Hanging at a rather wonky angle on a rather wonky wall in a haunted house representing the world of idiosyncratic RPGs is Costume Quest 2, a buoyant sequel and an irreverent Double Fine-branded romp through the wide-eyed fantastical landscape of a child’s mind; one that’s half lovingly and half contemptuously firing spitballs at the RPG tropes that make up the game’s mechanics. This is as much a satire of the established mechanical template of the genre as it is a game in its own right.
Beginning where the first game left off, the kids return home through a portal, dumping them into a familiar but slightly altered future. Here, with little time set aside for respite, protagonist siblings Wren and Reynold are quickly redrafted into another time defying, accepted physics-lampooning adventure with the goal of protecting the very existence of candy and Halloween for sweet-toothed nippers the world over.
The game’s initial movements are framed within the context of the first, and so the content will feel far from coherent to players new to the series. All exposition, and this sadly carries right through the title, is given through a slew of text bubbles, the reading of which takes no pause in becoming a ponderous task. So soporific were the effects of this manner of narrative delivery that my eyelids grew heavy within minutes of first booting Costume Quest 2.
As if a wilful counterpoint to the dull text-based dialogue, the game’s visual aesthetic drips in chromatic bombast; a feast for the eyes that one would imagine might taste like the entire contents of a sweet shop if emptied out on one’s tongue. The simplicity of the graphical style, however, does belie some quality rendering, a mixture of smooth environmental elements, delectable water effects and cel-shaded character models all making themselves count.
Halloween tops the agenda, with the titular costumes pervading seemingly every corner of the game world. Interchangeable costumes constitute what comes closest to being Costume Quest 2’s strategic element, each different costume lending different stats and special moves that become available in-battle. Constantly tongue in cheek; the costumes on offer make a tour of the staple Halloween favourites, with the predictable dinosaurs, superheroes and clowns making an appearance, joined by a host of increasingly outlandish outfits.
There’s insight into our villain, the tyrannical, totalitarian, sucrose-hating Dr Orel White, whose draconian revulsion for candy and Halloween is revealed to have developed as a direct result of overbearing parental guidance. The loose and cartoonish plot, careering and freewheeling, is merely a vehicle to carry the player from one childish pastiche to another, and that’s all it needs to be, permitting its creators the space necessary to explore each nook and cranny of the joyful madness of youth.
Disappointingly, the battle system, although given a glaze of strategy by the player’s costume selection, remains positively mind numbing. An incredibly simplistic approach shows its desperation to retain your attention by offering improved damage and blocking with well-timed button presses. This is a backfire in design terms, however, because where zoning out might’ve made the unrelentingly banal cycle that each battle becomes a little more tolerable, having to time button presses forces payment of a sliver of attention; enough to remain aware of the dull ache pervading your being as your brain cells slowly die, one by one.
The inclusion of Creepy Treat Cards as single-use buffs adds a little further depth to the battle equation, but rarely proves vital. The lack of necessity renders them somewhat impotent, with only minor motivation to exploit their benefits arising on the rare occasions the Costume Questers are forced into a troubling corner. Considering this, it’s perhaps the game’s simplicity that is at once its most enchanting quality and its crippling flaw.
If the battles could be swept under the carpet, the proposition would be a goer. Charming, whimsical and innocent in the extreme, Costume Quest 2 strips away the self-consciousness and the complexity, serving up a bare-bones RPG mechanic, robed in the sugar-rushing dreams of a think tank formed of hyperactive seven year olds.
There’s wonderful creativity on display in the story and there’s no doubt that kids were involved in its creation, be they trapped in adult bodies or otherwise. A refreshing whimsy and lack of restraint characterise the unfolding narrative as it whizzes from level to level like a pinball, stopping only to pause and ensure the player is nursing a warm sense of giddiness, before proceeding with the madness.
The issue remains, however, that despite its endearing features, the lacklustre battles make up too substantial a part of the game to ignore, persistently returning the player to abject drudgery no matter how many wondrous, magical absurdities they come across. They give Costume Quest 2 somewhat of an unfortunate dichotomy, constantly offering candy by the fistful, but then retracting its brimming fist, demanding the player eats their greens first. For all its charms, the brisk six-hour playthrough still seems to drag.