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Tales from the Backlog #4: Costume Quest (PSN, XBLA, PC)

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Tales From the Backlog” is a series of articles in which WingDamage Editor-in-Chief, Jonah Gregory, finally gets around to playing through the many games he has collected throughout the years.

A while back, we did a week of articles about the Super Nintendo for the console’s 20th anniversary. It got me thinking about something I really enjoy in games: Charm.

Sure, some people thought its design looked too much like a toy, or that purple was a dumb choice, but to me it showed what Nintendo was there to do: have fun playing some video games. That is what I am there to do as well. I love gaming and I love talking about games, but cutting edge graphics, fancy lighting effects, and 32x anti-aliasing does not a good game make. I can appreciate cutting edge graphics as much as the next guy, but they aren’t something I get hung up on.

With the recent Kickstarter campaign for the as yet unknown new point-and-click adventure game from Double Fine, I was interested to go back and check out some of their downloadable titles that I missed the first time around. I was also in the mood for an RPG, so starting with Costume Quest was a no-brainer.

In Costume Quest, you take on the roll of either Wren or Reynold (by having their mother choose which one of them is “in charge” for the night), fraternal twins who are new to their neighborhood. They are hoping to bring back a big haul of candy from a night of trick or treating. They are almost immediately ambushed by a grubbin, a monster that is compelled to find candy to feed his boss, Big Bones, an overweight and candy-eyed version of Death. Whichever of the twins you didn’t choose is mistaken for a giant piece of candy thanks to their costume, and is kidnapped by the monsters.

The theme of a group of friends going on an adventure against overwhelming odds isn’t new to the RPG genre by any means. What Costume Quest does to set itself apart is in both the aesthetics and, more importantly, the writing. Much like Earthbound before it, Costume Quest throws off the cliché fantasy world tropes in place of a mix of science fiction and fantasy. This is a world of parallel dimensions, goofball monsters, and costumes that transform kids (for reasons thankfully unexplained) into giant fighting robots, unicorns, and even a french fry based crab monster.

Costume Quest Review | WingDamage.com

"It's time... for adventure! And fries."

Double Fine’s Costume Quest team (lead by former Pixar artist Tasha Harris) did a great job of writing kids as kids. They captured that feeling of trying to act more mature than you really are at a young age and trying to do things on your own, even when asking for an adult would be more appropriate (but might get you in trouble!). Most of us did something stupid as kids that we then tried to clean up before mom and dad got home. That’s the motivation here, and it compliments the game’s look and tone perfectly.

If you were looking at Costume Quest purely as an RPG, it would seem pretty minimal. There are ten levels to progress through and the characters themselves don’t have unique stats. All of your stat boosting is done via the different costumes (only some of which have stat bonuses, but all of which have their own moves), and stickers you buy from one of the neighborhood kids. In battle, there is a timing system reminiscent of the Mario and Luigi series of RPGs, where performing specific button presses or stick movements allow you to do additional damage or block incoming attacks. Hardcore RPG fanatics will likely find it too easy, but as an introduction to the genre, it eases you into it in such a way that is more interesting than the old school way of a single button press to attack with no follow-up.

Costume Quest Battle | Tales from the Backlog on WingDamage.com

I enjoyed the battle system, but I was more entertained by exploring the neighborhood, tracking down the kids playing hide-and-seek, and doing all the other various side-quests the game has to offer. Completing Costume Quest with 100% completion only takes about 7 to 8 hours. I took it as a good sign that after completing the main game, I immediately wanted to download the expansion, Grubbins on Ice, and play through that, which I did. That extends the game for another 3-ish hours, picks up not long after the events of the main game, and adds three new costumes. Turning the tables, Grubbins is set in the monster’s dimension, and you are working to help overthrow the new baddie in town. As an extension of the mechanics from the main game, not much has changed. However, even after completing Grubbins I was wishing there were more of this world to explore.

Often the games that endear themselves to me aren’t the most extravagant. They are the quirky and unique experiences that make me reminisce fondly on my time with them. It’s been just over a week since I completed Costume Quest and Grubbins on Ice, and I’m sad to think that they will probably not be making more of it (especially since it left off on a cliff hanger). Hopefully the Steam version will sell well enough to justify a full sequel.

More “Tales From the Backlog”:

#1 – Assassin’s Creed (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

#2 – Retro Game Challenge (Nintendo DS)

#3 – Mega Man Legends (PS1)

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