by Ewan Wilson
reviewed on PC
The spirit of Halloween is under threat. “Candy” and children's costume parties have been banned by an evil dictator dentist obsessed with the idea of a joyless, clean-teeth utopia. DoubleFine's cheerful, if heavily formulaic RPG sees you saving the festive cheer with a group of costumed kiddies. Like so many sequels with nowhere to go plot-wise, Costume Quest 2 utilises time-travel with whimsical abandon. To restore Halloween you must travel both back and forward in time, overcoming paradoxes whilst completing trick or treat quests and fighting monsters.
Much of the game involves wandering suburban American neighbourhoods, where I hear Halloween is popular. You can hit bushes and letterboxes to collect currency, but you'll spend the majority of your time searching for new costume pieces. Quests and progression relies on you acquiring new costumes, all of which have a special ability that you can use to affect the world in some way. The clown suit honks a horn, allowing you to move pigeons and crocodiles that may be blocking certain paths. Likewise, the Pterodactyl suit allows you to blow a gust of wind to clear leaves from a path, whilst the Wizard uses a glowing light to walk through darker areas. It's very simple and at times can feel quite workmanlike. Search the area and, utilising the costume-abilities you have, open up enough treasure chests to gather the pieces needed to attain the next costume, which will then allow you to move on once more. Rinse and repeat.
Knock, knock? Give it a rest!
In between all of the wandering and collecting are the battles. In traditional Japanese RPG fashion, you're taken from the “overworld” into the realm of the turn-based battle system. You will control up to three children, each of whom transform into the super-powered version of the costume they're wearing. The cute kid wearing the clown suit will be blown up into a rotund, towering maniac who rolls into his enemies whilst cackling madly. Combat is, like the exploration, relatively simple. In order to make the battles more involving, Costume Quest 2 prompts you to time your attacks perfectly with an additional button press – later, two presses – to dish out more damage. Defending enemy attacks at the right time also means you'll be dealt less damage. It's hard to praise this element considering it has been used countless times in other games, and for the fact that without it you'd probably drift off to sleep during these prolonged sequences.
In addition to the bread and butter attacks, each costume has a special move which charges up as you deal or receive damage. The moves have longer and more spectacular animations, but generally have less impact than the costume's ability in the “overworld”. The clown's special will heal everyone; other costume specials will deal high amounts of damage, or damage everyone. They add character, but it won't be long before you're skipping the drawn-out manoeuvres and trying to pass by encounters as quickly as possible. On top of attacking and specials, you can play up to three “cards” in battles. Cards can be either found or bought with the candy currency you collect. Each card has a special effect, as well as a cool-down period that keeps them from being too powerful an influence. One card will make an enemy minion heal instead of damage you; others will simply enhance your attack damage or defence. There is a fair bit of variety introduced here, although there are only so many parameters the cards can really affect or enhance.
Knock knock. Who's there? Well, there's a 3/6 chance that another enemy will be there, behind the door, ready to reward you with an irritating battle sequence. There are three of these trick or treat type quests and each one is as tiresome as the next. These are the worst segments of the game and thoroughly convinced me that these kinds of turn-based battle systems should really be consigned to history.
Am I the dentist?
DoubleFine games are of course known for their charm and on occasion, wit, but Costume Quest 2 often seems unrelenting in its effort to win hearts. It's a game on a charm offensive. Although this may work wonders on the younger, intended, audience, it often came across as if it was trying a little too hard. Of course, this is a cynic speaking. The game looks great, both in the world and during the battles; a cute comic style that's vivid and colourful. As you leap through time, you get to wander the French quarter of New Orleans with its jazz musicians and street performers. There's also the dystopian roof-top metropolis from where wealthy monsters look down upon dental re-education camps.
I suppose that eventually even the cynic wears down from the constant stream of charm and manufactured joy. Costume Quest 2 is a likeable game; just not a very good one. The battle system is really far too simplistic, and some of the quests work their hardest to make this glaringly apparent. The time-travel plot has its amusing moments – I'm not averse to a bit of silliness! The plot moves quickly and doesn't outstay its welcome but ultimately, a story involving children saving Halloween isn't going to speak much to a killjoy. Even then, surely there's more to the daft consumerist holiday than candy and funny costumes? Maybe the dentist had a point…
Has some charm, extremely colourful comic-book graphic style, the silly time travel plot is likeable.
Simplistic and tiresome turn-based combat, wit can miss as much as hit, it's not really what Halloween is all about.