Review: Costume Quest

Costume Quest is a short, easy game that plays like Final Fantasy on training wheels. And it's the best game Double Fine has ever made.

Costume Quest is a role-playing game in which you take control of a group of kids out on a Halloween rescue mission. They may be small, but the game's hook is that once they enter battle, they transform into the thing their costume represents, pint-sized children becoming giant robots, ninjas, space warriors and...unicorns.

Ideal Player You may think the ideal player is a Double Fine fan, but really, I think the perfect customer for this thing is a parent who loves role-playing games and wants to play one with their kids. That or someone who likes the idea of a JRPG but doesn't like the baggage.

Why You Should Care Costume Quest is the first of Double Fine's new breed of games, in which the developer eschews larger titles in favour of smaller, less risky games. As stated above, these are the guys who made Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, so seeing them tackle a role-playing game in the vein of Final Fantasy is something worth taking a look at. Plus, this isn't a game about teenagers battling an empire in a far-flung fantasy land; it's about some kids running around town dressed in Halloween costumes.

Wait, it's like Final Fantasy? Pretty much. Costume Quest is a Japanese role-playing game in spirit, but is more notable for what it cuts out of the traditional JRPG than what it retains. There's basic exploration, rudimentary mini-quests and turn-based battles, but so much of the genre's dead weight - random encounters, grinding, clumsy inventories and complicated skill trees - have been trimmed, leaving a far tighter and more enjoyable game than you'd expect.

Can you give an example? Sure. You will never once be walking around and have a battle forced upon you. Costume Quest's encounters are triggered by knocking on the door to a home or store; if a human answers, you get candy, if a monster answers, you fight. Stages can only be cleared by knocking on every door in the level. It's a genius move, because it retains the tension of a random encounter, but loses the inconvenience.

Costume Quest has French Fry spider monsters. Oh yeah. Does this make it easy? Oh, so easy. Costume Quest will be over in around six hours, and not only is it easier to play because you don't spend half the game in an inventory screen, it's easy because the battles aren't too challenging and the "puzzles" are simple acts of conversation and exploration. Be warned, JRPG fans, this game was not made specifically for you. It's more Pokemon than Final Fantasy.

Did you say no grinding? I did, and now let me qualify by saying it's mostly free of grinding. Using the standard costumes you accrue along the way and only the most basic of the game's battle stamps (power-ups and special moves), you can reach Costume Quest's final boss without losing an encounter. That final boss, though, will need some more advanced suits and stamps, so it's back to the earlier stages to improve your kit. It's an annoying finale to an otherwise breezy game, because if you spend 5.9 hours enjoying (and getting used to) the fact you don't have to do a ton of non-essential stuff, having to backtrack at the very end is a bit of a shame.

How is this Double Fine's best game? What about Psychonauts!!!!!! Let me explain. Psychonauts (and Brutal Legend) were amazing worlds bolted onto average games. People remember (and adored) the characters and the humour, not the tedious platforming and dreary combat. Costume Quest has a charm all of its own, yes, but its clever paring-down of role-playing game standards and brisk pace mean you'll enjoy the nuts and bolts of this game as much as its subtle humour and giant robots.

It's a Double Fine game, so does that mean it's funny? Sort of. You won't laugh out loud very often, if at all, but the game's sense of humour is more in line with that of Psychonauts, with an emphasis on wry gags that leave you with a constant smile as opposed to big, obvious jokes.

Costume Quest In Action

The Bottom Line Costume Quest seems like a surprising move from Double Fine, delving into such an unexpected style of game. Yet by applying their own unique slant on a setting and showing other developers how the fat can be trimmed from such a bloated genre, the game stands proud as Double-Fine's smartest - if also shortest - title to date.

Costume Quest was developed by Double Fine Productions and published by THQ for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on October 19. Retails for $US15. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed Xbox 360 version of the game, with my favourite costumes being the Pumpkin, Robot and French Fry Spider.


Comments

    I really wish this were on PC too, as a downloadable game... :(

    Damnit, why does everyone have to rag on JRPGs?

    I know Bioware is doing a better job at the moment, but DQIX and FF 4 heroes are both fantastic.

      People are starting to get tired of JRPGs because the formula is starting to get stale and repeditive.
      It is a niche of a rather lage genre, but it has stopped evolving in terms of gameplay and, in most cases, story.

      Agreed, in a way.
      JRPGs are good for the niche they target.
      I like my RPGs full of grind, people my age and swords, thank you very much.

      On topic, got the demo and this game is good.
      I'd have bought it were it not for the fact that I've got Fallout NV on the way and am devoting time to FFXIV (which, despite the VAST amounts of negativity, I am loving).

      People rag on JRPGs because there is essentially 0 innovation in the genre. Every JRPG released follows the identical mechanics. Some might vary the battle system a bit eg real-time etc. But at the end of the day, they're all the same.

      -Messiah complex hero
      -Random battles
      -Turn based battles
      -Grinds
      -Progressive gearing
      -Summoning

      In fact, it's almost like the writers have noticed that the medium has stagnated and are content just pushing out the same end-of-the-world plotlines over and over again.

        Yeah I get it, it just seems like every RPG review I read has to mention it. I know, I know, I'm playing the games. You also mentioned in the last 50 reviews.
        My problem is that the lack of innovation aint news no more.

      JRPGs r lame lyk u

        I WILL MURDER YOR FAYSE OFF

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                Always!

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                  HI DC!

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    I enjoyed the level design and creativity in Psychonauts, as well as the characters and humour. Combat was pretty good as well; hardly dreary. I liked all the combinations of psi powers.

    Almost every Psychonauts level was amazingly inventive. The exceptions were probably the training level and the meat circus level. They were the closest to tedious platforming.

    Standout levels: Lungfishopolis, Milkman, Gloria's Theatre, Waterloo World, Black Velvetopia.

    While I haven't played Costume Quest, and I am interested in trying it, I think this review has sold Psychonauts way short.

      I agree, also Brutal Legend needs more love too.

      Next time I read a Kotaku review i'd be nice to get an objective well-written review as opposed to one just like this which basically boils down to:

      - ITS JUST LIKE FINAL FANTASY
      - Here are the reasons you enjoyed psychonauts
      - Actually its more like pokemon.

      I've been playing this all day and there is plenty material that could be discussed.

    This looks good. I love the art style in it.

    Bah, there's only a grind at the end if you did the absolute minimum of quests along the way.

    Even then, you should have buttloads of candy to purchase battle stamps with.

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