Halloween Matters in Costume Quest 2

Back in 2010, DoubleFine released Costume Quest, the first game to emerge form their now fairly famous Amnesia Fortnight process—the first short, tightly-focused experience in a long line of almost-uniformly excellent releases. As I said when I talked it up back then, Costume Quest is a game that brought out the kid in grumpy old me—and more importantly, a game that I’m glad to know actual kids are playing. It speaks to them without ever talking down to them.

In that context, I’m happy to report that Costume Quest 2 is more of the same.

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The sequel has its problems, sure. It’s paced with the assumption that you’ll seek out every single upgrade, and the already grindy battles can get sluggish if you don’t, and yes, yes, schlepping to water fountains to heal up between battles isn’t quite risky enough to make the process feel interesting rather than niggling, or to tempt me into eating my candy rather than spending it on big ticket items.

That, and the battle system doesn’t do much of anything that the first game’s didn’t do. As a condensed, off-kilter JRPG revival, Costume Quest 2 really isn’t all that condensed or off-kilter. You want ultra-concentrated? Play one of the Half-Minute Hero games. You want bizarre? Play Space Funeral or OFF.

But what Costume Quest 2 does just was well as its predecessor is capture what it feels like to be a kid on Halloween—that feeling of being afraid but not in danger, of knowing you’re wearing a cardboard box but also believing you’re in a suit of robotic armor, realities overlapping frictionlessly.

The central mechanic of trick-or-treating-as-randomized-RPG-encounter is intact, and the atmosphere is still crisp and autumnal—and this time we even visit a crisp, autumnal New Orleans and a crisp, autumnal dystopia ruled by robots and Grubbins (remember the Grubbins?) and an evil totalitarian dentist.

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When twin protagonists Wren and Reynold find themselves in the aforementioned dystopia’s requisite reeducation center (where kids get indoctrinated with outrageous anti-candy propaganda), the setting is quite pointedly pretty much just a school. The environment is oppressive, but nothing our heroes can’t handle with their unshakable smartass stoicism. The authority figures there are monstrous, sinister even, but ultimately feckless.

It’s a reminder that the sense of wonder and empowerment inherent in Halloween is worth taking back into the real world, and into adulthood—that it’s a way of staying bold and open-minded, inventive and unafraid.

Many of your allies in this second game are, after all, adult versions of your allies from the first, sometimes downtrodden but definitively still on the side of transformation and whimsy and whatnot. In less capable hands, that could easily come off as a smarmy, facile ode to The Magic Of Childhood™.

But here it works, because the Costume Quest games are so utterly honest in their nostalgia, so consistently genuine in their playfulness. These games goofy, sentimental, and unpretentious—perfectly evocative of the holiday they were conceived to celebrate, and highly recommended if you’re the kind of kid or adult who finds that holiday particularly meaningful.

As ever, words to live by.
As ever, words to live by.

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