doesn’t deter you, it’s a way less creepy way to enjoy Halloween than jostling little kids for front porch space, candy bag open wide.