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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Costume Quest (XBox Live Arcade)

Halloween in America is awesome. I'm qualified to say that, because I lived there through six of them and experienced it in all its over-the-top-yet-perfectly-orchestrated splendour. It's a wonderful occasion, and an absolute joy to walk the streets with your kids, going from door to door. It's a hell of a contrast to the British attempt at Halloween, with kids coming round any time they fancy from September onwards, and gurning miserably at you if you have the nerve to give them sweets and not money. Grasping little shits.

See what a cynic I've become? I miss the American Halloween. But now, thanks to the lovely folks at Double Fine I can play Halloween on my XBox, with the release of their new game, Costume Quest.


Ahh, siblings... always with the fighting and arguing...

Costume Quest is almost heartbreakingly cute, but more than that, it captures perfectly the entire essence, feel and atmosphere of an American suburb on Halloween. The opening scene, where the camera travels through the neighbourhood on the way to our heroes' house, is just right in every way, with the kids milling about in their costumes in the early evening.

The object of Halloween, and therefore the game, is to collect as much candy as possible. Costume Quest features a pair of twins; Reynold, a boy, and Wren, a girl. After their initial squabbling, you must decide which of the twins will be the leader while trick-or-treating, and therefore the character under your control. Unfortunately, this is no ordinary Halloween night. The town is hiding place to a horde of candy-gobblin' goblins, as Reynold and Wren soon discover when one of them is kidnapped by one of the monsters...


"By the power of Graysk... oh, hang on...

Whichever child is left must do the trick-or-treat rounds, collecting candy as usual, but also recruiting allies to help in the fight against the evil Goblin forces. This isn't too difficult, as the town is packed with kids in their different costumes. Some are not so friendly, but once you get someone onside, they'll follow you around and you have the added benefit of having them, and the powers of their costume, alongside you in battle.

The battles take place when the kids encounter any of the monsters intruding upon Auburn Pines' evening. In what is an awesome turn of events, they transform into whatever they're wearing at the time. So a robot boy becomes a huge missile-firing mech, a knight becomes, ummm... a knight, etc. What's brilliant about this is that it puts you directly into the mindset of the kids... if they were wearing those costumes, that's how they'd imagine themselves to be. It's fantastic.


And now, foul creature, you shall perish by my sword.

As you travel, you can hit many of the objects around town. Mailboxes, bins and even pumpkins may contain precious candy, and it all helps to fill your candy pail. And then there are other items to be found... most notably, costumes. You can obtain blueprints of different costumes, and the pieces can be found around town, usually in coffins that are lying in back gardens...

There's a bit more to the game than this, too. You'll routinely pick up quests along the way, and these help add a fair amount of play-time. I haven't completed the game yet, so I'm not entirely sure whether you have to finish all the quests to complete the game, but you'll probably want to anyway as they help you in various ways, whether it's for XP or bonus items to use in the game.


Mr. Johnson's costume was just a touch too realistic.

Adding to the whole feel of Costume Quest is the dialogue. It's not spoken, but pops up in bubbles, and is beautifully child-like... and childish, at times! That's not meant in a bad way, it's just another way the game completely sells the world in which it takes place. There's some great humour too... check out the fella with the bobbing-for-apples minigame as a prime example...

I've read reviews that complain about certain elements of the game... that there's too much story, or the fighting is too simplistic, or the save game system is rubbish (actually, there's an element of truth to that last one, but not so much that it's offputting at all). But I bet those reviews were written by the kind of joyless goons that leave their porch lights off on Halloween. Costume Quest is a beautifully conceived and executed little game, that is a thorough joy to experience. Best of all, better even than the fact I love it, it's had my almost-ten-year-old absolutely hooked since he bought it. You can't ask for much more than that.

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