Candy? Costumes? Why, it must be Halloween! Think of children running around, excitedly yelling, “Trick or treat!” or street parties where neighbours can come together to celebrate.
Costume Quest 2 opens on that high note, picking up siblings Reynold and Wren’s adventure soon after the previous game, just as they arrive in their hometown of Auburn Pines. A Halloween party is due to begin, but as is sometimes the case, there may be some unwelcome guests. And cue the arrival of invading monsters from another realm, led by the crazed local dentist Orel White. The kids must then embark on a journey to try and prevent the invasion from ever occurring, or risk facing a dystopian future where candy and costumes are outlawed.
All in all, the game features a simple story that is easy enough to follow. While it may certainly appeal to a younger audience, the simple premise of going around on an epic adventure wearing costumes and fighting bad guys is sure to also have a nostalgic effect on some of the older gamers out there. However, and as I’ll go into detail later, there is very little story beyond that which is made clear at the beginning.
I should probably take the time, however, to commend the writers for offering up a storyline that, for the most part, is able to stand up on its own. By that, I mean that newcomers to the series will quickly be able to grasp what’s going on, even without having played through the original game or had knowledge of its storyline.
I must say that I rather enjoyed the game’s simplistic design, aesthetically similar to Double Fine’s Psychonauts. At times, the game took more of a cartoon-like appearance, though that did little to detract from the experience. In fact, it reminded me of my childhood, with an environment that visually resembled ones from classic games like Crash Bandicoot.
It is also worth noting that I found some of the building and character models to take upon a lighter, and often, comical appearance. This was likely intentional on the developer’s part, helping to establish an atmosphere suitable for players of all ages, and to contribute towards the game’s focus on a child’s imagination.
With regards to sound design, the developers certainly did well to provide a score that matched the mood and atmosphere of the explorable locations. It was a nice touch to hear gentle guitar strumming as I explored the swampy bayou, to the upbeat, New Orleans-esque sounds of the French Quarter.
Central to the game’s premise is quite obviously candy and costumes. While the former’s importance was restricted mostly to purchasing upgrades and replenishing health, it is the latter that was of more interest to me.
I vividly remember owning several costumes as a child, but those don’t begin to compare to the variety featured in the game. They ranged from the starting superhero costume, to a clown, right up to a ghost. Each came with their own unique abilities, so it was fun to experiment with different combinations for my characters during battle. A number of them did have abilities usable outside of battle, like the pterodactyl costume allowing us to flap wings. I do find fault with this feature, however, given the lack of cues informing us what to do upon first encountering an obstacle we could clear.
In addition, the presence of several of these costumes did seem to be a matter of convenience. Sure, it was nice to have such a variety of them, but certain ones like the Hotdog outfit really only had one use outside of battle, and that was to distract a minion standing close by to where it was found.
Upon getting right into the main part of the game, I found myself in a bayou, where I began to familiarise myself with some of the game’s features. Throughout this stage of the game, I was tasked with carrying out a number of side quests, including locating children (hide-and-seek), knocking on doors for candy deliveries, and seeking out special Creepy Treat Cards for trade.
At first, I found these side quests to be a largely fun and challenging experience, although given the scale of the bayou, it often took some time backtracking if I missed something. However, when I advanced onto the following stages, I found that each area contained all of the above features, and little else. This gave way into repetitiveness, and as such, the game felt like seven monotonous hours doing the same things repeatedly. More than that, the hours spent running around had me forgetting that there was actually a point to all this, with a disproportionate amount of time doing errands to advance the storyline.
In their quest to undo Orel White’s evil plan, our heroes must often face off against the dentist’s minions. These take the form of turn-based battles, providing ample time for players to formulate strategies on how best to defeat their foes. Each character in the party would have an opportunity to use a regular attack, their costume’s special ability (if the special meter was filled), or a Creepy Treat Card.
I honestly felt that the Creepy Treat Cards made skirmishes far too easy. Despite encountering such a wide range during the course of the game, two in particular caught my attention: one that enabled enemy minions to attack themselves, and another that caused their attacks to heal your heroes. To put it simply, these two were overpowered. Perhaps to dampen their overall effectiveness, making use of them required cool down periods, and some were restricted for use only on minions and not bosses.
If I have anything positive to say about the combat system, it is that the game offered up some interesting special attacks. These attacks carried on between each battle, and gave me the freedom to strategically charge them up during a minion battle, and save their use for a boss battle. A particular favourite of mine was the ‘Declaration of Destruction’ that accompanied the Thomas Jefferson’s costume, and came with a neat little cutscene.