Cute, funny, and harmless

User Rating: 8 | Costume Quest PS3
October 31 marks the true end of summer, called "Samhain" by ancient Celtic tribes, and is also the day when a doorway is supposedly thrown wide between the spirit and physical worlds. As is typical with ancient holidays, modern Western culture has buried the old traditions under piles of brightly colored packaging and commercial excess. But I'm not complaining. Any excuse to wear my Superman/Indiana Jones/Jedi costumes is cause for celebration in my opinion.

And to help you get in the spirit of things as well, I've decided to do a review of a downloadable Halloween-themed game called Costume Quest. This game appeared quietly on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace earlier this week for the price of $14.99 or 1200 MS Points, courtesy of Tim Schafer's development studio, Double Fine.

Costume Quest introduces itself through a suburban family-two parents, two children-preparing for Halloween night. You can choose to play as one of two twins, Wren and Reynold. Immediately Costume Quest lets you know that it wants to be cute and funny with the comical relationship between the twin siblings and its simple, cartoony art style. And like most of Tim Schafer's games it is truly funny. After my wife had seen about five minutes of this game she sat down on the couch and directed me to go talk to as many characters as I could find because she thought the dialogue was so funny.

And it's a good thing the dialogue is entertaining, because there is a great deal of it. In the opening scene, Wren and Reynold bicker about whose costume is worse-I chose to play as Wren, meaning she got a rocking robot costume and Reynold was stuck with a lame candy-corn costume. All dialogue is displayed in speech bubbles rather than spoken aloud, which fits the comic book/cartoon aesthetic.

Reynold's costume soon draws the attention of monsters called Trowbogs who are ransacking the neighborhood for as much candy as they can get. They kidnap Reynold, thinking he is the biggest piece of candy they've ever seen, and retreat behind a locked gate that will not be unlocked until all the houses in the neighborhood have been liberated of their candy. It's a ridiculous and flimsy setup for the game to follow, but the game knows it and never takes itself seriously.

Wren plops down on the ground in semi-despair after her brother is kidnapped, and right away an inquisitive black cat comes up to her. Obviously this is a plot point, and a lesser writer may have gone for a mildly humorous Lassie reference-"What is it, girl?"-but this is Tim Schafer we're talking about. Wren looks up glumly and says, "Great, now this weird cat is going to barf on me." It was at this point in the demo that I decided to buy the full game.

Playing Costume Quest boils down to three mechanics: exploration, loot collection, and simple combat. There are three large levels in which you must knock on every door to reveal an adult with candy or a monster battle. If a monster greets you, Wren's robot suit suddenly becomes that of fifty-foot mech, and the other ten or so costumes you can unlock have similarly impressive transformations. Battles depend on timed button presses and a good deal of strategy, especially in the second and third levels when you have a full party of three characters. But combat is still the weakest portion of the game.

Exploration is much more interesting and also depends on your costumes. The shoes of the robot costume, for example, have heelies that let you traverse a level quickly; the knight costume has a shield effect that deflects water and allows you to crawl into sewer tunnels without getting your costumes wet; the space warrior has a glowing sword to light dark areas…you get the point. As simple as it sounds, you will still have to use your brain to find everything there is to find in the game. There are costume patterns and components, battle stamps that "buff" your characters in combat, and bizarre candy cards with names like Sour Feet, Gummy Water, and Sweet Fat that other kids will want to trade with you.

Costume Quest is a short game at a budget price, and it never overstays its welcome. Each level looks quite different than the others and each will take about an hour and a half to yield all its secrets. If the game were an hour longer, it may have felt a touch long, and two hours longer would feel like a drag. At five hours, it's snappy and ultimately harmless. So if you don't mind spending $15 on five hours of well-written, light-hearted entertainment, or if you just want to get into the Halloween spirit the way you did when you were a kid, give Costume Quest a try.