How do you create a follow-up to a game with the relatively simple premise of saving Halloween without becoming uninspired retread of the first adventure? In the case of Costume Quest 2, you throw in some time travel, a candyless dystopia, and an insane dentist. As wonderfully inspired and original as the first game was, the sequel is an improvement in almost every way.
Picking up where Costume Quest's add-on content Grubbins on Ice left off, Costume Quest 2 fixes the first game's quirks and problems while retaining the memorable visuals, humor, and feel-good story. Where Costume Quest took too long to introduce new costumes and wasted too much gameplay on the door-to-door trick-or-treating mechanic, Costume Quest 2 jumps immediately into the role-playing action, giving you a full party, steady access to a new assortment of costumed abilities, and a big area to explore. It relies more on ridiculous visuals and silly scenarios for its laughs than snappy dialogue, but Costume Quest 2 is still a charming game that kept me smiling throughout my playthrough.
The intricate way that houses are decorated for Halloween, and the sly cameos sprinkled throughout the game's backgrounds, are a constant source of delight, but it's the design of the characters that lends the game so much personality. Both simple and cloyingly cute, it's hard not to be won over by the innocent, wide-eyed stares of your chosen protagonist and his fellow adventurers. The characters and world design are the elements that made the first Costume Quest so memorable, and Costume Quest 2 retains that same wonderful visual flair.
While roaming the game's town, you interact with people and objects by smashing them with your candy sack or by using costume-specific powers. The mechanics are simple and they encourage exploring the world with joyous abandon, even if the puzzles are always dead simple. Is there a pile of leaves in your path? Use your pterodactyl ability to drum up some wind and blow them away. Is the road too dark to proceed? Dress up like a wizard and use your staff to light the way. But that simplicity keeps the game moving swiftly along, and the strength of your powers always feels satisfying. And best of all, your powers powers occasionally open up ridiculously memorable situations, like getting into a musical duel against a violin virtuoso where the only instrument available to you is a clown horn.
Costume Quest 2 is an RPG in the sense that you gain experience, level up, and increase your attack and defense, but the game's real focus is on fun exploration and reading occasional one-liners from both your party members and people you meet in the game. Seeing "level up" pop up on the screen gives that familiar rush of making progress, but enemies level up right along with you, so even when you learn a few new combat techniques, the challenge remains consistent throughout.
Battling is fun in small doses, but back-to-back battles can get tiresome. Some enemies roam freely around the world and are easy to avoid, but most of the battles you encounter in Costume Quest 2 happen when knocking on someone's door asking for candy. When you meet an unfriendly creature bent on stealing the world's sweets rather than handing them out, you're thrust into a turn-based battle with a shift to comic-book-style graphics. The cherubic faces of your characters take on literal manifestations of the costumes they're wearing, such as spandex-clad superheroes or giant pieces of immobile candy corn. And they're also 50 feet tall.
Every time you get to try out a new costume, the flashy, stylistic combat feels exciting and new. But it can also lean towards boring simplicity on those rare occasions when you have to fight too many foes one after the other. Enemies and costumes have strengths and weaknesses against certain attack types, and red, green, or white numbers flash across your opponent with every attack. But battles basically boil down to back-and-forth slugfests: as long as at least one of your characters survives to the end, you win. Fun, even if it's not terribly complicated.
You have options for healing, and there are reusable cards that can give you a quick boost like increased power or an extra attack. But you can't change your costumes on the fly, so the better strategy is generally to hit hard and keep hitting. The power of your attacks and blocks are predicated on matching up a contracting circle to a target on your enemy. The closer you get to landing your circle exactly within that target, the more damage your attack deals (or the less damage you take when enemies attack). The-timing based gameplay keeps you engaged in the combat, and gives you a constant metric to try and improve. Hit your target exactly and the screen grows blue as "Awesome!" flashes across the screen. Combat may be simple, but stringing together a series of perfect combos provides an exhilarating challenge.
Like the game itself, battling's main draw is the appeal of seeing your characters in action and watching the effects of each costume's unique super attacks, which you can pull off after taking (or dealing out) a set amount of damage. Just as in the first Costume Quest, watching enemy encounters unfold are like seeing a child's imagination come to life. Towards the game's midpoint, Costume Quest 2 starts to stray off course slightly and lose a small amount of its momentum. Suddenly you're caught in back-to-back requests to visit houses asking for candy, and fighting random battle after random battle. But the game seems to catch itself before it slides too far into the same rote combat trap of the original. And the fast-paced final act makes you forget that momentary lapse with a sly, separate take on the your candy-collecting journey.
Costume Quest 2 is a short, 5-hour experience that can be extended slightly by searching for collectible cards and every costume. But I'll always prefer a more focused experience over a meandering, back-tracking, and bloated adventure. Costume Quest starts fast and knows how to end on a high note that leaves you wanting to explore the world just a little bit longer. It'd be easy for a simplistic, family-friendly game like this to feel like a cash-in on what worked before; after all, this is developer Double Fine's first sequel. But Costume Quest 2 retains the child-like irreverence and genuine heart that make it a game worth becoming something like your favorite Halloween movie: an experience to revisit every holiday.