As the developer behind unique titles like Psychonauts and Brütal Legend, Double Fine has earned the respect of gamers with clever writing and likable characters. When it comes to making games that are also fun to play, that good will only goes so far. Costume Quest would have made a fantastic cartoon; I enjoyed the cute dialogue, charming art style, and quirky cast in the Halloween-themed adventure. Unfortunately, everything in the package that qualifies Costume Quest as a game falls short.
With the trick-or-treat theme, kids-save-the-day plot, and abundant candy worship, I assumed that this downloadable game was aimed at attracting a young crowd. Once I got a taste of the tedious combat, I had to question that assumption. The turn-based battles are far too simple for their own good; you just hit attack, and then follow a brief button prompt to maximize damage (or wait to defend). You won’t find any magic, healing items, or anything else that could add entertainment. The animations for the attacks can be funny at first, but you’ll get sick of them in no time.
You’d think the simplicity would make combat more accessible, but instead it becomes more difficult. All strategy and variety are stripped away, so all you can do is hope that you succeed at the button prompts. If you fail a couple times in row, you’re screwed, and you can’t do anything about it. You’ll collect a bunch of costumes with different special moves, but none of them fully address this issue or the tediousness of the battle system in general.
It’s too bad that combat is such a prevalent part of Costume Quest, because the time you spend just exploring and talking to fellow trick-or-treaters can be hilarious. The world is brought to life with a colorful art style that reminds me of a less deranged Tim Burton movie, and the dialogue has plenty of comedic gems. While advancing through each area doesn’t amount to much more than a few fetch quests and simple puzzles, I’d put off the battles in each section for as long as possible to enjoy the atmosphere – but you need to go through the encounters eventually.
Other annoyances make it hard to fully enjoy Costume Quest’s bizarre world. Without objective markers or a minimap, finding your next goal is an occasional problem, but the save system is an even bigger concern. Lacking any manual options, you need to rely on the autosave to retain your progress, but it only kicks in under certain conditions that are difficult to force. You can’t just decide you’re done and quit playing; you need to complete a quest, pick up a new quest, or change areas. In one case, I lost about 45 minutes of progress because I quit after fighting a bunch of battles that didn’t trigger a save event (and I even leveled up during that time!).
Costume Quest is cute and funny, so it may look like a good game for kids. Let me assure you: After completing the adventure (which took me about five hours), I can’t recommend Costume Quest to gamers of any age.
Costume Quest is cute and funny, but clever writing can't disguise the boring mechanics at the game's core.