‘Costume Quest 2’ is more trick than treat

This article originally appeared on The Oakland Press.

Costume Quest 2 is the sequel to Double Fine’s 2011 RPG where on Halloween, kids are the heroes, their costumes are their powers, and candy is the currency. The original was noted for its unique premise, funny writing, and kid-friendly approach to the RPG genre. But it seems the sweet presentation may be lacking in substance this time around.

Costume Quest 2 lets players go into combat wearing classic Halloween costumes, such as a wizard, a superhero, or the ever-popular Thomas Jefferson.

Costume Quest 2 lets players go into combat wearing classic Halloween costumes, such as a wizard, a superhero, or the ever-popular Thomas Jefferson.

The story picks up where Costume Quest left off, with a group of kids fresh off of saving Halloween jumping randomly through interdimensional portals, trying to return to their neighborhood. By coincidence, they travel through time to Halloween the following year, and immediately begin trick-or-treating again. The time-travel based story is convoluted, but it revolves around the kids trying to save Halloween again, this time from the holiday’s most dreaded foe, naturally, a deranged dentist trying to outlaw costumes and candy.

The gameplay remains mostly unchanged from the original. You lead the kids from house to house in various neighborhoods trick-or-treating. When you knock on the door, you’re greeted either by an adult that’ll reward you with a pile of candy, or a monster that’ll attack you. In the latter case, you’ll go into a turn-based battle where your powers are determined by the costume you’re wearing, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The Wolfman costume can let you claw and bite your foes, while the Wizard costume will let you cast powerful spells. Precisely-timed button presses can let you do additional damage, block an attack or even counterattack.

There are a lot of new and inventive outfits to equip your characters with, including a Pterodactyl and Thomas Jefferson. But the notable standout is the Candy Corn, which not only does nothing to help, but is also unapologetic about it. Instead of taking a turn in combat, the confectionery costume will offer lines such as “Candy Corn has nothing to prove.”

Costume Quest 2's sassiest outfit, Candy Corn, is totally unwilling to help in a fight, and doesn't care what you think of it.

Costume Quest 2’s sassiest outfit, Candy Corn, is totally unwilling to help in a fight, and doesn’t care what you think of it.

In a curious departure from the original Costume Quest, the flow of battles is broken up by the need to heal your characters between battles, either by running to a nearby drinking fountain, or by eating some of your candy stash. But since candy doubles as money for buying upgrades in the world of Costume Quest, you’ll want to be weary of gobbling up too much of it.

In part due to its simple mechanics and saccharine aesthetic, I’d like to recommend Costume Quest 2 as a “My First RPG” for young kids who are new to the role-playing genre. However, a better initiation into the world of hit points and turn-based combat would probably be the original Costume Quest, which has more solid writing and is more polished. I’d like to recommend it as a “seasonal” game for adults to revel in their Halloween memories, but it tends to stray from that theme, as over half of the game takes place in a dystopian future where the holiday has been outlawed. And for hardcore RPG-fans, mechanically, the combat is just not very satisfying. There’s not enough depth or challenge to really reward using strategy, and games like Paper Mario have done the timing-based RPG battles better.

It does have the trademark charm that Double Fine games are known for; The dental dictator-ruled future is full of tooth-shaped watchtowers, and braces form fences keeping children in line. However, the writing is much weaker than in the original Costume Quest, with fewer laugh-out-loud-funny lines. It falls short of the normally high standard for Double Fine dialogue. The lack of any voiceover also makes the pacing feel awkward at times during cutscenes.

It’s all a bit frustrating, because I feel that the premise of a Halloween-centered video game has so much untapped potential. After the first Costume Quest, I had hoped the sequel would bring a lot more depth and customizability into the costume system, turning it into something akin to the Job system of numerous Final Fantasy games, with each character taking on a different appearance and getting different bonuses from each costume. Instead, each costume looks identical in combat, regardless of who is wearing it. The notable exception is the superhero costume, which becomes a superheroine when a girl character is using it. More of this would have been a welcome addition.

The original Costume Quest stands on its own as a good game, but by the time it was over, I was ready to move on. Unfortunately, Costume Quest 2 adds little to the original formula, and by the halfway point, hitting every house on the block becomes a chore rather than a treat. It’s a bit like bingeing on fun size candy bars same night you get them; it’s good in small doses, but by the time I had reached the bottom of the bucket, I was sick of it.

Costume Quest is available for $14.99 on PC, iOS, and Linux platforms. Double Fine provided a download code for the purposes of this review.

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