Costume Quest 2 review: soft candy

Costume Quest 2 has charm, but not much imagination

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, Wii U, Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Midnight City
Developer Double Fine Productions
Release Date

Costume Quest 2 is that rarest of things: A holiday game.

There are loads of Christmas TV specials, box offices are cluttered with horror flicks every October, but for whatever reason, games have never been keen to hitch their wagon to any specific holiday.

As a vehicle for the magic of Halloween, Costume Quest 2 is, much like its predecessor, an unqualified success. As a game though ... well, that's a little more qualified.

Costume Quest 2 is a time travel story

Fraternal twins Wren and Reynold return from their four-year hiatus and must once again save their sleepy neighborhood of Auburn Pines from a Trick-or-treat-related disaster. This time it's Orel White D.D.S., a dentist who wants to outlaw candy and costumes of any kind ... and not for the reasons you might be thinking. Well, technically, White already did outlaw candy and costumes. Or, rather, he will? Maybe?

Costume Quest 2 is a time travel story, one that shows not only the source of Orel's treachery, but the havoc it will eventually wreak. The time travel gimmick is a little tired at this point, but Double Fine scores some fun gags with it, like the kid in the past who's threatening to eat a piece of dirty candy he found on the floor who's replaced in the present by ... a skeleton.

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The twins do battle with Orel and his minions with the power of Halloween costumes which, inexplicably, transform them into a crook-wielding super mummy, a friendly robot and an explosive-quill tossing Thomas Jefferson.

Battles are simple turn-based affairs: Timed button presses trigger each costume's basic attack and blocks their opponents' advances. A special meter that fills over time allows you to trigger the extra power of each costume, like the clown's group heal, Laughter is the Best Medicine.

Things get a little bit more complex than that, but not a whole lot. Each costume (your team of three can each take one into battle) has both a strength and weakness to Monster, Tech and Magic type enemies. So you probably want to build a team with complementary strengths.

Your team can also take one of three "Creepy Treat" cards into battle that can be used to boost stats or heal characters, the only drawback being that you have to wait for a few battles before they can be used again. And by collecting candy, you can buy new cards, maps of your region or upgrades for your costumes that also change their look.

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I never felt pushed to experiment

These systems are mercifully more complex than the dead simple Costume Quest 1, which devolved into drudgery whenever more than one battle was strung together. But once you've figured out Costume Quest 2's basic mechanics, fights begin to slide into banality pretty quickly.

Once I found a team composition I was happy with, I was never pushed to experiment. Match the right attack with the right enemy type, hit the timed button presses to juice your attacks and you'll eventually be victorious. And since level progression is achingly slow, finishing mundane battle after mundane battle doesn't even feel rewarding.

The combat probably wouldn't feel like such a grind if Costume Quest 2 had a better structure surrounding it. Too frequently, Wren and Reynold are tasked with methodically going door-to-door in a neighborhood and either fighting the resident or collecting some candy from them. The requirement to refill your team's health after most every fight, which means a hike to a nearby water fountain, adds even more dull padding.

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There's a bit of out-of-combat puzzle solving when Wren and Reynold use a costume's special ability to advance the story. The ghost costume, for example, must be assembled to allow you to pass through laser gates and the pharaoh's crook is use to slide across wires. The power required in each situation is blatantly obvious though, so these hurdles are much more mechanical than really engaging head-scratchers.

I understand the impulse to make it simple enough for kids to understand, but I imagine if your little ones are old enough to nail the split-nanosecond timing required for the best attack bonuses and the Magic/Tech/Monster system, they're old enough to be bored by the lack of creativity Costume Quest 2 demands in combat.

You'd hope that Double Fine's typically strong writing could help to spice things up. Both the writing and the gameplay feel like they were designed to strike that magical Pixar ideal of simultaneously appealing to kids and adults for totally different reasons, like those optical illusions that look like Marilyn Monroe or Albert Einstein, depending on the viewing angle.

But Costume Quest 2 is oddly flat in that regard too. The game gets a few decent jokes in, but the overall tone is nostalgic, almost quaint, more than really working for laughs. It makes for an inoffensive experience for an adult like myself, but outside of ogling some great designs for the powered-up costumes, I imagine a lot of kids will be a little bored.

Wrap Up:

Costume Quest 2 has charm, but not much imagination

Costume Quest 2 is occasionally heartwarming and more than a little charming, and it would make a fine introduction to the genre for budding gamers. But its lack of imagination, challenge and variety keep it from being really great.

This is Double Fine's attempt at a Marilyn/Albert hybrid, but it's never quite beautiful or brilliant, no matter which way you look at it.

Costume Quest 2 was reviewed using a pre-release Steam key provided by Midnight City. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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