Costume Quest is about being a kid. It's about the nothing-is-bigger-than-you and the no-adventure-is-worth-turning-down attitude. Through the eyes of a child, the ways of the world aren't convoluted or complex. There's no sinister, overarching conspiracy, and there's no menacing entity pulling strings from behind a curtain. To a child, the world is exactly as he sees it – and from beginning to end, Costume Quest continually reminds us of this by keeping it simple and never complicating itself.
You had me at “Quest”
Through its witty, self-aware, Schafer-inspired dialogue, the characters exchange banter amongst themselves in such a way that consistently calls for giddy man-chuckles. Even mundane actions, like walking around the neighborhood and knocking on doors, feel inspired. It's difficult to think of a moment where I didn't feel like a giggling child. And though it seems that Costume Quest has been perceived and a "my first RPG" style of game, it still manages to leave a strong impression on an adult by masterfully invoking the free-spiritedness of a child’s imagination. Through the eyes of Reynold or Wren, you'll see the world as they see it. The adults may tell the questing-kids that the candy store is being looted by teenagers, there's never a doubt that it has really been ransacked by candy-hoarding monsters that must be defeated.
In order to defeat said monsters and save the day, Reynold (or Wren) must harness the imagination-fueled powers of their Halloween costumes. There's a solid amount of costumes to collect and construct, but each one offers just one basic attack and one special move. The costumes lack room for customization, but at least the transformations and animations are often either ultra-cool or downright ridiculous. Think cardboard box robot to giant robot or glittery unicorn costume to rainbow-armored horned battle stallion. I've never had a French fry spider-crab on my team, nor have I been healed by a disembodied, photorealistic floating Abraham Lincoln head, have you? And on cue, more giggles.
Battles unfold in typical turn-based fashion, augmented only by the equipped costume and button-timing quick time events. Aside from costume selection and battle stamps, Costume Quest doesn't allow for much creativity on the player's part. Granted, gameplay never strays far from the prototypical turn-based RPG formula. By the nature of its straightforward and simple design, combat tends to stagnate from time to time, but the experience is able to survive on a steady dose of charm and wit. Plus, it never really gets old to see monsters explode into pieces of candy, the preferred method of currency.
Hey kids, suspend your disbelief
Costume Quest spans three main areas, each complete with plenty of spots to trick-or-treat and people who love to speak in typical Double Fine manner, complete with tongue-in-cheekiness and self-referential chat that's always entertaining. Undoubtedly, it is fun to simply explore and walk door-to-door, sometimes rewarded by a bag full of candy, other times ambushed by a pack of orc-looking monsters.
The side-quests lack any true inventiveness, but yield enough of the aforementioned wit to keep this old gruff smiling. Fetching costume parts and smashing things with a candy pail ignore Double Fine’s inventive adventuring roots, and without a creative way to interact with the otherwise charming environments, Costume Quest still misses some opportunities. Most importantly, the opportunity to build upon itself is missed. From the outset, the set of rules established fail to evolve: no genuine statistical character development, no branching skill systems, and no serious increase in quest difficulty. New costumes with new abilities are introduced, but each new area offers little more than the previous.
There’s been a harsh hammer of criticism coming down here, but it’s for a reason. There are probably infinite amounts of ways to prod at some of Costume Quest’s flaws, but when I think back on the six hours I spent with the game, I can’t help but smile. Its simplistic gameplay tenets perfectly compliment its simplistic childlike worldview. Though I was left wanting a little more depth, I can’t help but cherish the time I did get to spend with these characters. The adventures of Reynold, Wren, and their friends serve as a both a hilarious and profound reminder of the truths we can discover within our own imaginations.
By effectively clinging on to the Halloween aesthetic from beginning to end, Costume Quest evokes the often forgotten nostalgia of childhood. It manages to create a fantastical world without resorting to high fantasy. As something that both kids and adults can relate to, Costume Quest is a heartfelt reminder that with the right viewpoint, everything can be awesome.