Costume Quest 2
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Costume Quest’s buff-conveying battle stamps have been replaced by collectible Creepy Treat Cards, of which three can be equipped at any time.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.