I don't like turn-based RPGs. They bore me, with their stilted combat and repetitive encounters. But I like Costume Quest... a turn-based RPG. This downloadable title from THQ and Tim Schafer's Double Fine manages to blend a fun Trick or Treat Halloween setting with simple RPG mechanics, making for a game that even a self-confessed turn-based hater had a great time with.
The plot set-up is right out of a children's movie or cartoon. Twins Reynold and Wren have got dressed up to go out Trick or Treating, but before they leave the house their parents lay down some rules and put your character in charge - you can choose to play as either the boy or the girl. With the words of mum and dad ringing in their ears, the pair head out and start knocking on doors in order to get the much sought-after candy. But things aren't as they seem. Monsters are on the loose in the town and they want all the sweeties.
It just so happens that your sister (I opted to play as Reynold) has decided to dress as a piece of candy, which results in the monsters taking her, thinking she's quite the find. She's whisked away, and your attempts to follow her are blocked by a locked gate that will only open once you've knocked on every door in an area - a task that's trickier than you might think. Standing in your way are more monsters, wandering about or already inside the buildings you call at, as well as obstacles that require certain abilities or chores to be completed.
Costumes are the key to everything. While you initially start out dressed as a robot, complete with booster feet that enable you to mount ramps, you soon have a raft of outfits to choose from. The Knight costume comes with a shield that can protect the party from water or projectiles; the Ninja allows you to wander about under a shroud of darkness; and the Space Man has a glowing stick that lights up dark alleyways. You can swap attire with any of the other kids you recruit to join your party, and additional costume patterns are found along your adventure, with the materials needed given as rewards or hidden inside chests.
Exploration makes up the largest portion of the Costume Quest experience, with candy to collect, doors to knock on, trading cards to swap and kids to find, but the combat all takes place inside JRPG-style battle arenas - and it's here that the costumes really come into their own. Inside the arenas the fairly tame monsters become hulking beasts, shaman and medics, while the kids transform into super cool versions of their costume characters. A cardboard robot becomes a giant missile-shooting mech, while a comical French Fries costume transforms into a crab-like walking horror show.
There's no menu of commands to choose from, with all actions carried out by the face buttons on the controller. Basic attacks vary in strength and are linked to simple timing challenges - think of the reload mechanic in Gears of War or Squall's Gunblade in Final Fantasy VIII and you get the idea. With successful attacks you'll also power up advanced moves that always work to their fullest, and some of these can be protective rather than offensive. Buffs to your characters can be applied through the use of stickers, bought from a girl who sets up a stall inside each of the game's locations; as you might expect, these items are paid for with the candy you've been gathering
Costume Quest isn't a tricky game, which might be a problem for more seasoned gamers, but for anyone who has only dabbled with turn-based RPGs it's probably a blessing. Repeatedly having to battle the same foes would have proved rather tedious, and a complex upgrade tree wouldn't have worked in such a light-hearted experience. There's a basic level system in place, but nothing complicated at all - although the apple-bobbing mini-game did cause me to shout at the TV on a few occasions.
Double Fine games tend to have great aesthetics, and Costume Quest is no exception. The art style is fairly simple, but such is its charm that it's easy to get sucked into the world. It's a shame that the frame rate shudders at times, but it's the kind of game where it doesn't really matter. The soundtrack fits wonderfully, too, but the star of the show is the excellent script, which while a little kiddie compared to some of Double Fine's earlier work, is still great. The complete lack of voice work is a slight shame, with the characters not even being given Sims-style gibberish to show they're talking. It's a bit jarring at first, but soon enough it'll all be forgotten as you banter with the funny cast of NPCs.
At 1200 MS Points or £8.99 on PSN, I thoroughly recommend you give Costume Quest a go. It's a fairly simple adventure with equally basic RPG combat, but that's exactly why it works. It's a weekend's worth of fun that isn't going to challenge you to the point of frustration, but will entertain with a clever, family-friendly script.