Cos­tume Quest 2

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Mid­night City De­vel­oper Dou­ble Fine Pro­duc­tions For­mat 360, PC (ver­sion tested), PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One Out now (PC), 31 Oc­to­ber

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One

Cos­tume Quest was such an ir­re­sistible idea that, four years on, this follow-up is con­tent to sim­ply re­peat it. And why not? Hal­loween is a great time for fer­tile imag­i­na­tions to run riot, and both the orig­i­nal and se­quel skil­fully cap­ture that nervy thrill of trick or treat­ing. The por­ten­tous drum roll as twins Reynold and Wren knock on another door per­fectly evokes those com­pet­ing emo­tions of an­tic­i­pa­tion and trep­i­da­tion, the cos­tumed pair un­sure if they’ll be greeted by a kindly neigh­bour ready to be­stow sweet gifts, or if be­hind the door lurks a heart­less mon­ster.

It’s usu­ally the lat­ter, at which point you’ll once again en­ter a de­light­ful flight of fancy where the chil­dren be­come em­pow­ered by their out­fits and are trans­formed into mus­cle-bound he­roes, ec­to­plas­mic spir­its, mum­mi­fied pharaohs or even Thomas Jefferson, whose Dec­la­ra­tion Of De­struc­tion of­fers a spec­tac­u­lar, if undiplo­matic, fi­nal so­lu­tion to en­coun­ters.

The turn-based com­bat has at least been gen­tly re­fined. You can boost the im­pact of at­tacks by press­ing but­tons just as your blows land, though rather than the clumsy ‘press X now’ of the first game, you’re asked to tap as a rapidly de­scend­ing cir­cle reaches a small marker. Tim­ing is rea­son­ably for­giv­ing for Nice at­tacks, though Amaz­ing ones are more ex­act­ing. They’re much more re­ward­ing, too, not only for the sub­stan­tial dam­age boost, but be­cause of the vi­brant pur­ple flash, large comic-book text and cel­e­bra­tory chime.

Coun­ters are equally sat­is­fy­ing, in­tro­duc­ing an el­e­ment of risk to de­fend­ing. While you can just tap a but­ton at the point of im­pact to min­imise in­jury, you can also opt to charge up a coun­ter­at­tack by hold­ing the same but­ton and re­leas­ing it as an en­emy con­nects. The catch, how­ever, is that you’re never sure who’s go­ing to come un­der at­tack next, though oc­ca­sion­ally an op­po­nent’s tell is long enough for you to ad­just and block if you’ve guessed wrongly.

Cos­tume Quest’s buff-con­vey­ing bat­tle stamps have been re­placed by col­lectible Creepy Treat Cards, of which three can be equipped at any time. Play­ing one uses up a hero’s turn, and once de­ployed they can’t be used again for two or three bat­tles, en­cour­ag­ing you to switch them out be­tween en­coun­ters. Yet while in the­ory they add an ex­tra layer of strat­egy to the game’s rudi­men­tary com­bat me­chan­ics, and oc­ca­sion­ally of­fer a much-needed post-bat­tle boost to health, ex­pe­ri­ence or candy, the game is never chal­leng­ing enough for them to feel es­sen­tial. Sim­i­larly, while ev­ery cos­tume is strong against par­tic­u­lar en­emy types and weak against oth­ers, so long as you’re adept at match­ing but­ton prompts, you’ll prob­a­bly never see the Game Over screen.

For­tu­nately, the bat­tles here are en­ter­tain­ing in and of them­selves. Much is down to the perky visual pre­sen­ta­tion and the cheer­ful in­ven­tion in the cos­tumes and the at­tacks that each of them en­ables. As Jefferson, you’ll an­grily thrust a flaming quill to­wards your ri­vals, while the clown cos­tume’s bounce at­tack serves up a won­der­fully an­i­mated prat­fall. As a white wizard, you’ll jab your staff into the ground, a strangely mov­ing echo of a kid freshly re­turned from see­ing The Lord Of The Rings and pre­tend­ing she’s Gan­dalf. And then there are the silly sight gags and bad puns: a fly­ing di­nosaur’s stan­dard move is named ‘Pter-at­tack-dyl’, for in­stance.

The gags flow out­side bat­tle, too, with a pretty de­cent hit rate, though new­com­ers may ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle early con­fu­sion at a plot that con­tin­ues from where Cos­tume Quest DLC Grub­bins On Ice left off. Sib­lings Wren and Reynold quickly find them­selves in a dystopian world where goose-step­ping den­tist Orel White has be­come a tyran­ni­cal over­lord, ban­ning all cos­tumes and candy. What fol­lows is a time-trav­el­ling plot that sees the twins visit the past and fu­ture, first ex­plor­ing the misty bayou that will even­tu­ally be­come their home of Auburn Pines, and a cold, ster­ile fu­ture of hover cars and en­forced ed­u­ca­tion in den­tal hy­giene. Yet when­ever you are, the struc­ture re­mains broadly sim­i­lar. When you’re not go­ing door to door col­lect­ing candy, you’re tak­ing clan­des­tine de­liv­er­ies to speakeasies. It’s also a game that’s more in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the nar­ra­tive cause and ef­fect of its tem­po­ral con­ceit than in­cor­po­rat­ing it into its me­chan­i­cal de­sign. The story may be ripe with po­ten­tial for some Chrono Trig­ger- style co­nun­drums, but each puz­zle is sim­ply a mat­ter of find­ing the right cos­tume abil­ity to use in the ap­pro­pri­ate place. A flap of your ptero­dactyl wings is enough to blow away a pile of leaves, while dress­ing as Jefferson means you’ll be able to ca­jole the eas­ily swayed into ab­scond­ing from their du­ties or re­veal­ing the lo­ca­tion of key items. The most ver­sa­tile tool is the clown’s horn, used to shoo ob­struc­tive pi­geons, wake al­li­ga­tors, and even join a jazz band, de­light­ing the au­di­ence with your ex­per­i­men­tal stylings in a short set-piece that’s a lit­eral hoot.

This in­ter­lude is Cos­tume Quest 2 in mi­cro­cosm. With a hand­ful of mi­nor ex­cep­tions, it’s a game that fails almost en­tirely at mean­ing­fully de­vel­op­ing any of the first game’s ideas, yet at the same time is able to com­fort­ably coast by on its un­de­ni­able charm. The lively pac­ing and con­tex­tual di­a­logue are enough to com­pen­sate for the rep­e­ti­tion of its tasks; even as you hunt down your third group of six hid­den chil­dren, you won’t feel your time is be­ing egre­giously wasted.

You’ll likely have seen ev­ery­thing within seven or eight hours, and most will be left sat­is­fied, if not want­ing more. A pall might set­tle over the for­mula if Cos­tume Quest 3 plays it sim­i­larly safe, but this of­fers the same high as the first: a syrupy con­fec­tion whose taste you fondly re­mem­ber, but that you haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced for a lit­tle while. In short, it’s sweet.

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