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Oct 14 2014

Review of Costume Quest 2

header (4)3.5 Stars

I love Halloween, I always have; I enjoyed it for the obvious reasons as a child but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate it in brand new ways. Halloween represents a sense of chaotic freedom, a feeling that everyone can be what they are, and that even monsters deep down share the same wants and needs as everyone else. The goofy pulp I enjoy year round, like B horror movies and classic mythology, become the stuff of supermarket window displays, if only for a month. Halloween is a slight taste of danger and the unknown wrapped in a comforting pastiche of warm orange decorations and chill autumn air. As children it’s how we explored our own familiar neighbourhoods in a dark new light, alone but unafraid and relishing the rewards that come from such a sense of adventure. As adults, Halloween is how we subtly pass on the lessons that we ourselves learned during those long past moonlit journeys, letting the next generation know that while the world can be a frightening place it holds vast riches for those willing to go bravely into its depths. But the most important piece of knowledge we impart is the reminder that home will still be there at the end of the night, with a warm spot in the den to sit and sort through the spoils while watching whatever badly edited horror movie happens to be playing on the local TV station. That feeling and overall vibe is something the first Costume Quest really nailed and in much the same way its sequel also taps into that specific corner of the cultural subconscious, though not without its own flaws.

Orel White, registered Doctor of Dental Surgery and kind of dick.

Orel White, registered Doctor of Dental Surgery and also kind of a major asshole.

Getting away from my wistful little tangent, why don’t we start off by talking about Costume Quest 2’s story. Things pick up directly from where the events of the last game’s DLC (Grubbins on Ice) left off, with twin siblings Reynold and Wren going through a portal with their friends after leaving Repugia, which was home to the monsters who stole Halloween in the first game. Upon arriving back home (and on Halloween no less) they encounter a new adversary, Orel White DDS, a sneering dentist with a distaste for candy, costumes, and fun. The twins witness him making a deal with a time wizard named Kronoculus who takes Orel back in time so that he may steal a magic talisman that seals Repugia off from the human world. Using said talisman he unleashes the Repugians and takes over the world, creating a dental dystopia and utterly destroying Halloween. Thankfully Reynold and Wren’s friends still exist in that future and somehow manage to figure out time travel, allowing them to inform the twins of the future situation before sending them to the distant past (by which I mean the mid 80’s) so they can stop Orel from stealing the talisman in the first place and thereby save Halloween. It’s a fun little narrative and the time travel aspect adds some good flavour, allowing us to watch Wren and Reynold’s neighbourhood evolve from a small swamp town to a futuristic mega-city. That said they don’t really execute on the whole time travel hook well enough; after spending some time in the past you then immediately get sent to the future and stay there until the end of the game, never really getting to play with the fourth dimensional dynamic. With the exception of a single side-quest that spans the two time periods, the past and the future are kept separate and don’t really affect each other, which feels like a missed opportunity. But getting all caught up in nerdy temporal rules isn’t really what this game is about, the time travel exists purely as a gimmick through which they can tell their tale and make some jokes; as with most of Double Fine’s work those jokes are funny enough on average to make just going with the flow worthwhile but it still feels like more could have and should have been done with the game’s time travel hook.

Once again the patriotic costume is totally OP, Jefferson drops bombs for days.

Once again the patriotic costume is totally OP, Jefferson drops bombs for days.

Moving onto the gameplay, things play out in much the same way that they did in the first game, with turn-based RPG battles built around a Paper-Mario-esque timing mechanic. Costumes still act as your classes and can changed around at will outside of battle but as with the first game, what these costumes can do is fairly simple. Each one features a basic attack and a special ability that needs to be charged up, both of these things generally tie into whatever that costume’s focus is, such as healing or tanking, which does manage to provide some degree of variety and tactics. That said it’s still the absolute lightest of strategy and while there are some “Creepy Treat” cards you can play that will proc all manner of different effects, the bonuses they provide rarely change up the back and forth of the gameplay all that much. While you might expect combat to be a slog in such a case, the game actually moves pretty quick with each fight generally being over after only a couple of rounds. This is because both you and the enemy deal a lot of damage and don’t have a ton of health; while this does make for more exciting fights, the aftermath of it all is less pleasant. You no longer heal back up to full health after every fight like you did in the first game, now you must go and find healing fountains whenever your health is running low. In theory this adds a nice element of risk as you move from fight to fight wondering if you can hold out but in practice it just means you’ll be running to the nearest fountain after 2-3 fights which frankly gets annoying. It’s not even like the persistent health adds any consequence to these battles; if you lose a fight then all that happens is the game simply transports you to the nearest fountain so you can heal up and try the fight again. While the first game definitely got lambasted for being too easy, this was not the way to fix it. Costume Quest 2 still ends up being a pretty easy game, just one that can be needlessly tedious at times. It’s also worth noting that like its predecessor this game is somewhat short at about six hours long and while I feel like it says what it needs to in those six hours, it would’ve been nice if it was a bit longer, maybe by throwing in some more side-quests.

The game's look, while simple, gets the warm heartfelt Halloween ambiance down pat.

The game’s look, while simple, gets the warm heartfelt Halloween ambiance down pat.

To touch on the presentation quickly, it’s of the same overall design aesthetic as the first Costume Quest but is visually an improvement. It’s still got that same cartoony big-headed art style though it looks cleaner than it did before. That might just be the franchise’s switch from the Xbox 360 to the PC I’m seeing but it definitely feels more polished. The presentation is also where they get the most use out of their whole time travel gimmick as they really did a good job of realizing the two different time periods. The swampy past is filled with rickety docks and ramshackle trailers whereas the future is populated with multi-coloured skycrapers and derelict old suburbs. The battle music even changes to fit the appropriate time period, with banjos in the former and theremins in the latter. Similarly they put some work into making the costumes come alive by having the in-battle fantasy versions better match-up with the hand-made out of combat models. Even as each costume gets upgraded, those changes are reflected visually on both models which helps make those upgrades feel like more than just a stat boost. While there isn’t really any part of the presentation I could specifically point to as being better or different than that of the first game, it does feel like things are improved while managing to not lose any of its charm,

While I wasn’t completely satisfied with Costume Quest 2’s combat or narrative, it hits its intended cultural vein well enough that I can forgive those slights. The atmosphere is pitch perfect, even when it starts getting a little too sci-fi, and the thrill of trick-or-treating is recreated with a clear love for Halloween that I deeply appreciate. While it’s in no way a perfect game, anyone looking to get into the spirit of the season would do well to check it out, though I obviously would advise playing through the original Costume Quest first as the stories are connected. In the end I’m giving Costume Quest 2 a 3.5 out of 5 stars; while it achieves its festive goals with aplomb, the story is somewhat lacking and despite being kind of short, the gameplay still manages to be a bit tedious.

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