A psychopath tried to murder my sister and I when we were children. We pressed the bell and the grotesque figure flung open the door, letting loose a scream that stopped my heart. The thing above us brandished a meat cleaver. I’d never seen a knife so large. If this sicko wasn’t trying to kill us, it would have almost been comically large, glinting in the light of the street lamps. My sister and I both spun and ran, our short legs pumping faster than they’d ever moved before. Our capes billowed behind us as we ran. She made it to the sidewalk and I was just steps behind her when we heard the sound. It was a voice, both sweet and comforting, calling after us. We turned to see our would be killer replaced by a woman, crouched down, apologetic eyes, and sympathetic smile turned our way. A mother. The rubber mask was in her one hand and the cleaver in the other. My sister was four years old and I was six. It was Halloween Night.
Playing through Costume Quest, from developer Double Fine, brought up this memory from my childhood, and many others: The excitement of dressing up, the promise of epic hauls of candy, the anxiety of going out on the one night of the year when monsters, ghosts, and creatures-most-foul walk the night. But the payoff was worth it, a pillow case brimming with sugary treats that would keep me awake long into morning. All of this is perfectly captured by the quirky, self-aware, and downright charming experience that is Costume Quest.
Costume Quest tells the story of Wren and Reynold, fraternal twins, out for a night of trick-or-treating in their new neighbourhood. All is not well, however, as a group of monsters from another dimension descend on the town to steal every last piece of candy for nefarious purposes. When one of the siblings is kidnapped, mistaken by the monsters for a giant piece of candy corn, the other must embark on a mission, not only to save their twin, but also to be home for curfew and, of course, save Halloween. As our hero ventures door to door rooting out monsters and collecting candy, neighbourhood kids eventually join in the adventure. Luckily, the kids can transform into giant living avatars of their makeshift costumes to battle these monsters. Equipping one of the kids in a cardboard robot costume has them transform into a giant mech, or, if they are brandishing a garbage can shield and cardboard sword, they appear as a towering and gallant knight. The game never explains how this happens, but it doesn’t need to. The cartoonish art style and smart, tongue-in-cheek story allow for the suspension of disbelief. I was able to sit back and enjoy one more night of trick-or-treating, with the occasional fight with giant monsters thrown in for good measure.
Costume Quest is a very simple game that revolves around exploration and turn based combat. It keeps its systems and mechanics straightforward and relies on the world it has created to keep the player engaged. The text based dialog is delightful and oftentimes quite funny, showcasing the endearing humour Double Fine has come to be known for. (Think Psychonauts or Brütal Legend.) Whether it’s the victory dance the giant robot performs after battle or using a toilet paper attack to stun enemies, the game world is littered with little details that exemplify Double Fine’s unique approach. The most gratifying game element was finding makeshift materials on the journey to unlock more costumes with new abilities. Finding the right combination of costumes to fit my style of play was a lot of fun, even if the combat loop itself became a little stale as the game wore on. Costume Quest could have benefited from a little more depth in its mechanics, to keep things fresh throughout, but the charm of the game was enough to make me want to see it through to the end.
What Costume Quest nails perfectly is the buildup of anticipation when you knock on a stranger’s door. Will I get the treat and be rewarded with heaps of candy? Or will I be tricked and set upon by a psycho with a knife? The music swells at the perfect moment and I found myself clutching my controller with anticipation. These feelings the game is able to evoke are what made the experience so enjoyable. Even though the actual gameplay is simple, and it’s easy to progress, Costume Quest’s quaint art style and plucky attitude make it something special and memorable.
At the end of those Halloween nights of my youth, there was always a moment of catharsis, a realization that I had faced my fears. The psychos, the goblins, the teenagers. I had made it through the gauntlet and come out the other end with my prize. I think most of us can relate to what it is like to sit on the living room floor, dividing up the night’s spoils, and concocting a new battle plan to acquire even more candy the next year. This is why Costume Quest succeeds. It plays to the childlike fun that is Halloween. Dressing up as pirates, ninjas, and robots and using the power of imagination allows us to spend one night every year in a fantastical world. I’m eagerly anticipating Halloween this year and, thankfully, Costume Quest 2 should be out just in time.
If you miss the fun of trick-or-treating, or if you just really love candy, you should take this game down off the shelf.
Time on the Shelf - 3 Years and 8 Months. Played on PC for approximately 8 hours. Screenshots