Playing the original Costume Quest, I always wondered if the Grubbins were real or a product of the kids' rich imagination. In Costume Quest 2, it seems a little less ambiguous... or is it? It's fun to wonder.
When the story picks up, Reynold and Wren are back in costume, seemingly lost in a time warp. It soon emerges that Orel, a truly demented dentist, is out to destroy Halloween by altering the timeline, thus changing the world into a candy-less dystopia. To defeat him, Reynold and Wren have to travel back and forth through time in an attempt to stop Orel before he can wreak his havoc.
This time around, the setting is the most memorably element, weaving in both a bizarre sense of humor and whimsical bits of invention. Orel's nightmare world is easily the game's most memorable location: a cyberpunk world in which the goblin-like Grubbins from the first game walk around in costumes reminiscent of the Borg, dental robots patrol for costume violations, and corpulent monsters run candy speakeasys. In the city's dark heart lives Orel, whose bizarre obsession with Halloween leads to a scene that reminds me of the Buffalo Bill dance from The Silence of the Lambs (no, really). It's a scene that both bizarre and brilliant, taking Costume Quest 2's odd but amusing premise to its logical conclusion.
As always, Costume Quest 2 is really an adventure game masquerading as an RPG, with traversal puzzles and fetch quests comprising the bulk of the gameplay. The battles are really there to break things up a bit, and when necessary, serve as a climax. Most traditional RPG elements, such as character customization, are light to non-existent. The core of the gameplay are the costumes, which are collected over the course of the story and feature one special ability apiece, while also being strong or weak to certain types of monsters. By and large, the most important decisions you will make regarding your characters are which costumes you want to bring into battle, and which Creepy Treat cards you want to equip.
The Creepy Treats, actually, are a new element, a product of the criticism that the combat in the original was overly simple. In Costume Quest 2, Creep Treat cards are collected over the course of the adventure, with each one bestowing an effect such as the ability to instantly kill a minion, fill the special attack gauge, or fully heal a character. They can be used an unlimited number of times, but they do have a multi-battle cooldown period, so it's best to use them judiciously. They add a little bit of depth to the combat, but they're hardly essential. Mostly, I found them useful for making the minion battles go by more quickly.
The puzzles are similarly simple, usually requiring you to build a costume to traverse an obstacle, or to obtain an item. From time to time, you will be asked to go trick-or-treating, which is actually rather amusing in the context of Orel's dystopia. Usually, completing a puzzle is as simple as combing the area for treasure chests; and if you're ever stuck, the kids will broadly hint at the answer, or even outright tell you. This is not a game where you're meant to get stuck.
The adventure progresses through the French Quarter, into 1984-like reeducation center, and onward into Orel's Blade Runner-esque fantasy world. Honestly, seeing where Double Fine takes it all next is half the fun. The story is really only limited only by the bounds of their imagination; and as we've seen in the past, they can be pretty darn imaginative. Much of the appeal is in stopping to admire all of the little details of the worlds they've created, if only for the progressively stranger and more inventive dental motifs.
In terms of pure gameplay, of course, there's not denying that Costume Quest 2 is a bit of a lightweight. At between six and seven hours running time, it's not going to last you a very long time, even with a handful of achievements to collect and sidequests to complete. In the end, like the first game, it's a game that can be finished and put aside in a day or two. In that regard, not much has changed.
But Costume Quest has had a surprising amount of longevity, and I expect that the sequel will be much the same. The fact that it's short might actually work in its favor, as it makes it the sort of adventure that people can turn into a Halloween tradition, which is not something that can be said about too many games. It's a little stranger this time around, exchanging the malls and suburbs of the original for more esoteric locations, but it nevertheless still feels perfectly appropriate for the holiday.
Whether it's the art, the humor, or the setting, this series seems to connect with people in the same way as, say, a film like The Incredibles, which makes sense given that it was originally created by a Pixar alum. It has this way of taking the simple premise of kids in costume acting out their fantasy of being a superhero or a dinosaur (or actually living it... who knows) and pushing it further and further in a way that is true to the sense of fun and adventure that lies at the heart of the story.
In a way, I think we all wish we could go back to a world where our simple superhero and robot costumes are suddenly real, and there are sewers, bayous, and dental dystopias to explore. In this cynical age we live in, sometimes it's nice to be a child again.
Costume Quest 2's graphics, while still relatively simple, have been bumped a bit since the first game. The rich art is still its most appealing element.
Costume Quest 2 does a good job of bringing out its adventurous qualities with a soundtrack that has some epic qualities, but nevertheless manages to avoid being overbearing.
Costumes can be accessed from a wheel interface, and the Creepy Treats and quests are easily managed as well.
At around seven hours, Costume Quest 2 won't last very long. But for more than a few people, it's apt to become an annual tradition alongside the original game.
Lightweight but inventive, Costume Quest 2 feels like a Pixar adventure masquerading as an RPG. It goes out of its way to keep things simple... perhaps too simple at times. But its simplicity is redeemed by its terrific art and wry sense of humor, and most importantly, the sheer fun of its premise.