Costume Quest – first look at Double Fine's XBLA/PSN adventure

Anyone waiting for Tim Schafer and his Double Fine minions to release a Psychonauts or Brutal Legend sequel may want to take a number… in hell, when it freezes over and is ruled by flying pigs and President Ralph Nader. Those not willing to wait so long, however, can get their Double Fine fix this fall with the release of Costume Quest, an XBLA and PSN entry representing the studio’s new initiative to make some “smaller” games.

We recently got a sneak peek of the game in action from THQ producer Evan Icenbice, who set the stage for this appealing Halloween-themed title. “Costume Quest is a classic RPG, where you play as one of two characters, brother and sister Wren or Reynold. It’s Halloween night and your brother—or sister, depending on who you’ve chosen to play as—is kidnapped by monsters and you set out to find them.”

While this premise piqued our interest, it was Costume Quest’s engaging visuals that got us counting the days till All Hollows Eve. Spawned from the mind of Double Fine’s lead animator Tasha Harris, the title sports a charming cel-shaded style, brimming with neat little details; kids in colorful Halloween costumes patrol suburban neighborhood streets decorated with jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows and other signs of the season, while autumnal hues paint trees lining the sidewalks. The look, cartoony but not kiddie, recalls Scooby Doo and Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness.

As your character trolls the ‘burbs for candy in exploration mode, they find clues of their sibling’s whereabouts and collect pieces for new costumes. There are 10 getups in all, including a robot, knight, ninja and unicorn—we asked Icenbice if we could dress as a pirate, but he played coy. Costumes are constructed of random, cheap items such as cardboard, felt, tin foil, and paper; the knight’s shield, for example, is just a trash can cover. But these simple outfits undergo a badass makeover when you enter combat mode—triggered by knocking on certain doors—and your young protagonist’s active imagination takes over. Once in battle, the makeshift robot turns into a towering Transformer-like mech, and the tiny knight-in-shining-tin-foil morphs into a menacing, sword-wielding warrior.

The battles themselves, which Icenbice described as “classic, turn-based Final Fantasy-like style” have players utilizing a variety of offensive, defensive and specialized moves. Additionally, you can befriend costumed buddies, up to three of which can join you on the battlefield. Because you’re now playing as a larger-than-life hero rather than a little squirt with a sweet tooth, you can unleash the sort of screen-clearing attacks traditional videogame knights and mechs are known for. What’s cooler, though, is that many moves also carry an exploration mode counterpart. During battle, the knight, for example, can target partners and protect them from attacks with his enormous shield; but in exploration mode, his more modest garbage can lid can shield his friends from falling debris. Each of the 10 costumes sport different abilities available in both combat and exploration modes, and while the game doesn’t support co-op, players will be able to switch costumes on-the-fly to take advantage of these different skills.

Our hands-off peek of Costume Quest was brief, but its appealing mix of exploration and combat already has us eager to spend some time behind the gamepad. The gameplay looks solid and the personality-packed style screams Double Fine. From HUD icons, such as peppermints that serve as the special attack gauge and candy wrappers representing XP, to the endless spooky Halloween touches, Costume Quest is absolutely brimming with inspired tricks and treats.

Aug 11, 2010

Matt Cabral
A full-time freelance writer based in Lizzie Borden's hometown, Matt Cabral has covered film, television, and video games for over a decade. You can follow him on Twitter @gamegoat, friend him on Facebook, or find him in the basement of an abandoned building hoarding all the canned goods, med-kits, and shotgun shells.