Costume Quest: Halloween without the horror

By Spencer Furniss

It has been a hell of a year. Between stay-at-home orders, the political climate, and the struggles of working during a pandemic, it has been a struggle to find things to enjoy. Luckily for me, it’s my favorite time of year and being trapped inside won’t ruin them one bit!

Halloween is one of the few holidays that truly has something for everyone. You can cook, decorate, dress up, go to haunted houses, watch horror movies, and (usually) meet up with to mess around. From gorey to gaudy, Halloween allows for kids to act out their fantasies and for adults to act like kids again.

Since it was released in 2010, I’ve replayed Costume Quest every October to release the Halloween loving child within me. I have always been a sucker for cutesie, super-stylized Halloween characters, and having a game that perfectly personifies how I view the holiday has been magical. 

The unique charm to this game might seem familiar, and that’s because it was made by Double Fine Productions, known for Psychonauts and Brutal Legend. They decided to dip their toes into something more family friendly while still giving us their signature worldbuilding and art style.

As I review Costume Quest and its sequel, I hope it will bring you some Halloween cheer in a time where there is little to find. Maybe it will even convince you to check it out for yourself. The game is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. 

So grab your candy bags, your Halloween costume made out of cardboard and duct tape, and let’s go trick-or-treating.

A Halloween town, if you will

Costume Quest starts you off in a beautifully decorated suburban town on Halloween night. From the gate, you’re introduced to your playable character options – siblings Wren and Reynold. Whomever you choose will be given a robot costume while your sibling will be given a candy corn costume.

With your parents’ blessing, the two of you set out for a long night of trick or treating. That was the plan until you get wrapped up in a strange plot between goblins and a witch who scoop up every piece of candy that they can get their hands on.

Your sibling, with their unfortunate costume choice, gets kidnapped (where’s the adult supervision?!) and you must rescue them.

In your introduction to combat with the Grubbins, you are thrown into a larger than life battle sequence. The costumes you collect over the course of the game will morph into Megazord size to fight enemies. You’ll be blasting them away with your giant robot arms or throwing hot oil and salt on them with your French Fry costume.

With a snappy introduction, you are quickly thrown into Costume Quest’s gameplay loop – knock on doors, collect candy, make friends, kill grubbins, and profit. Most of everything you do in the game is devoted to collecting candy, whether your beating baddies or exploring the lovingly crafted world.

The Treats

Somewhere between A Nightmare Before Christmas and Hocus Pocus, Costume Quest will have you smiling from start to finish.

While trekking around the game world, whether you’re in a town or the local mall, you might get lost. But thanks to Halloween tradition your destinations are usually marked by whatever location has its lights on. 

The main objective and gameplay loop in each location is to usually knock on doors. Any house with its lights on will have either an adult waiting to give you candy, or an enemy you can beat like a pinata until they give you the candy they’ve stolen. It eventually felt like a side section of the game to me since I spent most of my time exploring and talking to every NPC I could find.

Within each section of the game, you’ll have plenty of people to interact with. Some will sell you little collectables or Battle Stamps (the only real modifier to combat), but most of them just have something silly to say. For the first time since I can remember, I actually cared to go up to everyone that I saw to interact with them, just to hear a little quip about their costume or which one of their friends smelled.

Just like with most Double Fine games, the atmosphere and style of the game shine through more than anything else. For me, this is where the magic of Costume Quest resides and why I really struggle to be critical with this game.

Throughout your time playing the game, you’ll need to assemble an ensemble of costumes. These are used to traverse different types of terrain or sneak past enemies in certain segments. All of the costumes are very reminiscent of something you might have seen or worn growing up. 

Finding one piece would automatically make me feel compelled to find the rest before moving on with the main quest, which was surprising for me as I’m usually not a completionist. Beyond just looking adorable in the main game world, seeing costumes like the French Fry costume turn into a tank with crab-like legs made of fries or the Jack-O-Lantern turn into something similar to Jack Skellington in battle is always a treat. Seeing how all of the costumes interact with combat and the game world is something that will remind you of how far your imagination used to (and in my case, still does) go.

