I had fun with Double Fine's Costume Quest, but, at times, I liked it in spite of itself.
When I read previews before its release in October of 2010, Costume Quest seemed like the perfect game for me: A modern-day RPG from Tim Schafer's studio that took cues from EarthBound and other classic Japanese RPGs? If the "shut up and take my money meme" existed back then—and I can't remember if it did—I would have considered posting it somewhere. (Then I would have thought better of it.)
But the game's quirky charms and unique premise clashed with its battle system, which tasked players with inputting the same basic commands—like wiggling the analog stick, or hitting buttons in a certain order—in every single fight, and paired these actions with long animations that quickly lost their novelty. Double Fine intended to give their RPG the extra "oomph" of timing-based attacks (as seen in any RPG with the name "Mario" in its title), but this addition simply made each battle feel just like the last and drag out way too long, transforming this bite-sized RPG into a frequent bout with tedium.
That said, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Costume Quest 2 adds some thoughtful improvements to its battles, mainly for the purpose making them faster. Attacking and defending now only require a single button press, and doing it at just the right time—indicated by a reticle shrinking over an on-screen circle—either increases or nullifies damage, depending on your actions. And your characters' special moves, which can be unleashed after a certain amount of time, play out automatically, with no need for player intervention. The battles feel just as basic as they did in the original, which may disappoint those looking for the surprising amount of complexity found in the Mario & Luigi series, but now, they feel far less tedious—even if you happen to be performing the same basic actions over and over again.
Four years have passed since the original Costume Quest, though the sequel hasn't ditched its cel-shaded, cartoony style. And while it might not look all that different, Costume Quest 2's new engine—completely overhauled since the original—offers several small tweaks, from reflective surfaces to more atmospheric lighting. I wasn't entirely sure if much had changed since the first game, so I loaded it up on Steam following my Double Fine appointment, and definitely noticed it looked relatively plain in comparison to the section I played of the sequel.
Costume Quests 2's music offers some similar tweaks, with an expanded soundtrack by returning composer and LucasArts veteran Peter McConnell. Though its track listing isn't as expansive as, say, EarthBound's, the game features more than a few battle themes, as well as a proper boss theme, something absent from the original. Along with the battle system's streamlining, small changes like these show Double Fine has made it their goal to reduce the pain of repetition—a common issue in RPGs—as much as possible.
Even if Costume Quest 2's changes don't amount to a game much different than the original, they're certainly welcome. Ultimately, the demo on display at Double Fine's recent event addressed the criticisms running through my head as I played through the original. And though the sequel's story feels much more ambitious, the play boils down to the same basic candy hunting that served as the engine of the original and Grubbins on Ice.
For most of us, that's perfectly fine: the first Costume Quest didn't set out to shake the industry to its core—instead, it offered a digestible piece of comfort food for RPG fans who cut their teeth on 8 and 16-bit classics. Costume Quest 2's goals are just as modest, and, based on Double Fine's recent showing, I'd be surprised if it didn't meet them.
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