Costume Quest Review
Developer: Double Fine
Available On: PlayStation Network and Xbox LIVE (PlayStation Network version reviewed)
Pixar makes wonderful films. The world agrees, Metacritic agrees and you, the sane, right-minded reader probably agrees. Everyone agrees, but that’s crazy…isn’t it?
Nothing is universally loved. There is always someone who hates something, some group that can’t stomach it, a mob that would protest it. Particularly in the world of film. I once had a friend who claimed he didn’t like The Godfather because he didn’t like the acting. Minutes later he stated Coronation Street was his favourite soap because the acting was so wonderful. He was brutally excoriated by everyone in the room and, may I say, quite rightly. But he wasn’t wrong. It was his opinion, he is entitled to it and whilst we might not agree with it we can’t tell him that he is incorrect. Though I’m sure I did at the time.
My point, is that I’ve never met someone who didn’t cherish at least one the Pixar films. This is because Pixar are the masters of making films with a little something for everyone. There used to be a games company who could do the same thing.
One of my favourite gaming memories is sitting around the old Amiga 500+ playing Monkey Island with my family. It was a family game, whether LucasArts knew it or not. Steady paced so that Mum could get involved, funny enough for me, wacky enough for my brother and challenging enough that Dad would come home after a day at work having chewed a puzzle around his brain rather than concentrating on landing planes like he was supposed to. LeChuck’s Revenge, Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle; a design team, that included one Mr Tim Schafer, couldn’t miss when it came to getting the family involved.
It is crystal clear from the moment you start playing Costume Quest that Schafer, Double Fine Products and project lead Tasha Harris are channeling the LucasArts heyday. With a generous dollop of JRPG, a smattering of Threepwood-esque knowing humour and just a teaspoon of Pixar inspiration, they are trying to create an experience that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. But is it a focused, delicious delight or did Double Fine cast their pumpkin-bucket too wide and come back empty?
STORY: The story of twins, brother and sister, and their incredible night trick-or-treating certainly had the potential to be saccharine, but thanks to Double Fine’s ability to produce comical yarns and likeable characters the tale tears along at a merry pace, never failing to entertain. Wren and Reynold, the young protagonists are sharply written, with adult wit and maturity hidden inside their child-like character model. It is a pleasure when gaming characters are well drawn and, to Double Fine’s credit, the child-stars of the piece aren’t at all condescended to. For the seven or eight hours, depending on the amount of side-quests the player undertakes, that the game lasts you will have fun with the kids from Auburn Pines.
GRAPHICS: Always colourful, always imaginative and overflowing with personality Costume Quest is a good looking game. The battle sequences, in particular, are brilliantly realised. Immediately recognisable to fans of JRPG’s from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy VII, the kids and their costumes stand across from their sweet swindling adversaries; giants in the landscape. Special moves trigger a comic book style sequences where the screen is split and sliced, focussing just on the move itself. It’s well choreographed and gives the battles a dynamism that turn based encounters can often lack. It is a shame that there aren’t more special moves to see, with every costume only providing one, but, variety aside, there is little to quibble with.
SOUND: The levels of Costume Quest are kept alive by their sound effects. Leaves rustle, shoes creak over concrete and crickets pulse around you. Music is ramped up loud for big moments in true horror style and the drum roll as you wait to see what is behind each door when trick or treating is clever and genuinely pulse-raising. Very directional and well used sound effects for those with a 5.1 systems round out a solid audio package.
GAMEPLAY: And now we enter the grey area. Exploring the world is fun but simple, and the combat equally so. Winning battles is almost always a question of repeating the same strategy with little scope, on a per battle basis, to tinker with your method. Different special moves and buffs are available by changing costumes and the games battle stamp system serves to alter combat slightly but, in the end, the tinkering is hardly necessary for success. Health is recharged at the end of each fight and special moves are restricted depending on how many turns have passed, simplifying away any need to manage items or find areas to heal up your party. The trade off is brutally obvious; by making the game straightforward and freeing itself from the trappings that RPGs use to build in depth the accessibility of the title sky rockets whilst challenge dwindles away.
These are the criticisms of the modern, “hardcore” gamer. It was so long ago that we instructed our on-screen avatars by clicking on plain english verbs and watching the character interact. No pressing X, no B button, no triggers. It was the height of accessibility. Not better or worse than today’s games, just different.
Double Fine is on record as saying they wanted to make Costume Quest very accessible for all players and they can be proud that they have achieved their aim. This is a game in the true Monkey Island spirit, that will allow people of different ages and “hardcore-ness” to play together and share an experience around their console without needing to waggle controllers or dance like a prat. However, if you want a hardcore, technical challenge, then this game will not provide it for you. But, as I say, nor does it want to.
LONGEVITY: Whilst there are plenty of tasks to keep you busy in the world of Costume Quest it is hardly like the first time you step out into Fable III’s Albion. The environments are interactive and varied, but most players will have seen everything on their first playthrough. With limited customisation options for characters and a definite lack of challenge (I achieved 100% of trophies in my first eight hour playthrough, without ever feeling overly tested) this isn’t a game that offers much to pull you back in. The option of playing with the second character is available, so those looking for tweaks to the initial story and a slightly new tale may find some pleasure in going back, but this feels like, for most, it will be a one play experience. Fortunately, it’s only £9 on the PlayStation Network.
VERDICT: Whilst calling Double Fine’s work ‘Pixar gaming’ would be beyond hyperbole, they certainly are getting their candy in the same neighbourhood. Fun characters, lots of jokes and a charming, traditional story layered onto basic but entertaining gameplay means that there is plenty here for anyone to enjoy, particularly when shared with the family.
However, if you need to be challenged or want to play an RPG requiring real skill then Costume Quest just won’t do it for you. However, Demon’s Souls is available in all good retailers for under thirty quid and should scratch that itch!