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Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice XBLA revisits the trick-or-treaters in winter, expanding the story out of season and away from this world as they visit the monster kingdom of Repugia for a short, fun adventure.
It's winter, and Costume Quest's suburban neighborhood is frozen over. Science nerd Lucy is on the search for proof of the Grubbins' existence, but gets more evidence than she wanted when a portal whisks her to Repugia, the Grubbins homeworld.
Everett, Wren and Reynold don their costumes and follow Lucy to ice-locked Repugia to not only liberate their friend, but the entire of Repugia from the tyrannical Araxia...
... which they do by knocking on doors to collect candy. Yes, the seasons may have moved on a notch, but Costume Quest can't quite escape its Halloween roots. The trick-or-treating may be winkingly disguised as an exercise in drumming up support for a Repugian revolution, the apple-bobbing may have changed to eyeball-bobbing, and the autumnal suburbs have been replaced by a frozen fantasy land, but Costume Quest is still very much rooted in Halloween ritual.
This isn't a bad thing, as there was a lot to love in Costume Quest's combination of exploration and turn-based battling, and stripping out the candy-collecting would leave a big hole in the game's formula. While the reskinning of the core conceit is pretty brazen, it's made forgivable by the extent to which the game humorously acknowledges the contrivance of it all.
(There's also a twisted, self-fulfilling logic to the Grubbins having a society that is loaded with Halloween rituals, as they're monsters who come to our world on Halloween to steal candy. It's contrived, but consistently contrived.)
The underground tunnels have bloomed into larger, Zelda-style dungeons.
Grubbins on Ice is not without subtle tweaks to the pattern set by the main game. While the underground tunnels were previously short diversions from the overground sections, in Repugia they've bloomed into larger, Zelda-style dungeons, complete with enemies and puzzles. As with all the RPG staples in Costume Quest, the dungeons are sparingly used so as not to become too tedious or repetitive.
Otherwise the emphasis is on More rather than Different: more costumes, more battle stamps (essentially combat perks and buffs), more side quests to complete. It's a gentle expansion, nothing radical, but enough change to keep things interesting.
There's also a shift in character focus: siblings Wren and Reynold are the playable characters, but the story is mainly driven by Everett's stumbling affection for Lucy. Characterisation remains a strong point, with even the background Grubbins having quirky and witty lines of dialogue.
Grubbins on Ice is sharply scripted and funny throughout
Grubbins on Ice is sharply scripted and funny throughout, in fact. One Grubbin claims that part of Repugia is a 'UNESCO world heritage site', even though it's not part of the world, while Araxia is a petulantly amusing baddy.
There's plenty to keep Costume Quest fans entertained in the few hours they'll spend with Grubbins on Ice, and it's a pleasure to spend time with these characters again, knocking on doors and fighting monsters.
Although there hasn't been any announcement of a sequel or further DLC, Grubbins on Ice ends on a very open note, leaving plenty of potential to expand the series further. Whether this means tying into another holiday or season, or expanding further into a general fantasy RPG, is in the lap of Double Fine's talented developers. Providing the series maintains its warmth, good humour and accessible RPG storytelling, I'll be happy to keep playing along.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: