I have to admit, when I saw Costume Quest show up in the list of new releases for Xbox Live Arcade last week, I rolled my eyes. Then I came to work, and one of my friends was raving about the game, telling me how it was so funny and awesome and oh my God you have to try it just go home now and do it. So, later that evening, I downloaded the demo. I was surprised to see the logo for Double Fine Productions appear. It wasn’t so long ago that I channeled the awesome power of rock with their last title, Brütal Legend, and I had to take a moment to run a few tests to make sure this was real and not in a dream within a dream within someone’s else’s dream inside a llama’s dream inside of a dream. I’m still not sure in my life what, if anything, is real. What I am sure of is that if Costume Quest is part of a dream, I don’t want to wake up.
Costume Quest is based on a simple premise. You’re a kid who loves Halloween more than anything else, and you go trick or treating with your sister (or brother, if you play the girl). You’re wearing a cool robot costume, and they are dressed like a big piece of candy corn — a fact that would not normally matter except it becomes clear early in the game that the town has been overrun with candy-stealing monsters, and they think your sibling is a huge piece of candy fit for grand theft and proceed to kidnap them. Using the power of your imagination, you become a mighty warrior based on whatever halloween costume you are wearing, and you then proceed to stomp monster ass in the hopes of getting them back. You eventually wind up getting more costumes with different powers. There is an achievement for watching every single costume’s special power, and it is worth it to do this even if you don’t want the achievement because they are all awesome and special in their own way. Just like a snowflake!
There are some very improbable parts of the story, but the game deftly explains away with tongue firmly in cheek, and it’s made fun instead of annoying. For instance, you can’t go to the next level until you’ve trick or treated every house, because the monsters can’t leave either if there’a any candy left in the neighborhood. And, by the way, trick or treating is fraught with peril. Knock on a door, tense, scary music plays….. and an adult gives you a bunch of candy. Oh yeah, or a monster opens the door instead and attacks. I found myself shivering with anticipation every time I would knock on a door, just enough tension to keep it exciting. I was pretty amazed, because the monsters aren’t scary at all. They are, like everything else in the game, big and cartoony.
This game could have been terrible. For starters, it looks at first blush to be a kids’ game, which automatically gives it a +10 bonus to being terrible. You run around in costumes and fight candy-stealing monsters. You collect things. It has a simplified Final Fantasy-style menu driven combat interface, and the combat is (in most cases) very easy. Yet, somehow, Double Fine has managed to take these things and make their simplicity work for the game instead of against it. They don’t get in the way. Even though you can get “battle stamps” for your costume that change your character’s combat attributes, you tend not to min-max because you’re too busy having fun instead. Though the art and setting are all geared toward what appears to be a young audience, there are enough jokes in the game that adults will laugh too. And, to be honest, the whole concept of pretending your Halloween costume into reality is enough to turn me into a giddy 8 year old.
My only real complaint with Costume Quest is that it is too short. And by that, I don’t mean that I don’t feel I got enough value out of my $10. I just wanted to play it more once I’d finished the game. If you are looking for something fun to do instead of having the crap scared out of you this Halloween, I change into a giant, awesome robot and ROBOSUGGEST that you give Costume Quest a try.