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Costume Quest is a role playing game available to download on Xbox Live Arcade, The Playstation Network and most recently for the PC via Valve's Steam service. Final Fantasy meets Halloween would be the best way of describing the title which has the player trick or treating for sweets along with turn based combat against monsters. An intriguing combo jam packed with humour which shouldn't come as a big surprise given that it was made by Double Fine Productions (the studio founded by Tim Schaffer who played a big part in creating a number of the hilarious old school Lucasarts adventures.) How does it play though? Using Lucasarts as inspiration, you may be asking is it fun like the original Star Wars or will it have players screaming "nooooooooo" in frustration? Read on to find out.
The game stars the twins Reynold and Wren who are hoping to score a big candy haul on the night of October 31st. The player picks which of the siblings they wish to play as (basically you choose if you want to be a boy or girl) and set off down the street for a door knocking evening of sweet begging. The player's character dons a pimp robot outfit whilst the other sibling is forced to wear a lame candy costume. However unimpressive the candy disguise is, it proves effective enough to fool a group of real monsters who are going around the neighbourhood stealing sweeties (they better leave my stock pile of jelly babies alone or else.) The creatures mistake the twin for a real sugary snack and kidnap him/her. It's now up to the player to uncover why monsters are pilfering large amounts of treats and rescue their relative.
When the game begins you only control one of the twins which made the battles against the monsters mildly challenging. As you progress through the adventure things do however get easier as you enlist the help of two companions in the form of a DnD nutcase and science loving nerd. Children taking on monsters may not sound like a fair fight, but thanks to some video game logic the minors can hold their own as they morph into Godzilla sized versions of their costumes whenever a fight breaks out. Each costume has a special ability that can be used in combat (the robot hits all enemies with a rocket punch, the knight uses his shield to block damage, the statue of liberty's patriotic yell heals all the party members and so on.) Some of the costumes also have moves that can be used out of combat to get past obstacles (for example the space suit has a glowing rod that lights up dark areas.) You acquire different costumes throughout the story and can earn optional ones for your spooky wardrobe providing that you can track down the necessary materials to make them.
As far as RPGs go the combat isn't all that deep, but is kept interesting via the use of quick time events. By pressing a random button at the right time your characters inflict critical hits to score some extra damage or block attacks to negate some of the harm caused by the monsters you are facing. In a typical battle your party attacks first, then it's the monsters turn with the cycle repeating until one side is all out of health. Your characters can dish out a regular attack, special move (providing it has charged up) or unleash a tertiary ability granted by the battle stickers you can equip on each character (they give your team passive bonuses like health regeneration or powers you can activate such as poisons and stuns.) Taking on the regular monsters isn't all that taxing, but the boss encounters will require some strategy to get past. Picking the right combination of costumes and knowing when to use your special moves will ultimately determine if you get a game over screen or emerge triumphant.
TRICK OR TREAT?
Over the course of the game you get to explore the neighbourhood where the twins live, the local mall and finish off out in the country which hosts a fairground and hedge maze. To progress you'll be expected to solve some simple adventure game style puzzles and clear the zone of candy by trick or treating. When you knock on a door there's the chance that some kind soul will award you a handful of sweets (which act as the game's currency used for buying battle stickers from vendors) or entering a random battle against a monster. As in most RPGs winning battles earns you experience points. When you accumulate enough experience your character's level up making them stronger.
The cycle of basic combat and trick or treating does threaten to get repetitive, but as the game only lasts for around five hours it thankfully doesn't drag. The humour helps keep your interest in proceedings as do side quests. The optional missions include hide and seek games were you have to find a number of children who are concealed behind scenery. There's also a bobbing for apples mini-game were you have to scoop up apples with your teeth within a time limit (watch out for the maggot infested fruit though because spitting them out costs you a few valuable seconds.) For those of you who like collectibles there are also trading cards to find, some of which can be given to non-player characters for prizes.
Costume Quest does just about enough to earn four stars thanks to the witty dialogue and charming visuals. I really liked the cutesy art style which reminds me a little of the Gamecube's Windwaker (as the characters are drawn with oval shaped heads and expressive big eyes.) I think the experience would have been enhanced by voice acting, but as a downloadable game I can forgive the omission of speech given that the creators have to cut some things out to keep the file size down. If you are looking for a Skyrim like epic you should look elsewhere though as this is a light hearted romp that will keep the average gamer occupied for a couple of days at most. The combat is so simplistic that at times the whole thing feels like an adventure game masquerading as an RPG.
As a pure role playing game I would have to dock it points for its limited character customisation (the only real control you have in that regard is picking what costume and stickers to use.) Five hours of game time is also disappointing because although it wraps things up before it gets boring you end up wanting more. Thankfully you can download an expansion for the consoles (which comes free with the PC version to compensate computer users for having to wait a year for their port.) Those quibbles don't however ruin a quirky game that proves to be greater than the sum of its parts. When the ending credits rolled and I reflected on the fun I had I can certainly say that Costume Quest wasn't a trick, but rather a savoury treat.