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Costume Quest is an immediately accessible take on the role-play genre. Stripped of technical complexity, multiple stats and complicated battles I found a game whose simple charms and infectious humour stayed with me until the very end.
The main story is an interesting peek into the American culture of Halloween. It's not something we really celebrate in the same way here in the UK. The additional download content, Grubbins on Ice, abstracts the holiday celebration in a more cross-cultural way: Representing a world in which the appearance of a Yeti among snow-clad is the beacon of hope for government-oppressed monsters.
I fondly remember the Peanuts comic strip and I felt immediately at home in Tim Schafer's childlike cartoon fantasy. The broadly grinning characters and innocent power struggles reminded me greatly of Linus and Lucy's fraternal squabbles.
There's a really bombastic sense of surrealism in the game as well. The children's crudely constructed costumes, such as a couple of boxes painted with wings, are transformed into towering heroes of manga proportions, such as a giant robot or a flaming jack-o-lantern.
The role-play game elements are very basic compared to other role-playing games. However, I felt that the relationship between the party and the quests available was far more consistent and involving than the fetch quests of deeper RPGs. In spite of the game's simple mechanics it is also a finely tuned experience. Unlike random dungeon crawlers there is a finite number of battles in the game and the experience and level progression fairly are consistent.
The broadly grinning characters and innocent power struggles reminded me greatly of Linus and Lucy's fraternal squabbles.
There were only a few frustrations. One of these has actually been addressed by the latest update - optional save points. When I started playing the only way to save progress was to fully complete a sub-quest which was a little frustrating. I heartily recommend the patch to anyone starting out.
I also felt like the game could have used a zoom-out function at times. The kids' neighbourhood, in particular, was a tricky beast to navigate when looking for remaining houses to Trick-or-treat. The DLC provides a costume which gives the ability to zoom out a little. Sadly this effect is limited to extending the view to help specific puzzles and does not provide a level overview. Additionally some of the pieces for this costume are tricky to find without the ability itself and I had mostly completely the map without having it.
The battle scenes could also benefit from some more careful use of the camera, in my opinion. Many battle actions ended up occurring off-screen and it became difficult to know if certain actions had had the required effect. It made me realise how well the Final Fantasy series manages its battle sections.
The quirky Americana, fast and addictive game-play and hilarious writing left me anxiously wanting to play more.
I can't decide if the game feels a little short for the GBP8.99 price tag. It's barely a weekend's entertainment and it lacks additional incentives to re-play, other than the core fun it provides, which needless to say is tremendous.
The DLC, Grubbins on Ice is GBP 3.19 (ed: prices correct on 22/12/10) is also about three hours entertainment. I personally think it's worth it, if only for the great humour and accessible gameplay - but many who want a game to keep them busy for a while will find the experience over too soon.
Many of the puzzles in each world also retread ground covered in previous levels. While this gave me a good feeling of understanding and familiarity, it also contributed to the feeling that it was a little short on content.
The card and stamp collecting sub-game is also a good idea, but there is no control given to the player over how to go about this. Essentially I realised I would complete the collections simply by beating all the battles and finishing the quest items.
Is it too much to hope for some DLC-based compulsive candy-collecting at Easter time?
Having said that the role-play elements are simple, there is a surprising amount of strategy that can be brought to the battles, by cleverly combining characters and battle stamps (which boost abilities or provide extra battle commands). Also, there is still richness to the battles, despite the game having only a tiny proportion of the menus and statistics common to this genre.
I loved Costume Quest and would highly recommend it. Its world really stayed with me even when not playing. The quirky Americana, fast and addictive gameplay and hilarious writing left me anxiously wanting to play more. Is it too much to hope for some DLC-based compulsive candy-collecting at Easter time?
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his Costume Quest fiction.]
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