Costume Quest is one of multiple small arcade titles planned by Double Fine, the studio containing the brain of the industry revered Tim Schafer. Right from the very start you can tell this is a Double Fine game as it oozes the same style and design that is reminiscent of their previous work Psychonauts.
The game starts by introducing the lead characters, Reynold and Wren, who being brother and sister don’t always get along. Their mum however doesn’t agree with their squabbles and makes sure that they spend the night of Halloween together, instructing them to go out and find some new friends in the neighbourhood. Misfortune is all around however as after being told their costumes are terrible at the first house Reynold and Wren encounter a monster at the second. Wren, dressed as a piece of candy corn, is mistaken as candy by the monster and taken away, and so starts your adventure in pursuit of monsters that have taken your sister captive!
Each of the game’s levels are separated by impassable gates that’ll only open only when every house has been visited, meaning you will get plenty of candy! Each time you knock on a door you will either be greeted with a warm welcome (treat) giving you a bucket full of candy or one of the game’s monsters (trick) that’ll start a battle encounter. You can also find enemies walking around the levels that’ll start the same battle encounters.
Battle encounters are familiar to what you would expect from retro JRPGs, but even more basic. Each side takes turn attacking, with one attack per person. Each character has one main attack, a possible extra attack (from certain battle cards you can find in the game) and a special attack that’ll unlock after a few rounds of combat. When performing the normal attack you will be prompted to press a button quickly, repeatedly tap a button or just move one of the analogue sticks around in order to cause more damage. Similarly when the enemy attacks you it’ll prompt a button press to reduce the damage. The concept is fun and simple enough, most enjoyable with the boss encounters that need a minor touch of tactics. Unfortunately for the majority of fights you’ll be bored senseless and able to defeat enemies you encounter without even looking at the screen. Before long it’s more of a chore than anything and as much as you’ll want to skip the fights, you’ll want the valuable XP (only makes you stronger with more health, no stat spending here) and potential rare rewards.
When not trick-or-treating or battling enemies you will be completely free to run around the levels, exploring every inch in order to find hidden collectables, and there sure are many as the game basically revolves around collectables. There is candy you can smash out of most environmental objects, hidden chests that either contain candy or a costume piece, and battle stamp stalls that provide character combat customisation (such as increased damage). You can also complete several side quests that’ll have you bobbing for apples or finding hiding children. The game’s heavy emphasis on collecting is great for any gamer that likes their games open for exploration.
As you progress through the game you will make friends that’ll join you on your adventures. Before long you will have a small party of costumed crusaders ready to smite all enemies in their path. You’ll even be able to specify which costume they will wear and in turn what abilities they take into the battle encounters. Some of the costumes worn also have a special ability when exploring the levels outside of battle, such as the robot’s speed boosters to get around quickly, the spaceman’s light sabre that lets you pass through darkness or the knight’s shield that allows you to protect from falling objects. These special abilities allow you to explore hidden areas, or may have you needing to obtain new costumes before being able to progress further on the game’s critical path.
All-in-all Double Fine’s Costume Quest is rather straightforward on paper, but it’s the excellence of the game’s design that brings it to life and gives the world around you character. The extremely cute graphics, childlike animation, innocently spooky music and activities that you’ll be involved in during the course of the game, instil the magic that such holiday events had on you when you were a child. The game may be short, at just over three hours for an average play-through, but feels fitting for an adventure that spans a single night and ends with the most adorable close. The game feels like it has been created with love and care, and it shows with the credits leaving me with a smile as pictures of the developers in their Halloween outfits as children are displayed.