Format reviewed: Wii U eShop
Other formats available: Windows, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, Linux, OSX
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Midnight City
Website: Costume Quest 2
Costume Quest 2 is a role-playing game (RPG), a sequel to the critically acclaimed Costume Quest (2010). Taking place on Halloween night, fraternal twin siblings Wren and Reynold, and their cast of friends are out to save Halloween from the evil Dr. Orel White. The nefarious Dentist teams up with a powerful Time Wizard going by the name of Kronoculus, and together, they release the Grubbins into the human world, in hopes of establishing a Halloween free holiday to prevent cavities and other oral related calamities. Costume wearing and candy collecting become outlawed with the threat of incarceration for flaunting the said laws. The child heroes must acquire new abilities through the use of costumes, in hopes of using them to restore balance to the universe and save Halloween!
Boot up Costume Quest 2 and you are faced with an interactive menu selection screen. Well, I say interactive, what I mean is that instead of the usual static screen with Start Game, Options, Extras menus selectable all listed in columnar form, you are greeted with 4 children falling out of a time hole leaving you the ability to explore the Menu screen with the usual method of movement, the Analogue Stick. Cool huh! Well, when I say explore I actually mean the ability to walk between two of the selectable options, Start or Options. And that pretty much sums up the whole experience of Costume Quest 2, really enjoyable with good ideas, yet basic and problematic in so many areas.
The main game is split into two distinct areas. Overworld adventuring and turn-based RPG fighting, which I’ll refer to as Combat. The Overworld is a colourfully, cute cell-shaded fair, and resembles a child’s pop-up comic book, and that might even sell it short, it is really pretty to look at. The character designs remind of the 3D character design in some of the older South Park games, short and round, but pleasingly childlike. Whilst some of these characters are amusing in places, the evil dentist being one, some design choices seem strangely out of place, namely the bird-like scientists.
Traversing the Overworld is a matter of moving through the isometric 3D space whilst talking to many NPCs, the dialogue of which is well constructed and easily readable by a youngster playing through. The game sets its camera angle high and oblique which allows you to see everything if your standing in the correct place, like a diorama. However, move behind an obstruction and the static camera angle does no adjusting whatsoever, and on many occasions I felt stuck behind things with no visible indication of how to remove myself from the blockage. The game also likes to hide certain collectables in these unsighted areas, so you’ll find yourself venturing into the dark often enough to dread. Now, this would be less of a problem if the controls over your main characters were precise, if you can tell by the tone of this sentence that that is far from the case you‘d be correct. Movement is hampered by jittery controls, your characters too often get stuck on superfluous screen items, the fiftieth time you have to frustratingly maneuver between two garbage cans to hit the third is frustration to the point of boredom. Running, with a hold of the ZL trigger, allows you to move faster over greater distances, which is great for backtracking to the nearest save point, which incidentally resemble drinking fountains, but makes the object collision problem worse.
Another thing that hampers your movement throughout the Overworld is the map system. Bring up the menu in game with a press of Y, and face a 3-second loading freeze wait. It’s not long I know, but with how often you’ll be wanting to go into the menu it becomes a little unbearable by the end of the game. This menu, resembling a child’s diary, lets you select a different tab/page with a press of the L and R shoulder buttons, but there’s once again a noticeable wait before the page turns allowing access to what you want, whether it’s the combat card selection screen, costume stats, current and completed objectives, or the map screen. All are useful, except for the map screen. It shows a hand drawn overhead crayon picture of the current area that does not exactly resemble what is on screen. Add to that that there are no indicators of your current location on the map, and it seems totally redundant. After inevitable head scratching I just memorized areas by walking around, forget the map.
Your main aim is to collect costume parts, combat cards and as much candy as humanly possible. Costumes are invariably placed in numerous locations around your current map. Completion of side quests, normally fetching quests, simple puzzles or house calling trick or treating, allows access to treasure chests that contain useful items to help make your next suit upgrade. Collect 5 parts and its new costume time. And the costumes are really great, with some fun inclusions like a walking hotdog. Not only do the costumes look good, but each has its own style of fighting in the Combat sections, and extra powers in the Overworld sections. Take for example the Thomas Jefferson costume that exacts huge damage to enemies in the Combat arenas with the ‘Declaration of Destruction’, and the ability of sweet talking NPCs in the Overworld with added ‘Diplomacy Skills‘. The whole game has a great sense of humour and does not take itself seriously at all.
