spindizzy: (Backwards and in heels)
[personal profile] spindizzy posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Cover of Costume Quest.

I found Costume Quest via a circuitous route: a tabletop RPG that I love, Costume Fairy Adventures cited it as an influence, and while I do not understand Halloween at all (it was Not A Thing at round my way when I was a kid, but I'm enjoying watching the American part of twitter turn into pumpkins), the combo of "Dressing up gives you superpowers!" and "Made by Double Fine, who brought you Psychonauts!" got me where I live so I had to check it out.

Costume Quest is fairly straightforward in terms of plot: you and your twin head off trick or treating in a new town, with instructions from your parents to make new friends... And then your twin gets kidnapped by monsters! It's a good thing that trick-or-treating where you're from apparently involves your costumes letting you transform into a giant monster version of that costume to help you fight monsters and rescue your sibling!

No really.

It felt like Costume Quest had a lot of fun with itself. It's one of those games where adults are either oblivious or useless, including but not limited to:
  • A man who encourages kids to go apple-bobbing as a protest against the amount of sugar they're going to be eating on Halloween... Who gives kids candy as prizes,

  • A man whose problems are totally too scary for him to deal with... But you kids can handle it fine, right?

  • Monsters who can't tell the difference between sweets and children

  • Police officers who are entirely done with Halloween and totally believe that your sibling has been kidnapped by monsters, we'll get right on looking into that.

And it is self-aware enough to make jokes about itself ("It's a good thing we came up with a clever solution to [that problem!"]), and I enjoyed the ways that the sibling relationships are of the "I don't always like them, but they're still important to me!" vein, but I have to say that a lot of it is quite forgettable? I finished it last week, the week before? And a lot of it has blended into a haze of knocking on doors and yelling at people for trying to ruin Halloween.

The premise is pretty solid though. You play one of a set of twins, choosing between Reynold (the boy) or Wren (the girl), and as far as I can tell the game is exactly the same whichever one you use. (I played Wren, because of course I did.) This is kinda great? Everything -- from the plot to the dialogue to people's reactions to you -- is the same regardless of which twin you play! On the one hand, it means that the twins don't really have much of a personality of their own, because they're interchangeable apart from appearance? But on the other hand, it means that no one reacts differently to the female character and that is fine. Even my precious Mass Effect never managed that!

The matter of fact attitude to things extends to other aspects of the writing too! I like how blasé Costume Quest is about the monsters and costumes, like of course there are monsters, it's halloween! And of course your costume allows you to transform into a version of yourself that's bigger than a building so that you can punch them in the face, why wouldn't it do that? I think that the difference in the way the costumes look when you're roaming around (very obviously handmade out of boxes and things) and the way they look when you're fighting (a hundred feet tall and more realistic) is really cool, and it's a neat visual representation of how I remember dressing up feeling as a kid. As a bonus, all of the costumes are gender-neutral with no changes in how they or the giant mode look, which is great.

The way the costumes are used is really inventive as well! Most of them give you the ability to transform to fight monsters, but a lot of them also have an out-of-battle ability that helps you get around the map, whether it's rollerskates to get you around faster or a totally-not-a-lightsaber to light up dark areas. That seemed pretty clever and flavourful to me!

... Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps part of the fondness I have for the costumes is because it reminds me of the Final Fantasy games that have job systems (X-2 and Tactics, mainly). Everything is explained.

(The selection of costumes has some gems. At one point I did squeal "I AM A BEAUTIFUL RAINBOW UNICORN!" and my spousal unit didn't even look at what I was doing before saying "Yes, yes you are."1 ... I have to ask though: what on earth is candy corn?)

As for the rest of the game... I found the gameplay itself to be repetitive as hell. Every area that you go to, you have to trick-or-treat a certain amount of buildings to unlock the next area, and trick-or-treating has a fifty-fifty chance of you getting candy (which you can trade in for stuff), or getting jumped by a monster. It is the weirdest sensation to be bored and tense for a jump scare, I can tell you that. The combat system doesn't help either; it's turn-based, which is fine, I grew up on Pokémon and Final Fantasy bring me your turn based combat systems. But to keep you on your toes during each turn, they added a Quick-Time Event system! It powers up your attacks and helps you to block or dodge enemies, but ugh. I found really difficult when trying to play with my keyboard because there didn't seem to be any logic or clustering to the buttons they chose, which made it nearly impossible for me to manage. Did I bust out an actual game controller to make this easier? You bet I did.

The rest of the gameplay is fine? Each of the three maps has a couple of similar missions (hide-and-seek, apple-bobbing, finding cards for kids who apparently don't have to punch monsters to get them), but there's enough variety in the individual missions for an area that I didn't mind. It was just that after a certain point I did have to get back to knocking on doors again. Ugh.

It makes up for a lot of it by having a kinda cute art style and aesthetic? I'm still kinda impressed that every Double Fine game I've played has managed to have a completely different aesthetic to the last one.

In conclusion: I cannot get over how repetitive parts of Costume Quest are, and wasn't blown away by the story, but I think I enjoyed the puzzles and the costumes enough that it cancelled out. So, you're probably going to see me here again next year with a review of the sequel and continued bafflement at the sheer amount of pumpkins Halloween apparently entails!

Costume Quest is available on Steam, PS3, and Xbox 360; this review is based on the Steam version.

1: PROTIP: if you're using Stamps to give your characters abilities, putting the Headless Banshee stamp on someone in a unicorn costume means that if they get knocked out, they will be back up again in one turn and ready to revive the rest of the party. *thumbs up*
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