Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.
Reviewed On: Xbox 360. Also available for PS3.
In a Nutshell: At first glance, this looks like a cutesy little kids' game. In fact, it's a cutesy little game for anyone who wants to have an absolute blast with exploration, light questing and turn-based combat. To quote one the best lines of the game: "Shh! You had me at QUEST."
You control either a little boy or girl whose sibling is abducted by candy-grubbing monsters who mistake it for a sweet yet squirmy Halloween treat. You spend the game defeating monsters in simple but fun combat sequences where timed button presses are used to inflict damage on your enemies while minimizing attacks against you and the new friends you make along the way. The best part is that upon entering the battle arena, your cardboard and paper mache creations become a Transformer-esque robot, ferocious black panther, swift and powerful ninja and other mostly fearsome adversaries in full blown Calvin and Hobbesian metamorphosis.
The costumes you collect usually impart new powers in battle and the overworld map where you trick or treat, resolve issues for people (such as finding a pie ingredient for your school principal's poorly planned bake sale), collect battle stamps that grant bonus powers or stats improvements in battle, trade candy collector's cards for fun and to complete mini quests, and clean out two neighborhoods, a carnival and the local mall of all of its candy and monstrous intruders.
Learning Curve: If you've ever played a game with Quick Time Events (like Shenmue or Resident Evil 4), you'll pick this up quick. The battles require a little strategy but nothing you won't be able to suss out with a few tries, and you can take as many as you need. Younger kids and new players who haven't memorized the button placements on the controller will have an uphill battle, but even failed attacks do some damage and powerups help - so they'll still get through it, albeit with a lot more retries.
The Save Game: The save system isn't bad, but it could be more busy gamer friendly. The game saves whenever you complete a quest or travel to another area, but NOT after every event - such as a successful battle or the collection of a costume piece. Thus, you may lose progress if you don't reserve a quest-completing action for when you're ready to quit (such as trading an extra card with someone who's requested it). Eventually, you'll unlock portals between the game's various locales, which trigger an instant save whenever you use one - but it's still a nuisance. You basically have to leave and come back to start where you left off. Most loose candy respawns whenever you return, so it's odd that there's no Save and Quit option to just record your battle progress and major item pickups whenever you're done playing.
Family Factor: The game is rated E10+ for 10 years and up, but this is rather conservative. We let our 7-year-old play and he's more than ready for the game's content. We did have to explain about Halloween pranks (and why they're not cool!) when he asked us what was up with the toilet paper and eggs in the game, but they're only used as powerups against monsters - not for pranking.
Buy or Skip? Buy. Even if Halloween has passed when you read this, Costume Quest is a great game that celebrates one of the best holidays of the year. We'd love to see sequels celebrating Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, the 4th of July, Dragon Con and Joss Whedon's birthday, but for now we'll just play this one into the ground. The game is divided roughly into thirds, and each third more than justifies its part of the overall $15 pricetag (honestly, the Mall level is so deep it's probably worth $10 all by itself!).
On a Personal Note: Costume Quest has an addictive quality that I have not encountered since the original BioShock. With both games, I'd play for half an hour or so, quit and then be itching to get back to 30 minutes later! Don't try to stretch it out and savor it; give in and binge like you did with candy on November 1st when you were a kid. You'll get all of the sugar rush with none of the tummy aches!
The game isn't perfect, but that didn't significantly impair my enjoyment of it. Some dialogue is repetitive and it lacks any voice acting, which forces you to read all of the game's entertaining dialogue (and may make for a slightly less interesting podcast audio review). This also proved a challenge for our 7 year-old, though one that he's up for: He's been sounding out the big words and gets most of what's going on. And, on the flip side of the coin, at least it's not bad voice acting!
It also would be nice if you could blow up the trading cards portraying weird and gross Halloween treats. They're hard to read on a high-def TV and pretty much illegible on standard definition sets. They're mostly eye candy, but still - you devote a large part of the game to collecting and occasionally trading them. And someone put some hard work into them; we'd love to be able to fully appreciate them full screen!
Some areas of the game will be hard to find or access if you're an adult. Our 7-year-old figured out instantly how to open an area that took me a day to guess, but then he missed how to get to the tree in the very next section, so neener, neener, neener! Unlocking all of the costumes will take some work (and possibly a walkthrough if you're impatient). Whatever you do, don't approach the final boss with the costume you're awarded closest to the end or you won't trigger the end of the game! It took me an hour of looking for incomplete quests - there weren't any, but there was some vague wording that made it seem like maybe I'd missed something - before I realized the costume was not permitted in battle and, thus, blocked me from initiating the final fight.
I'm actually considering a purchase of the PS3 version now since the layout of the DualShock buttons always messes me up. This would present a much bigger challenge for me than the Xbox 360 version, which I tore through rather handily. The lack of difficulty did not make the game any less fun. Sometimes simple, well-crafted games can be the most enjoyable - and that's certainly the case here.
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