07: Costume Quest

Costume Quest is what Doublefine, the makers of incredibly good game Psychonauts, did next. It is, essentially, a Kid’s RPG. I mean this in two senses: Firstly, it is a game about kids. You play one of a pair of bickering siblings, your party is formed from a couple of friends you make along the way, most of the citizens of the world you explore are children. There are adults around where the game accepts this would need to be an area of responsibility, but they are typically just called “grownup”, which I liked. The plot is a child analogue of your standard RPG epic: a great evil is trying to take over the world’s supply of candy, and you must quest, defeat her minions, and save your brother.

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But secondly, I mean it’s simplified as well. Everything is laid out for you in a neat little line, the quests are simple and signposted. It’s nice to play it having experienced most of Bioware’s oeuvre, as you can make the connections between types of missions, between the plot and the characters, but I think that coming into this cold, as it were, would be much more rewarding. It’s also repetitive as hell, there are four distinct areas and in each area, you do the same thing, trick-or-treat a bunch of houses, swap a candy trading card for a rare one, bob for apples, look for costumes. These are dressed up in different skins but they are, for all intents and purposes, identical. It’s a nice formula, it’s reasonably addictive, but it isn’t in any way imaginative. Were that it, I’d be giving the game a low mark and muttering about it wasting my time, but this is by Doublefine and you can see their influence, shrouded though it be.

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The dialogue is pretty sharp and never falls into the gaming pits of cliché. They poke fun at their own story, knock awkwardly on the fourth wall and occasionally come up with some pretty clever solutions. At one point the questing kids were stuck on top of a Ferris Wheel. “How are we going to get down”, your character wonders, “Hang on, I’ve got it!”. The screen fades to black, fades back in and you’re at the bottom. “Wow!”, she says, “I can’t believe we thought of such a practical and plausible way to get to the bottom!” and you can’t help but smile at the lampshade hanging. However, the lack of scope does hurt the game. Nobody is voiced and the characters all pretty much say the same things in the same way, so it’s fun to read but there isn’t really much characterisation. I’ve been replaying Psychonauts recently and it just has that much more effort and innovation. It’s very sad to see this fall in aspiration.

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While half the time you are trekking through the world, picking up candy, the other half is spent in battle mode. You see, you are trick or treating and so you have costumes. When fighting the monsters that are trying to steal candy, you and your costumes transform into mighty BATTLE CLOTHING. Battles are entirely quicktime affairs, press a button to attack then press another button to land it critically. Every three turns a special attack opens up and you do that, so there’s not really any choice over which attack to use. The costumes are lovingly animated, the attacks are reasonably watchable and some of the boss fights can be tough, but as it’s a kids’ game, if you lose then you can just do the fight again without a penalty.

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I do love some of the special attacks, the eyeball costume has an onion dramatically sliced in front of it before unleashing a torrent of tears, and the one above is the most patriotic three seconds of all time. Overall, though, it’s a game that is just a succession of nice touches. Good one-liners, entertaining animations, easygoing feel, pleasant gradient of progress but a good game? Mmmmmno. Just average. And that’s a shame.

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3 stars, 8 hours played (even did the DLC god help me)

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