Collecting candy is as easy as pressing X at the appropriate time, for example when next to a garbage can. This’ll net you a whopping 2 candies worth of currency. The big candy rewards can be grabbed when partaking of a successful Combat with an enemy. When your candy collection is sufficient it can be used as currency for the purchase of area maps, costume upgrades, making your attack/defence stronger, and combat cards. The combat cards are used throughout the games RPG fighting elements, but your protagonists are limited to a set of 3 cards entering Combat. At the conclusion of the game you’ll have over 50 Combat Cards from which to select your 3 card deck. Most are buffs for extra attack/defense points, and others weaken enemy magic, etc. Standard fare for an RPG, but in Costume Quest 2 it is done in such an unobtrusive and easy to understand way that my 8 year old had no trouble selecting and seeing the fruits of that card.
The turn-based RPG combat in Costume Quest 2 is where all the action happens, enter a fight and your children turn into adult sized action heroes. Your team is invariably a three-boy/girl combination, whilst the enemies vary between 1 to 3 in a team. Each of your 3 characters have their own health bar and limited move-set. Combat is based around the Y, X, and A buttons with each button assigned to an individual fighter. Your first fighter appears on screen, choose a normal attack, and press Y to go at it, press Y again at the right time to land a stronger attack. It’s a simple, yet effective way to implement the attack system. Your second fighter is controlled by the X button, and the third by the A. The fact that the game forces you to use different buttons for each of your heroes attacks seems pointless for attacking, but makes more sense when defensive play comes into question. The attacks from the enemy can be blocked to reduce their effectiveness by pressing the corresponding hero’s defence button at just the right time.
A successful outcome gains you experience points, to level up your characters, and a bag full of candy. The more dangerous the enemies the more the net gain. Lose a battle, and the game returns you to the nearest save fountain, but with everything collected or achieved still in tact, so the game never feels unfair and doesn’t ask you to backtrack over sections of the game because of defeat. Nevertheless, it is safer to save as often as possible, as when you save it also refills your characters health bars. I found it necessary to save after each and every fight, so to approach my next battle in peak fitness.
My main misgiving with the battle phase of the game is, once again, wonky control implementation. Timing attacks is no problem, it’s when you have a choice over who to defend with that the imprecision in control and game design rear their ugly head. Choosing a hero to defend requires pressing the correct Y, X or A button, however the position of your heroes on screen does not correspond to the positions of the buttons on the controller, and in the heat of battle it is so easy to defend with the wrong hero and take an unnecessarily large hit. In a similar way, when choosing which enemy to attack the game wants you to simply push up or down, but the enemy placement on screen closely resembles a left to right configuration. Now, quickly press right on the controller and attack, and oh dear you’ve selected the escape option not the enemy you wanted to hit. It takes a little time to learn the off-putting ill-placed layout of the buttons and on-screen enemy placement, and even after putting in 10 hours it was still possible to mess up and become frustrated at the lack of foresight in the development of the battle phase.
GamePad use is pitifully absent. Nothing, just a still image of Wren and Reynold in various locations. All the ways of interacting with the menus I mentioned above could have been placed onto the touch screen. The ability to choose enemies and cards during battles with a touch, the ability to have an always on map screen with location pointers, arggghhhh, the missed opportunity to make this a much better game is unforgivable. And don’t get me started on the complete lack of off-TV play. The amount of times I wanted to put the TV on whilst grinding to level-up. At first, I thought it was just me and that I must be so stupid to not be able to find the off-TV play mode. Touch the GamePad screen, no didn’t work, flick my finger down on the screen, nope, it’s hidden in the game options menu, nada, try all obscure buttons on the GamePad, never going to work, press all the buttons on the GamePad whilst standing on my head upside down and shouting what the hell, you get the point. It is an unforgivable grievance that I’ll hold against the developers that I’m playing an enjoyable RPG game that won’t allow me to grind and watch TV at the same time.
Music throughout is instantly forgettable, but functional, providing ‘spooky’ and cute Halloween-style jingles. The biggest problem the sound throws at you is the occasional glitching of the background effects. The subtle sounds of a swamp and the chirping of crickets can, at times, be replaced with a long loud droning garbled effects sound. This can last between 20 to 120 seconds, and whilst not frequent, happens often enough to annoy. I managed to put in just under 10 hours of play before seeing the final ending screens, but lacked a few items for a true 100% collection related run-through. During my 10 hour play-through I came across this glitch at least 5 times, little over one every two hours.
Costume Quest 2 is a game of two play styles, collection and turn-based fighting, both of which stand up to scrutiny due to the fun that can be had with this title, and I had fun in spades all through this thoroughly enjoyable romp. Collecting, and using, the numerous costumes was a joy, if only to see the special attack of each. The humour throughout the game keeps things fresh and the plot progresses quickly enough to alleviate boredom, I never felt that grinding was a chore because there was so little needed of it, which goes to show that the level of difficulty of this game is set low, but the game falls short with niggardly controls, some sound glitching and a total lack of GamePad integration.
Review by Lee Davis for Nintendo: Review