Deliciously More of the Same
Double Fine’s original Costume Quest was a surprise turn-based RPG hit in 2010. The sequel, appropriately named Costume Quest 2, offers the diehard cult following of the original more of the saccharine RPG hilarity they’ve been craving. With upgraded visuals, some new tweaks to combat and a fresh time-traveling storyline, is CQ2 enough to enthrall fans for a second go round? Releasing on every major console, PC, Mac, and Linux this week, we reviewed the Steam PC version, played mostly with an Xbox 360 controller. Controls for the keyboard were not 100% optimized, but we did play with them as well with little issue. Maneuvering around the world just felt more natural with the thumbstick, so it’s the controller we wound up using most.
The original CQ is something of a cult-hit, with fans that replay the game every year around Halloween. Next to Psychonauts, a sequel to Costume Quest is often cited by studio head Tim Schafer as the company’s most requested sequel. Similar to JRPGs, the battles are comprised of three-person parties and turn-based in nature. Though you can do extra damage, initiate combos, and block incoming attacks by timing key presses at precisely the right time. Folks who might have played the fantastic Paper Mario series on Nintendo consoles will feel right at home.
The story of CQ2 picks up right after the “Grubbins on Ice” DLC from the original, with the same characters and all, though don’t worry too much if you never played the first game. The story of Costume Quest two quickly goes off into its own territory, and while you might miss some of the “in-jokes” from the prequel you won’t really find yourself too lost with the story. It’s not exactly Shakespeare we’re talking about. Though don’t get me wrong, much of the charm in Costume Quest 1 and 2 is found in its humor, nostalgic pining for childhood trick-or-treating, and the cartoony nature of its action sequences. Gamers looking for a serious RPG will want to look elsewhere, while those looking for a relaxed and casual experience around this time of year will be very pleased in the tone and setting of Costume Quest 2.
Though the visuals and effects of the cel-shaded game have received a nice upgrade from its 2011 counterpart, you still won’t see CQ2 winning any major awards. What it lacks in shaders and amazing animations, it more than makes up for with charm and a style all its own. The same can be said of the sound. You likely won’t find yourself humming its score, but the music and effects are appropriately “Halloweeny”. There’s no voice-acting here, but the written dialog is cheeky and helps give personality to the many characters across the game. And adding yet more personality to CQ2, the UI is made up to look like a kid’s notebook, with child-like writing and drawings. It’s a brilliant way to convey the sense of being on a children’s fantasy adventure.
The gameplay itself is very much akin to the original. In fact, for fans of the first game, your initial objectives will be eerily similar: go door-to-door trick-or-treating to collect candy in order to get someone to help you out and progress the story. As I was just starting my annual replay of the original, this was initially off-putting. But once you do the requisite task (intended to help players get acclimated to the flow of battle), the story and flow of CQ2 quickly go off on a completely new adventure. I won’t spoil too much of the story for you, but time-travel is involved, and the Grubbins aren’t your main nemesis this go-round. Side quests also receive an upgrade, relying far less on “fetch quests” and focusing more on involving the world and actual gameplay in the mix.
New additions to the turn-based combat make the overall game more enjoyable. Battle Stamps are gone, and in their place is the new form of Creepy Treat Cards. A combination of the stamps and collectible cards from the original, the Creepy Treat cards can be slotted and used again and again (on cooldowns) to various effects. Healing is also no longer automatic between battles, and instead you’ll either have to heal with special skills or cards in battle or at drinking fountains throughout the game. Coincidentally, said fountains also act as save points (though the game does save automatically quite frequently).
Quick-time events still factor in largely to the turn-based combat. Pressing a character’s corresponding button at just the right time will add extra damage to an attack, or block an oncoming rush from a foe. A little further into the game you’ll also unlock the ability to perform combos, where if you time a second press right you’ll follow up with more attacks. The difficulty of Costume Quest 2 never really ramps up too high, and chances are you might go through the entire 10 hour or so adventure with little adversity. Still, for a $14.99 adventure with this much charm and personality, I’m willing to forgive it for being more casually tuned.
Overall, Costume Quest 2 is one of those rare occasions where I can say that more of the same is just what the doctor ordered. With the right level of new polish to shore up some of the first game’s rough spots, along with a funny and interesting new story, this is one sequel that might be better than the original in every way. If, like me, you love the Halloween time of year and are nostalgic for the days of trick or treating and sugar-fueled nights… pick up Costume Quest 2 for its budget price of fifteen bucks and make it a new tradition every year. You’ll be glad you did.
- Gameplay – 9: Double Fine has greatly improved upon the combat, side quests, and overall pacing of the game. Simply put, it’s a blast to play. It’s just a little too easy as well.
- Visuals – 8: The in-house Buddha engine has received some upgrades, and while CQ2 won’t win any awards for its graphics, there’s a lot of charm and character in the game that can’t be matched.
- Polish – 8: Double Fine has very smartly updated the combat, the UI, the overall controls of the game. Some wonkiness still exists in traversing the map, but the game is a smooth experience in total.
- Longevity – 6: Though the Costume Quest games have a contingent of fans that replay the title every year as tradition, it’s still only about a 10 hour adventure that doesn’t vary much on additional playthroughs.
- Value – 9: CQ2 is $15 for one of the most novel turn-based RPG settings you’ll find, and it’s a ton of fun to boot. Plus, if you’re a parent, it’s very kid-friendly.