While I’m using pictures exclusively from the first section of the game, you’ll be able to see graveyards, the mall, and other neighborhoods and locations through a spooky-but-not-scary lense. Maybe it’s just me, but the best part of Halloween is seeing all of the fall colors mixed with the stereotypical monsters and characters. 

Through the six-hour playtime of the game, that is all you will be treated to: a marathon of Halloween being pumped in like a hypodermic needle filled with Pixie Sticks. If I were to have used pictures from the entire game, there wouldn’t be a review at all. I simply would have just taken a thousand screenshots and convinced you that this is the perfect game for the season.

The Tricks!

Unfortunately, there is some bitter behind all the sweet.

One of the most basic and important things to include in a game like this is a map. You’ll want one whenever you’ve gone too far off track to find a costume piece or gone on some other side journey so that you can figure out what you have left to do in the area.

But there is no map. While levels aren’t necessarily confusing or mazelike, they are expansive and filled with things you need to keep tabs on. You have to knock on twenty houses in an area, and while the houses you visit are tracked in the log, you have no idea which houses are left. This makes it a chore going back and forth to figure out which are left.

In addition to that, quests in general will have you exploring every corner of the map using unique costumes to solve puzzles. Without a map, you’ll find yourself covering the same ground over and over just to figure out where to do your next quest.

As far as these puzzles and the side quests go, you’ll often find yourself needing a specific costume to finish them. But after you’ve completed a section dedicated to a specific costume, chances are you’ll never need to use that ability again. It begins to feel like you’re being told “Look at this! Isn’t this cool?! Too bad you’ll never need to do it again!” Things like this can really take away from the player’s sense of accomplishment in taking the extra time to complete things. 

The last “trick” of the game lies in its combat. Costume Quest’s combat plays a lot like a standard turn-based JRPG. Think of Pokemon, where you plan out your turns based on type, speed, and defensive stats of the Pokemon fighting. 

Now, take out every stat, weakness, and change the turn order so that you’ll always be first in the turn. THEN, repeat it about a hundred times over five hours and you have the combat of Costume Quest perfectly imagined. They say that variety is the spice of life, but this combat is like opening your Trick or Treat bag to find it’s all just Skittles – tasty for the first few bags, but by the time you’re done you wish you had something a little different.

At the end of the day, the negatives to this game can be treated like a pet or child who does something wrong. You WANT to be annoyed or aggravated, but looking at them, they are way too cute to actually be upset with.

We all just need a break, man

I know that this game isn’t new, and I know that simple games like this aren’t for everybody. But right now, doesn’t everyone need to find something to sit back and forget about the world for a few hours with?

Costume Quest is incredibly simple. Every side quest takes just a few minutes to complete and are often done while doing the main quests. The characters in the world have a ton of personality, whether they’re talking about trading candy or why they’re wearing an Abraham Lincoln costume. Enemies are styled uniquely in world and in combat, and battles are quick enough that the simple battle system never really feels taxing. 

In the time I spent replaying this game, I turned on my favorite Halloween movies and reminisced. I remembered all of the costumes my mom made me as a kid and how much fun I had when I was finally old enough to go around with just the kids on my block. It reminded me of how exciting it was to see all of the other kids in town and for one night, we all had the same goal; get as much candy as possible and then stay up all night playing video games or watching movies on Nickelodeon. By the time I was done, I had candy wrappers on my computer desk and a smile on my face. 

For the first time this year, I’m finally excited for something. Halloween is the perfect holiday to celebrate inside, and this game is the perfect way to bring it in. If you’re feeling down or looking for something to play, pick up Costume Quest this year. It’s more than worth its low cost, and you’ll probably end up smiling from start to finish like I did.

Just stock up on some candy first!

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