A few hours in
Hey, welcome back! I hung out in the past for a bit. I gathered candy, played music with the devil for a costume, re-invented modern jazz, and defeated the TIME WIZARD. He was kind of a giant baby about things, too.
I failed to stop the evil dentist from getting the amulet, though. So then I went to the future to beat him up and save Halloween. And I did.
Okay, okay, there were a few more steps between here and ‘game over, you won’. There was some time traveling back and forth. A Tooth Academy, whatever that means. Shady business dealings, alligators that don’t like music, and a whole lot of trick-or-treating for various, increasingly contrived reasons. ‘Candy speakeasies’, and whatnot. But what I just gave you is the general gist of it: a bunch of kids with really good Halloween costumes beat a candy-obsessed dentist with mommy issues. Yay, heroes!
Costume Quest 2 is kind of a difficult game to review. It is unashamedly, completely, a sequel to Costume Quest 1: in narrative, in mechanics, in setting, in theme. Everything. Its sequel game is so strong that I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t played the first one having much fun with it. It won’t you in on anything. ‘Who are these characters?’, ‘Where are those weird monsters coming from?’, ‘What are all these things you’re referencing, these Battle Stamps and Creepy Treats?’, ‘Why are you assuming I know all these characters I don’t know?’.
But for people who have played Costume Quest 1, I can keep this review pretty short. It’s the same game. Costume Quest 2 isn’t just like Costume Quest 1, it is Costume Quest 1. Give or take a handful of visual changes, and some mechanical upgrades that change a lot but also a little, the two games are functionally identical. You run around several worlds all in various states of Halloween, trick-or-treating and solving simple environmental puzzles to get more candy and more costumes. Through trick-or-treating and running into random monsters, you get into a lot of samey, turn-based JRPG-style fights, which you win by using a small selection of abilities based on your equipped costumes.
If I can’t write a review for absolute newcomers because the game wouldn’t make sense to them anyway… and I can’t write a review for old hands, because that would more or less boil down to ‘if you liked the previous game, you’ll probably like this one too’… then what I am even writing this thing about?
I could write about whether or not Costume Quest 2 is a good game, regardless of the player’s experience and mental state. I could try that! Wanna try that, readers? Okay, let’s do it.
Costume Quest 2 is a charming, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, well-written game, that is also occasionally very dull to play.
Like its predecessor, Costume Quest 2 is a game that celebrates everything Halloween. It’s a children’s fantasy about Halloween night brought to life: spooky monsters, fancy costumes, you and your friends pretending you embody what you dressed up as so hard it actually makes you super awesome, and candy. So much candy! Guys: so much candy, just, everywhere. It’s a beautiful mid-Fall evening, everywhere, all the time, where kids run around having adventures, while parents and other adult figures are either the monsters to avoid, talking obstacles to be ignored, convenient candy dispensers, or conspicuously absent.
In fact, if I had to summarize Costume Quest 2 in one screenshot, it would be this one:
Gameplay-wise, Costume Quest 2 provides two sets of systems: overworld exploration, and combat. During overworld exploration, you scoot around the aforementioned gorgeous landscapes, soliciting candy and costume parts from people and solving the relatively simple puzzles Costume Quest 2 lays out before you. Find the hidden kids, talk to the right person, use the right costume ability in the right place to advance the storyline. During combat… well, you fight. More on that in a bit.
One area in which Costume Quest 2 claims to have improved over Costume Quest 1 is actually in the ‘costume ability’ area. In Costume Quest 1, different costumes had different skills, which you could use in order to advance through the world… not to mention how the costume you had equipped factored into combat. But because the Robot suit was the costume with the fast-movement ability, and because it was just really good in battle, players would often default to wearing that suit on their main character in every situation where they weren’t explicitly forced to wear something else. I know that’s what I did. Costume Quest 2 attempts to subvert this problem by making the fast-movement ability a default player skill, usable whenever.
It’s a neat change, but not one that actually changes a lot. Players will still have personal favourite costumes: the Superhero’s AoE strike and Jefferson’s single-target nuke felt much more useful to me than, say, the Clown’s healing, or the Pharaoh’s Resurrection. I’m glad that I don’t have to switch out to the Robot any time I want to go fast, though, so it’s an improvement in that area if nothing else.
