Costume Quest's rumbles take the form of turn-based battles, but with an added, rather lovable twist: in the main game Wren/Reynold and their peers will look like kids in costumes, but here the kids transform into gigantic, "real" versions of their effigies. The default costume, for example, sees you kitted out as a robot: the standard version of this outfit looks like a relatively simple (but still kinda cool) cardboard box, but during a fight you'll become a massive, Gundam-like mech. Your foes also grow in size, and the resulting clash looks a bit like a Godzilla-sized punch-up at a fancy dress party.
The combat itself is a straightforward, pared-down take on the normal RPG fare. You wait your turn, pick an enemy to target, and then push a button to initiate your basic attack. There's a simple timing mechanic to determine how much damage you do, ala the Gunblade in Final Fantasy 8, and after a few hits you'll power up your special ability - for the robot suit, this is a quick-but-deadly shower of missiles. If you're wearing a different costume, you'll get other abilities: the knight gives you a handy protective barrier, for example.
Ah yes - I'd not mentioned the outfit-changing thing, had I? As you progress through the story you'll find the blueprints for other costumes, and if you gather the three required elements you'll be able to take on a new look; as you recruit other kids to join your party, you'll also be able to swap into their togs. Aside from being quite neat in their own right, these new getups have powers that help you to explore the gameworld. The robot suit lets you zip about on some form of rocket-shoes, the knight has a shield that helps you to get past environmental hazards, and the Statue of Liberty... well, I don't know about that one as I ran out of play-time, just as I acquired it.
As it so happens, I acquired the Statue of Liberty gear as part of a side-quest - one that tasked the player with getting into a Patriotism party. There appear to be loads of diverting sub-assignments, and even within the course of half an hour's play I managed to notch up a sizeable list of things to do, all marked down in the notebook that acts as your organiser. There are also collectibles to find and combat buffs to acquire - the latter take the form of stickers. I've not played enough to know whether the combat gets hard enough to actually require buffs; the fights I sampled were very easy, but that might just be because it was early-on in the story.
To be frank, I doubt that anyone's expecting a hardcore, super-challenging strategy RPG from Costume Quest; charm, accessibility and humour are the keystones here. It really is pretty damn funny too. At one point you're invited to take part in an apple-bobbing mini-game, one in which much of the fruit is riddled with worms; the host NPC proudly explains that this is due to the fact that he only buys organic produce.
My only real criticism of Costume Quest is that it currently seems to lack a map function; the world gradually opens up as you fulfil certain demands, but I still found myself aimlessly wandering about at times, searching for the one house that I'd yet to visit. This issue may be fixed before release day, but even if it isn't then it's a fairly minor irritation. Costume Quest looks like it should be another original, high-quality offering from Double Fine - and with any luck this one won't get cancelled.
Costume Quest will be released this autumn on PSN and Xbox LIVE Arcade.