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Costume Quest XBLA Review

02/02/2011 Thinking Scared Gamer Review
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Costume Quest XBLA

Costume Quest




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Costume Quest brings Double Fine's unmistakable charm to XBLA and PSN. Capturing a childish spirit and wrapping it in a Halloween role-play, the downloadable title will appeal to the young at heart everywhere.

It's almost embarrassing to admit, but to this day I find it hard to play games or watch action movies without thinking that I could do what I have just experienced. I think, or at least hope, most people do. Take Assassin's Creed, after an hour of play I become convinced I can scale any wall. Every building I look at sees me working out the best route to the roof or how to reach my destination without being seen.

As an adult I know that can achieve no such feat, that any attempt to navigate the rooftops would end in disaster, but when I was young I thought it was possible - my imagination would run wild. I could be any of my heroes. I would play for hours with friends, all of us fighting imaginary villains in our alternate guises and it is this fantasy that Costume Quest so beautifully encapsulates.

From the beginning Costume Quest perfectly exhibits a whimsical grasp of reality. Instantly faced with two twins their eager anticipation of Halloween all too clear. Their love of the event is familiar to me, I remembered the same excitement in the eyes of the children I taught, maybe that's even how I used to look to my parents.

Costumes Quest's children are entranced by the holiday, their fervour to live their imagination is enough to drive them from their home despite being strangers in a new neighbourhood. It's an amusing start to a delightful game, with a story and moral that ring surprisingly true.

As the two twins depart the house you choose to control one of them, I chose (the sister). She is proud of her costume and dismayed at her sibling's store bought candy corn outfit. Soon she is hiding at the end of a prospective trick or treat victim's drive, too ashamed to be seen with her bother, only to watch him be abducted by stealing candy goblins (ed: just your everyday Halloween then). And so her quest to find her bother and restore the bond of family begins.

It's an amusing start to a delightful game, with a story and moral that ring surprisingly true.

A wonderful comic style frames the classic role-play exploration. Sitting centrepiece are the Halloween costumes. Discovering these outfits provide the driving force for the game's side missions as well as proving solutions to any obstacles the world throws at the intrepid troop of friends.

Gathering blueprints for new costumes and the parts necessary to make them is strangely satisfying, but it is when the new costumes are fully formed, and their abilities revealed, that the appreciation really sets in. Be it the roller-skating robot that can jump ramps or the ninja who can turn invisible to pass enemies undetected, powers follow an internal logic that functions on the level of a child at play rather than any natural laws. And it works perfectly. Once the mind set was obtained I instantly knew how each suit would function, and I felt myself regress to my childhood.

Enemies can be encountered either while exploring the world or randomly behind doors as the kids trick or treat. Knocking on a door in Costume Quest's world I was greeted by either a friendly neighbour (who impart delicious candy, the games currency) or by an attacker. It was here that the real power of the costumes was revealed.

Once combat began the action cuts to a classic Japanese style role-play game, complete with menu based combat. With just two real options fights are a simple matter of attacking until the special move is charged. The main tactical decision is which opponent to target. But the beauty of the combat was not the mechanic; it was the wonderful representation of the children's imaginations. Each character was transformed as the fought in to towering representations of their costumed persona, the art style managing to blend disparate incarnations together while remaining cohesive.

The beauty of the combat was the wonderful representation of the children's imaginations.

I couldn't bring myself to stop using the huge winged robot. Looking like a mix of Starscream, Shockwave and Voltron the huge machine managed to create something unique while retaining marks of its inspirations. Unlike good design, much of the robot served no purpose, only present because it was something a child had clearly liked about their favourite toys. It reminded me of my own drawings as a child Of course it has wings because it can fly! Fly like a plane? No stupid, like a helicopter. It made no sense, but to my mind then it was obvious.

It is hard to gauge exactly whom Costume Quest is for. The game's ease (with only a few fights proving any challenge) and art style give the impression that it may be intended for children. However the turn based combat and reams of dialogue that need to be read may put off a younger audience.

I suspect though that the simple answer is that it is for people like me, adults who are young at heart, who still walk out of cinemas wondering what it would be like if we really could run up walls in slow motion. Or turn in to a robot.

Written by Alex Beech

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Alex Beech writes the Scared Gamer column.

"Games connect us to exhilaration in various ways. I love mine to scare me. Although the shock, horror and gore are all pretty unnerving, nothing comes close to the sweaty palms of playing games that take you to ridiculously high places - InFamous, Mirror's Edge and Uncharted to name a few."

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