It’s also interesting to note that a few of the active costume abilities in Costume Quest 2 are identical to those in Costume Quest 1. The costumes are different, but the skills are the same: the pirate’s hook-slide is now the pharaoh’s crook, the space-man’s light-sword is now the wizard’s staff, the ninja’s sneaking is now the ghost’s invisibility. Others, like Jefferson’s diplomacy and the pterodactyl’s wing flap, are actually new, and these do add to the overworld exploration segments in a measurable way.
Costume Quest 2’s overworld exploration is decent fun, for the most part. Costume Quest 1 veterans will definitely recognize a lot of the abilities, and a few of the areas… and the Creepy Treat cards, which now pull double duty. But even if you do go into the game blind, running around three time zones’ worth of Auburn Pines can be an entertaining way to burn through a few hours. The world feels vibrant and alive, and the writing is usually quite chuckle-worthy. Don’t expect to get the full experience out of it if you can’t catch all the in-jokes and references — of which, I should stress, there are a ton — but it’s still all in good fun.
The same can’t really be said of the combat.
Costume Quest 2’s is dull. There, I said it. It’s a dull, repetitive slog through endless samey fights, a continual dance of doing the exact same thing over and over and over and over and over. It’s a significant part of the Costume Quest 2 experience, so anyone willing to see this thing through to the end had better learn to appreciate slogging through tedium. Because no matter how much you like turn-based JRPG fighting, tedium is what you’re getting.
The fights more or less all work like this: first, you get into a fight. Three is the magic number: in most fights, your team will be three dudes, and the enemy team will be between one and three monsters. Never more.
First, your team takes a turn. For every member of your team, you can:
a) Do a basic attack, trying to hit the hot spot for extra damage.
b) Do a special attack, if the meter’s charged.
c) Use a Creepy Treat card, if you have any left.
If your turn is done, and any enemies are still alive, they get to take a turn. Most of their attacks you can attempt to timed-block, for reduced damage. Other attacks buff them, debuff you, or just hit everyone.
Then, your team takes a turn again! For every member of your team, you…
You get the idea.
It feels painful to call a game’s combat ‘boring’ when the actual combat is between Thomas Jefferson, a giant pterodactyl, an actual black hole, and a giant goblin monster with armor made of teeth, but I can’t turn my experiences into anything else than they were. I was bored, through and through, after, like, the tenth occurrence of combat in the game. And you reach that number early in the first zone.
It’s the simplicity of it. The simplicity, combines with the time-sink nature. Every combat segment is 60% animations and waiting, to 40% uninteresting combat decisions. Even if you skip everything there is to skip, you’re still looking at the same canned flying superhero fist every single time. The same pterodactyl swoop, the same quill fling, the same Grubbin charging you. It gets old after a while, okay.
Part of it is Costume Quest 2’s attempts to ‘streamline’ combat from Costume Quest 1. Those of you who’ve played it: remember how every costume had a certain style of boost to its basic attack? Some costumes had you hit a button at a certain time, some costumes involved button-mashing, some costumes had analog stick waggling? That’s all gone, now: all Costume Quest 2 costumes share the same timed hotspot method of boosting. Press the button at the right time to make your attack Nice, or even Amazing! And to make the numbers go up. It’s not a bad system in and by itself, but… when it’s the only system you have, over all twelve costumes…
The meter-based special moves are still simply fire-and-forget. Every costume has one, which works in one pre-determined way. It’s the robot’s Rocket Fist, all over again: cool at first, but you’ll see more than enough of it to make you sick to your stomach before the game is over.
In fairness, Costume Quest 2 did try to spice up the combat in a few ways. Enemies are now typed, as either Monster, Tech, or Magic. Their type often reflects in their visual design, too, which is extra neat. And different costumes have different strengths and weaknesses against each type. Deciding which hero to have attack which monster, and poring over team make-ups to determine which strength and weaknesses you need to address, is actually one of the few things that Costume Quest 2’s combat has going for it.
