I love classic RPGs in theory. But in practice, the dated graphics, random battles and endless grinding often overpower my nostalgia. Maybe Double Fine had someone like me in mind when they created Costume Quest, a downloadable only title on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network.
Costume Quest manages to combine everything sweet about classic RPGs: exploration, side quests, collectible items, mini games, and wraps it in a delicious candy shell of colourful graphics, hilarious dialogue and turn-based combat, all without the 80+ hour investment.
A word of caution before you continue reading: the game revolves entirely around Halloween, a holiday with its fair share of spiritual baggage. While the game maintains a light hearted, cartoon depiction of violence and monsters, the theme celebrates a holiday twisted up in paganism and the occult. However, underneath is a solid game that may even give Christians a clearer picture of Halloween and our role during the trick-or-treating season.
The game starts with the choice to play either as young Wren or her twin brother Reynold as they get ready for some trick-or-treating on Halloween night. However, you barely start your candy harvest when your sibling is kidnapped by hungry monsters out to steal every last piece of candy in your neighbourhood. It quickly becomes obvious it\'s up to you to save the day before your parents notice your brother was eaten by monsters and ground you for life.
At first it seems the odds are stacked against you, a little boy or girl fighting vicious candy-loving goblin-like Grubbins, until you discover the game\'s best feature: costumes. While exploring your suburban neighbourhood or local mall, costumes like the robot allow your character to zoom around the map on rocket roller skates. The spaceman outfit is equipped with a glowing sword to light up secret areas, and the ninja has the ability to render your party invisible. However, it\'s in combat that costumes really start to shine. When you encounter a monster, your cute but harmless tin foil robot getup suddenly transforms into a giant walking battle bot, armed with rocket punches and guided missiles. And after making a few friends on your journey, your wardrobe options really start to open up.
Battles revolve around your strategic use of costumes, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Any given costume focuses on either attack, defence or support and can be augmented by purchasing Battle Stamps with the hard-earned candy you collect. However, only one Stamp can be assigned to each character, forcing you to choose between more health or higher attack, as well as adding splash damage effects for hitting multiple enemies. Each attack and defence is also given a quick time event to up your damage or boost your guard. The added input keeps the relatively simple battles engaging, but it\'s waiting for your special ability gauge to refill over time that adds some flavour to the otherwise straightforward combat. Whether it\'s the ability to call down a meteor strike or revive a downed ally, you will want to try out each new costume and find which suits your play style best. However, the difficulty never requires deep strategy and grinding is not required. Automatically healing between battles also takes out the need for inns or healing items.
The visuals in Costume Quest are in a word, whimsical, capturing the colourful and sometimes creepy cartoon world of Halloween night with areas ranging from modern suburbs to a rustic carnival. The battle transformations also add a touch of character to each costume. The robot\'s stiff, animatronic victory dance and the ninja\'s stylish battle stance both capture the spirit of the costume. The sound and music is also quirky and charming, although, within the first scene you\'ll be wishing characters had full voice acting because some of the witty banter is just begging to be spoken out loud.
However, one major complaint is Costume Quest is just too short. You can expect to get 7 or 8 hours out of a single play-through depending on how impulsive you get with side quests and mini games. And the simplistic nature of combat and repetitive mini games get old after awhile, but you won\'t start to notice until the very end. Double Fine also released an additional downloadable chapter, "Grubbins on Ice" last December, adding new costumes and abilities to add a few more hours out of the experience. But as a friend pointed out, there a few 80+ hour RPGs on my shelf that I haven\'t brought myself to play yet. Maybe more isn\'t always better, and for a quarter of the price of a full retail game, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
As a Christian, a game centred on Halloween also raises some big moral issues. Depending on your personal stance on the holiday, you may want to avoid Costume Quest altogether. The game celebrates all the macabre of All Hallow\'s Eve including witches, ghosts, monsters and other demonic imagery. This may be troubling especially to parents because the game's look and feel is specifically targeted at children. The light hearted tone also downplays some of the more serious images like opening coffin "treasure chests" complete with a disembodied hand offering up the goodies. Clearly, the game was made with the staff\'s fond childhood trick-or-treating memories in mind, something Christians might not necessarily share.
But Costume Quest might also have some spiritual merit for those willing to look for it. Let\'s face it, Halloween is an excuse to dress up and go on a quest for candy (who doesn\'t want to do that?). But as Christians, Halloween (or life in general) can become dangerous when we dismiss the spiritual side of evil. If we dismiss the spiritual world, our physical world can get messy and confusing. Like the children of Costume Quest, we face an invisible army of darkness out to steal and destroy. And like the adults in the game, we run into serious problems when we live as if the spiritual world doesn\'t exist. (It\'s hard to fix a broken train if we can\'t see the Grubbins on the tracks.)
Thankfully, all it takes is a child in a cardboard robot costume, laughable in the real world, but transformed into robotic fighting behemoths in the spiritual world, to help us put things in perspective. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full (robotic) armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil\'s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)
Overall, Costume Quest is a unique RPG wrapped up in witty humour, endearing, child friendly visuals and engaging, albeit barebones battle mechanics. And despite being a fraction of the length of a Dragon Quest, Costume Quest boils down everything you love about RPG\'s into a sweet, colourful, bite-sized treat that can\'t be missed. And regardless of your stance on Halloween, Costume Quest has an important spiritual lesson, if you know where to look.