Costume Quest's immense charm can only carry its repetitive gameplay so far.
Cons: Repetitive gameplay; Low difficulty
Although Christmas may be the overall more popular holiday, Halloween just might be the most magical for kids. Here is a night where you get to dress up as imaginary creatures or characters and go around receiving large amounts of candy from fantastically decorated houses. The experience is one of the simplest joys of childhood-even if the aftermath usually involves several stomach aches for the next few days.
Costume Quest is probably the closest that a game has come to approximating this joy-right down to the stomach aches that follow (more on that later). The game casts you as a child on Halloween, who must rescue your other sibling, and along the way, one of the big goals is to collect as much candy as you can. The game successfully instills the simple joy of collecting candy, both as you go door-to-door and as you explore the environments for hidden collectibles.
Being Halloween, of course, the night is run by kids all single-mindedly focused on the acquisition of sweets. And what's great here is that the kids actually feel like kids-unusually verbose kids who stand still for far too long, but kids nonetheless. The focus is on getting treats, there is a certain cruelty for their peers, there is an attempt to act grown-up while simultaneously disdaining grown-ups, and beyond all else the kids act immature. Meanwhile the adults are trying to teach hygiene while giving out candy, or resenting/brushing off the holiday and its seemingly endless supply of trick-or-treaters-a microcosm of Halloween from the adult perspective. The writing is frequently hilarious with great references thrown in for the player who takes the time to talk to all the NPCs.
Of course like Halloween, though somewhere along the line the magic begins to wane. In Halloween this might come when you've gotten halfway through your second neighborhood and your costume is starting to feel hot (though this might be a side-product of growing up in the south). In Costume Quest this comes when you are fighting the same enemies for the sixth house in a row.
The idea is sound: mirroring the anticipation and surprise of going door to door on Halloween, Costume Quest has battles randomly scattered among the houses you must trick-or-treat. You open the door expecting to get candy, but instead are greeted by a Grublin and an old-school JRPG battle.
Now, ordinary kids might not be able to do much, but of course this is Halloween. And on Halloween, the costumes you wear become your greatest assets in battle. At the beginning of each encounter, your character jumps up and transforms into a significantly more awesome looking version of their costume. For instance, a set of cardboard boxes suddenly becomes a Transformers-style robot, and a cat outfit turns into a black panther. Each costume has its own moves and by combining them with stat enhancing stickers a whole new layer of strategy is revealed.
If the game played exactly like it sounds on paper, it would have been fantastic. Unfortunately, the reality is that battles come to feel really repetitive. As you head into the second and third regions to start the trick-or-treating process all over again, it becomes obvious how little there is to Costume Quest. The enemies get harder in the sense that they get stronger, but you rarely need a lot of strategy to beat them (fun bosses excepted). Suddenly you realize the confined limits of your tactics, and the lack of enemy variety.
At this point the gameplay simply provides a shell from which you can enjoy the humorous dialogue. Like Halloween, the anticipation and the first few hours are pure bliss, but after a bit the experience all comes crashing down to earth. And you realize that half of the candy is actually licorice.