Furthermore, the passive Battle Stamp system from Costume Quest 1 has been replaced by an active system of using Creepy Treat cards in combat. You can bring three cards into each combat, and use them on a character’s turn. Card effects range from ‘heal all your characters after the battle’, to ‘stun one enemy’, to ‘double candy rewards’, to ‘kill all minions in the fight’. And after use, each card has a cooldown, requiring you to fight a certain number of battles before it can be used. It’s an interesting system in and by itself, and the cooldowns encourage you to swap and experiment with cards to remain effective. Some cards are definitely better than others, though: extra rewards, straight minion kills, and permanent combat bonuses almost always beat out temporary stuns, little bits of healing, and that one weird card that gives one hero two turns in a row. Because it takes one turn to use that card, don’t you see? You’re not getting an extra turn, you’re trading this hero’s turn to the other one! It’s so useless!
Sorry, lost my train of thought there.
The Creepy Treat cards and the monster type system are all decent in and by themselves. And you can upgrade your costumes, too, both in power and in visual appearance. Which is a thing I love! And in a better-designed game, these elements could definitely add much-needed variation and flavour to a combat system. In Costume Quest 2, though…
See, the biggest problem Costume Quest 2 has is this:
That thing up there is a health fountain. Whenever your characters take significant hit point damage inside combat, they’ll start complaining outside of it. “I really need some water”, “I’m thirsty”, “I won’t make it without a sip of water”. Like clockwork. Water fountains restore your characters to full health, and they act as save points to boot.
And they are everywhere.
Or rather, it’s not that they’re everywhere: it’s that they are readily accessible from anywhere. Costume Quest 2 has no real random battles, or overworld obstacles. So there is nothing stopping you from just visiting the nearest fountain in-between every battle. Hell, the game encourages this, through your characters’ complaining! “Can we go get som-” Yes, Wren, I KNOW you’re thirsty! You told me twelve goddamn times already! WE’RE GOING TO THE FOUNTAIN RIGHT NOW, STOP COMPLAINING ABOUT THIS.
The ubiquitous nature of free, no-cost-no-consequence heals takes any sort of sting out of the combat system. And that, in return, removes any incentive to do well. Why would you care about blocking, or countering, or taking damage, or using cards to gain an advantage? Literally the only thing that matters is that you win: experience and rewards are shared party-wise anyway, and you’re never more than two minutes away from the nearest total health refill.
It’s no coincidence that the costumes and the Creepy Treat cards I like most are all about expediency in combat. Because when you boil things down, all combat in Costume Quest 2 is filler. Time-sink material. Something to keep you busy in-between doing the things you actually like doing. It’s not challenging, not engaging, and the only reason I would even consider it ‘fun’ is because of the ridiculous monster designs and costumes involved.
Costume Quest 2’s combat is dull, it’s pointless, and it’s everywhere. And the rest of the game is still fun enough for me to power through that. How’s that for a dichotomy?
I’m going to go ahead and say it: I had fun with Costume Quest 2. I like hanging out with Reynold! And Wren, too, I guess. It’s pretty and adorable and fun. It’s a candy game, almost: short, sweet, and probably bad for you in the long run?
But I enjoyed Costume Quest 2 largely in spite of its combat, not because of it. If Costume Quest 2 is a candy game, its combat is the wrapper: the annoying, sticky plastic thing you have to take off, every single time, to get to the good stuff. It’s not necessarily bad, and I certainly understand — from a design standpoint — why it’s there. But… I feel as though it needn’t have been. I imagine a world where I can just pop candy in my mouth immediately, without the need to wrassle with wrappers, and I weep. I weep for what could have been.
I would still recommend Costume Quest 2 to anyone who likes fun games. Like I said: if you played Costume Quest 1, you’ll like this one too. If you haven’t played Costume Quest 1… well, your decision making prowess is suspect, for one. Why haven’t you? But even if you lack the backstory, Costume Quest 2 is still pretty decent. It’s unique and interesting enough to be forgiven a combat system that lulls you to sleep… most of the time. Some areas are worse than others.
Costume Quest 2 is currently 15 bucks on Steam. And if you haven’t played Costume Quest 1 yet, that one’s actually on sale at time of writing. So, you know, take advantage of that exceedingly rare golden opportunity. I can’t say you’ll definitely have fun with it, but if you regret missing out on a game about eating candy at Halloween later down the line, I can’t promise I’ll have any sympathy for you.