Unfortunately, as the years go by costumes tend to give way to fashion, candy is replaced by booze, and trick-or-treating is no longer a viable option for us anymore. Now personally, I will dress up and eat candy until I'm dead, but there are a few parts of the Halloween experience that have to be heaped onto the nostalgia pile. Thankfully, the game developer Double Fine has come up with a great way for us to relive them: Costume Quest.
The story begins with Wren and Reynold, a brother-sister pair about to go trick-or-treating. While bickering with each other, a gruesome monster kidnaps Reynold, forcing Wren to come up with a plan to save him. As Wren scours the town looking for her brother, making new friends, and vanquishing monsters, she finds that there's a plot to steal all the candy that exists, in the hopes of summoning an ancient and ridiculously evil force.
Let's talk about the nuts and bolts first: Costume Quest, as a video game, is not challenging, or even all that innovative. This is simple RPG-lite gameplay with turn-based battle, much like Paper Mario. None of the enemies or bosses are especially threatening, and if you're the kind of player who explores every nook and cranny, you'll still finish the game in about 6 hours. Consider it a fun-size Snickers of a game rather than a king-size Reese's cup.
What is so wonderful about this title is that it nails the spirit of Halloween perfectly. This easily could have been a TV special from the late 1980s and the concept and characters would have worked just fine. You've got a story involving evil monsters, trick-or-treating, a plot to take over the world, and little kids being the only ones who know what's going on, with the adults writing off their pleas for help as sugar-induced nonsense. The environments in the game, ranging from a suburb to the local mall to a county fair, are dripping in fake skeletons, witches, ghosts, bats, spiders, scarecrows, and jack-o-lanterns, and the music is suitably quirky and just a little bit creepy. Best of all, the dialogue is frequently hilarious and pop-culture savvy without being overdone, a Double Fine trademark.
What really sells the concept though is the transformations. When the characters enter a battle, they become epic real-life versions of their costumes. So, the kid wearing the cardboard robot outfit is now a giant mech with a heat-seeking missile attack, while Wren's kitchen strainer helmet and Dad's bathrobe have turned her into a shimmering knight with a sword. There are 10 costumes in total, not counting the Grubbins on Ice DLC. Just wait until you see the transformation for the french fry costume.
The action can become a little tedious and the animations a bit repetitive as you near the end, but overall, Costume Quest is a delightful throwback to the glory days of the holiday, when we created our own costumes and were able to walk around the neighborhood at night safely. It's rare to see a story that not only takes place on Halloween, but is so tied into the vibe and the traditions of the day, and rarer still for that story to be a video game. I plan on starting a new tradition of playing it every October, and I highly recommend you pick it up. It's available as a downloadable title for XBOX 360, PS3, and PC.
But wait, there's more!
Costume Quest 2 was just released this month after overwhelming positive response to the first game. Picking up where the DLC for CQ1 leaves off, the sequel features new environments, time travel, an evil dentist, and a spectacularly unhelpful candy corn costume. Here's the trailer: