Costume Quest 2
The original Costume Quest was charming and funny, but it was held back by RPG-lite gameplay that was about as deep as the water in a tub of apples. For fans, that was enough. The Halloween-themed adventure of siblings Wren and Reynold was a delightful romp, with witty dialogue and imaginative settings. Others peeled back the mask and were disappointed by its repetitive combat. For the sequel, Double Fine adds a grab bag of tweaks and enhancements to please the people who loved the original back in 2010, though it may not be enough to win over skeptics.
Halloween gets a bad rap from people who question the wisdom of loading kids up with candy – people like the parents who get to deal with their sugar-charged progeny, and the dentists who clean up the mess that comes from eating too much of the sweet stuff. Costume Quest 2 explores that territory in a time-bending adventure. Wren and Reynold’s neighbor Orel White is a Halloween-hating dentist with a deep-seated dislike of the holiday. After falling into a time portal, the siblings get a glimpse of a totalitarian future run by White and his cronies, and they have to hop across the timeline to prevent it from happening. It’s a fun and silly story that’s told by the consistently clever writers at Double Fine. It’s so good that it makes the game itself even more disappointing by comparison.
As before, Wren, Reynold, and the rest of the cast equip a variety of different Halloween costumes on their mission. The costumes play on the visual gag of looking low-rent while exploring the town, but transforming into idealized powerhouses when in combat situations. It’s a genuinely funny shift the first few times you see it, but like Final Fantasy’s summons, the novelty wears thin in short order. What you’re left with is a series of turn-based encounters that play out like a pared-down version of the action in the Mario & Luigi games.
Your characters can throw out more damage through effective timing. As you attack, a reticle zooms in on the appropriate button. Press it in the sweet spot, and you’re set. Eventually, you’re able to string together multiple attacks. Similarly, you can mitigate damage by timing a block maneuver. It’s simple stuff – too simple, in fact. While the combat in the first Costume Quest was still repetitive, at least costumes offered variety in the way you attacked; sometimes you’d have to mash a button and fill a meter, or time a button press as a moving target slid into position. It may have been simple, but at least it provided a break from the monotony. In the sequel, you’ll get very good at the very specific timing for button presses, since that’s all there is.
Even if the interface is the same between all costumes, they each have a variety of effects. Some offer damage over time, others can hurt several opponents simultaneously. You also build up a super meter that lets you unleash your true potential. For instance, the clown-suit super heals your party in a slapstick routine called Laughter is the Best Medicine. The supers are generally underpowered, even after you purchase their upgrades. Considering how easy combat is overall – my party wiped twice during my entire playthrough, once on purpose – there’s rarely ever a need to use them. I found myself activating them every once in a while because I wanted a break from seeing the same attack animations.
Your party maxes out at three characters, and there are several times as many costumes to choose from, adding a bit of strategy to your party composition. Do you keep a healer, or roll straight damage? Maybe you’re masochistic enough to wear the candy corn costume, which essentially benches your character while providing on-screen text explaining why they’re sitting it out. Is it silly? Undoubtedly. I just didn’t find the actual gameplay interesting or engaging once I saw each of the costumes’ gags and animations.
The costumes do more than let you fight and score candy, however. Back in the real world, several of the outfits have special qualities that let you access previously blocked locations. It’s straightforward stuff, and you earn new duds by exploring, fighting, and doing a variety of trick-or-treat based fetch quests. When your party is low on health, you can refill it at the plentiful water fountains that also act like save points. That’s a huge relief for people who found themselves frustrated at the way recording your progress was handled the first time around. You also have a variety of modifier cards that change combat, like forcing minions to deal their damage to themselves, or multiplying the experience earned. You can be strategy-minded if you want, but it you’re diligent about fighting enemies that pop up in the world, you can survive everything with ease.
I had a good time exploring the world, which included one of my favorite bits in the series so far. Under Dr. White’s regime, Halloween has been banned. You can still find people hanging on to it if you look hard enough, including a members-only club where people celebrate the forbidden holiday. There’s also a great sequence involving a jazz club and your clown costume that I won’t ruin.
I hate feeling like a buzzkill here, but I can’t recommend this to anyone who wasn’t evangelical about the original Costume Quest. The changes to the game are a stride in the right direction, but it still has quite a ways to go if it wants to be seen as anything other than a series of funny skits divided by boring combat intermissions. I don’t feign enthusiasm when I see a kid wearing a mediocre costume, and I’m not going to do it here.