Double Fine’s latest game ‘Costume Quest 2’ starts with the assumption that you have played the first title which came out four years ago along with its Christmas themed DLC. The story picks up immediately after the conclusion of the ‘Grubbins on Ice’ storyline which was delivered as post release content but knowledge of previous events are entirely unnecessary in order to enjoy the sequel’s tale of time travelling and a dystopian future without candy and costumes. While the premise of the sequel immediately struck me as much more imaginative than the original’s tale of monsters (Repugians) stealing candy, the area that needed to see the most improvement was the turn based combat which makes up the bulk of your experience in either game.
Combat in ‘Costume Quest 2’ is a turn-based, timed button press affair similar to the combat mechanics seen in the ‘Super Mario RPG’ titles. Each member in your party of three has one basic attack (Unless you’re wearing the Candy Corn costume) and one special attack that becomes available after filling up a special meter by executing actions. After about an hour of play you will be given the ability to perform a second timed attack if the initial attack was well timed and shortly after this new ability is unlocked a similar mechanic becomes available for blocking. The simple act of timing button presses quickly wears out its welcome and battles become a chore to play through, a problem that is exacerbated by the fact that the game forces one of your three members to wear a Candy Corn costume that is unable to attack. Whenever the Candy Corn costume falls next in the line of initiative he or she skips their turn after offering up a one line gag referencing their inability to do battle. This was mildly amusing for a handful of fights but it made the first couple of hours until you find your first costume feel even slower than it already was.
The game attempts to add further wrinkles of complexity with the addition of enemy types. Throughout the game you will encounter magic, tech or monster type enemies and the various costumes you can equip will have a strength and weakness associated with one of these three enemy types. However, it is possible to entirely ignore this rock, paper, scissors mechanic because the combat in ‘Costume Quest 2’ is extremely easy. Time your attacks well and you will get through a fight relatively unscathed. If you are unable to execute on the timed button presses you are still able to lose up to two of your party members. Health is refilled at water fountains which makes up for more backtracking in addition to that which quest givers will have you performing. A post release patch has included the ability to refill your party’s health at the cost of candy which is the game’s currency, earned after each battle or as quest rewards. This helps alleviate a lot of travel time and the cost is mostly negligible as candy is very easy to come by.
The quests in the game boil down to three things: find a group of kids hiding in an area in the game. Find costume pieces hidden throughout an area. Knock on doors to either collect candy or fight monsters. These three mission types are recycled for every area in “Costume Quest 2” and it makes what should be an enjoyable experience exploring the creative and imaginative worlds of the game feel like yet another chore to perform. And yet, the character, art and design that’s become a trademark of Double Fine makes the entire thing feel inoffensive despite the snore inducing nature of the game’s mechanics. Twins Wren and Reynold and their mission to stop time travelling dentist Dr. Orel White from creating a future without Halloween, candy and costumes is always amusing. The inspiration for their time travelling antics fall closer to ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ and ‘Back to the Future’ where actions planned in the past have immediate ramifications at the time of their ideas’ inception. This is played for gags several times in the game and even manifests itself in a handful of gameplay puzzles.
Replacing the battle stamps from the first game are ‘Creepy Treat’ cards. These cards can be equipped three at a time and are consumables which replenish after playing through a certain number of battles. They can buff your players, debuff the enemy units and provide candy and experience bonuses for your party. Battles are so easily won in ‘Costume Quest 2’ and I wanted to get through them as quickly as possible that I often forgot to even use the cards that I had collected. The bonuses they provide are nice to have and can speed up combat but the battles are never challenging enough to really necessitate their use.
The costumes in the sequel are all new though slightly fewer in numbers. Some costumes have what are dubbed ‘exploration abilities’ and can be used in the over world screen when traversing from one fight to the other. The pterodactyl can flap its wings to remove debris such as piles of leaves or newspapers and the pharaoh can use their crook to zip line through certain sections of the game. Other costumes such as the wizard who can light up dark areas and the ghost costume which can render the player invisible are retreads of the Space Warrior and Ninja costume from the first game but their in-combat abilities are entirely original when compared to their counterparts. Even with these environmental hazards to overcome the solution is so simple that they serve more as roadblocks until you get the appropriate costume rather than puzzles you actually have to think about it.
Costume Quest 2 seems like a game more aimed at children but I doubt even they would feel compelled to keep playing after the first couple of hours. This is made more unfortunate by the fact that the initial swamp and bayou areas are far less interesting than the comically dystopian future where Repugians and humans live together in a candy banned world ruled by a maniacal dentist and his army of flying robots. Most of my time was enjoyed exploring the worlds that Double Fine have created and talking to every NPC I could find in order to wring out a line or two of dialogue which always made me smile. The game is short on engaging combat system but rich with charm and wit. Ultimately, the ideas and presentation of ‘Costume Quest 2’ are its greatest strengths but they cannot charm enough to cover up the painfully boring combat and quest system which lies at the heart of this game.