It was kind of surprising to hear Double Fine deciding to carpet bomb us with games over the next year, but if Costume Quest is anything to go by, it's definitely a surprise that should be welcomed. It's a slightly flawed game, but at the same time probably something my mom would consider "charming." More importantly, it's also a lot of fun.
Costume Quest features a vaguely Calvin & Hobbes-esque story, focusing on twins Reynold and Wren. One of the siblings is kidnapped -- which one depends on which character you choose to play -- by a monster during trick or treating, and it's up to you to find him or her before curfew. Of course, if the monsters and witches actually are what they seem as opposed to teenagers in costumes depends on your point of view. The game, not surprisingly, plays from the kids' perspective, whose costumes turns into battle gear while fighting very real monsters.
On the surface Costume Quest reminds me of those simple 8-bit Nintendo RPG titles like Dragon Quest. You run around neighborhoods and malls, collecting candy and clues leading to your sibling. You will be ambushed by monsters, and this is when the game turns to a turn-based battle battle mode. The characters will transform into their costume -- a robot, Statue of Liberty, a ninja, etc. -- which their abilities will mirror. Some costumes, for example, will be better for attacks, while others are more suited for healing. As more kids join your team, part of the strategy is to pick balanced costumes that cover all the bases.
The combat mechanism is simple and slightly repetitive -- press a button at the right time for the most part -- but also addictive, largely thanks to some awesome animations and fun background graphics. The whole game, in fact, looks fantastic in all its childlike glory and warm colors. The same goes for the music, composed by Schafer-mainstay Peter McConnell.
In fact, the only issue with the sound and graphics is the lack of voice acting, which leaves you to read speech bubbles instead. This wouldn't be all bad, hadn't it been for a poor font choice which makes reading difficult, and the text sometimes disappear before you've read through it all. Apparently there's a patch out now that will fix this, but it was released after I finished the game and I don't know how well it works.
I can understand why they didn't use voice actors for a smaller game like this, but I still miss it. The lack of spoken dialogue is the one thing that prevents the game from "coming alive."
Luckily the writing is vintage Tim Schafer, and the game is at times quite funny. There isn't enough dialogue to make it the next Grim Fandango or anything, but what's there is good, and the amount of bizarre characters makes the story fun enough to keep your interest throughout. Look out for fun little references to Psychonauts, Monkey Island, and even Arrested Development.
Gameplay wise everything works fine. The combat, like mentioned above, is a bit repetitive, but winning a battle is satisfying none the less. The one thing I kind of miss is a map, as finding places to trick or treat can be frustrating at times. How long it takes to finish the game just depends how much you like to explore and how many challenges you choose to complete. A good 7-10 hours is my guess.
Overall this is a good game, and it's fun to see Tasha Harris take the lead of a Double Fine project. It might not be the company's best game, yet it's not its worst either, and is worth the $15-ish price tag. I'm not sure if this is as strong as the latest Sam & Max game, DeathSpank, or even Nelson Tethers, so if money is an object, definitely try the demo before you buy.
Get it if you can forego a few trips to Starbucks however.