Costume Quest + Grubbins On Ice Review

October is probably my second favorite month of the year. Even though I am not so much into horror, I really do enjoy the atmosphere that comes with this season. However, I also do love themes, so I might as well squeeze three titles that are at least Halloween-ish for this week. Or at least three reviews within three days. Granted, I do not own many, but I figure that these titles would not be talked as much as others, so let’s dive into some that I happen to own. Starting with Double Fine’s first downloadable title, Costume Quest!

Costume Quest (With Grubbins on Ice) Review
Release Date: 20/10/2010
Platforms: XBLA, PSN, PC
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: THQ

You know, I was actually tempted to buy up Psychonauts so I could do a month of Double Fine, since I already own Stacking, Brutal Legend, and Iron Brigade I still might, but as it stands, I’m just going to talk about this one title that hits my personal favorite class in games, double A, with enough money to make something that looks modern, but enough leeway to make something that is different enough to stand out. And that is certainly the case here.

Costume Quest’s plot sounds like something out of a made for TV Halloween special that lasts an hour and contained a slightly higher budget, so it can remain memorable. In fact, this is the kind of game that pretty much is designed around getting nostalgia out of you but is familiar enough for kids to enjoy it. In a nutshell, the plot is just that a set of twins go out trick or treating, and either the boy or girl, depending on who you selected, is kidnapped by goblins, they call them something else, but that’s what they are. So it is up to the other sibling, with the help of a boy DND nerd and a science loving girl, the group of ten year olds need to use magic to make their costumes real and fight the fantasy themed goblins.

So the game alternated between wandering around three settings, the hometown, the mall, and the away town, which I think are all suppose to be nostalgic to some degree. Collecting candy, and doing side quests where you need to get the macguffins to please somebody who will give you progress or experience. While it is interspersed with the kids growing giant for no real reason, and needing to do some really simplistic Paper Mario-esc RPG battles. And by Paper Mario, I mean QTEs. Okay, that might be a bit harsh, since I do not consider Paper Mario to use QTEs in any way that is bad, but here there are not a lot of variations. You see, there are only a few commands that you use, press a face button while in the given area, press a face button when we tell you too, and turn the left stick.

This applies to all ten of the playable classes, or rather costumes, that I can recall, and gets pretty repetitive, since if you do not follow the commands for attacking or defending, you are pretty much screwed. Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy these little reflex tests that make RPGs more interesting, even in things like Mother 3 where it was not required. Yet this just gets kinda boring after the seven hour mark. Especially when you only use a few costumes due to oddly organized, which is a nice way of saying unbalanced, stats. Costumes like the Vampire has literally nothing positive about it, and the rest only share about 6 presets come the DLC’s 3 extra costumes. I do actually like the designs, but why should I ever replace my blue mecha when he’s the only one who can run in the overworld?

Well, I suppose there is some complexity with the 24 or so equipable stamps that can provide passive or active abilities. Yet there is a problem with that, despite having three blank slate characters, you can only equip a total of three stamps, making most of the forgotten. And once I got a counter attack, spray damage, and had a health/attack up stamp, I had no reason to look for anything but upgraded versions of those. Oh, and there are super moves that you can use once every three turns, which are useful in a pinch or one of the four boss battles, but the animations certainly get old like the costumes.

Do not get me wrong, the game is still fun, it just has little to offer due to the simplicity of the gameplay. I always said that there is nothing wrong with cutting down your game in order to keep the lasting quality up, just look at Minerva’s Den. And despite having a base retail playtime of seven hours for the original price of $20. I think paying the extra $5 for the DLC was a bad idea, as was just creating it. You see, I dislike cliffhangers when there is no intention of continuing the story. Did I say dislike? Let me rephrase that, I hate them.

I try to save up my hates for only a few things and I do indeed mean it here. Normally I can excuse this and turn it to dislike, but creating an add-on for a game that had a conclusive ending that creates a sequel hook when you need to know that you will probably never ever create a sequel, asses you ya! On top of that, the DLC just feels kind of forced in general, with a plot that is just beating the same final boss from being resurrected, where you do another third of the game, but in a wintery setting.

I actually really do like the look of this game, it has very simplistic caricatures that utilize some variant of cel-shading, with more traditionally “cool” models used as the battle avatars. Which I just realized to be a joke regarding RPGs like the earlier Final Fantasy title with their simple overworld models and detailed battle models. As stated before, I do find the art direction to be very appealing, with two styles being covered and covered well by the mix of cute round headed kids in homemade costumes, and the pretty simple costume ideas that do border cliche, but still look distinct. Although the inclusion of a Statue of Liberty costume just baffles me.

Although, this is a title that does not even really try with distinct backgrounds for battles, where you are giant and crushing houses, or should be. I am all but certain the main game has no more than four of them. And the overworld is in a fixed isometric viewpoint and can get a bit annoying to navigate due to the absence of a map. I suppose that I would have expected a bit more in terms of visual fidelity, due to a former Pixar employee being one of the lead developers. Yet the game still has a visual charm to it, even if the lack of any voice acting, or even Banjo-Kazooie-esc garbling. You have scenes where the characters keeps speech bubbles out for a preset amount of time so it feels odd to have nothing but a generic chime to indicate that they are talking.

Taking into consideration what Double Fine had a limited time frame and budget, I am still underwhelmed by Costume Quest. While charm and an art style can help float a game, there is not a lot there beyond nostalgia, and it goes on a bit too long for it to have the same impact. The actual gameplay can often be repetitive with a lot of searching around for things to hit, or houses to trick or treat at, while the combat is limited to just one action, creating what very easily might be the first linear and least strategic turn based RPGs I have seen in recent memory. I can not call it bad, but beyond a bit of charm, the game is pretty hollow.

Above Average
There is promise in the title, but the execution is somewhat lacking in nearly every way. Only appealing to fans of the genre of the game.

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