As RPGs go, the original Costume Quest was never a particularly complex affair. The same thing can be said about its sequel, Costume Quest 2, which takes the two trouble-seeking children into another Halloween adventure, but this time in different periods of recent history.
You control Wren and Reynold, two marginally mischievous youngsters who must use the various costumes that they own in order to best the plot of their Halloween-hating dentist, Dr Orel White. The plot itself is suitably childish, with the hateful dentist recruiting the services of a group of Time Wizards in order to travel into the past and remove Halloween from the future and start a dystopian, dental-orientated dictatorship — with himself at the helm, of course. When our two young heroes discover what has happened, their childhood friends (in adult form) send them back in time in order to stop this madness. It’s a fun, quirky little plot that reads much like a children’s book, and the characterisation of each role is superbly performed, despite the lack of any voice-acting; the dynamic movements and cartoonish reactions to situations may potentially have been hampered by any real-world voices thrown into the mix, so it's a smart move.
The game has you running around as Wren and Reynold – as well as any companions you may have picked up – collecting candy from houses and battling monsters in an effort to revert what damage has been done to the timeline. The main areas are pleasing enough, but levels are often dragged out by somewhat tedious side missions that are often not explained in terribly fine detail. Once you encounter monster though, the meat of the experience begins – the combat. Your characters will take on the persona of their costumes in order to try and tackle the creatures that threaten your future. Similar to the Mario & Luigi series of RPGs, the combat gives you additional control over how powerful your attacks are and how well you defend against enemies through well-timed button presses, so you’re not simply tied to your basic stats. This is a mechanic that you need to get to grips with quickly in order to take on some of the more difficult enemies, but like most RPGs, you’re going to have to have the numbers to back up your skill or you’ll quickly be thrown aside.
Every costume in the game has its own unique attacks, strengths, weaknesses and effects in combat, and you’ll need to pick out a good variety in order to take on as many enemies as possible. Costumes vary enormously, with stand-out examples being the hilariously sedentary Candy Corn costume and the less-than-historically-accurate Thomas Jefferson costume. These personas are equal in their exquisite designs and gorgeously fluid animation, but as soon as you get three of them out on the field against more than one enemy, the game begins to stutter and the framerate drops embarrassingly. Despite the relatively low polygon count and simple textures, the game simply cannot keep up with its ambition. If this was purely an aesthetic concern it wouldn't be too much of an issue, but what’s happening in the game does not always sync up perfectly with what you see on screen, and as such the split-second button presses required to earn bonus damage become almost impossible to execute with any consistency.
There are no real statistics to see beyond what feels like a fairly arbitrary level system and an HP count, so any hardcore RPG fans may be left feeling a bit in the dark. Of course one could argue that this simple approach is ideal for children or those who do not have much experience with RPGs, but you only have to look at the Pokémon series to see that having too much information won’t put children off such a game. It’s very much a game that doesn't require an awful lot of thinking to be especially good at, but given that that’s clearly what the developer was aiming for, it can’t really be seen as too much of a bad thing. This simplicity naturally comes at a cost though, and the combat quickly becomes a relatively dull affair after the initial excitement of seeing the beautiful animation come to life for the first time.
The stand-out feature of this game is without a doubt the way it’s presented. The plot is engaging and fun, the characters all feel as real as they can (albeit with perhaps more wisdom and experience than is expected for their tender age), the humour is spot-on and the animation and art style work seamlessly with one another. The overall feel of the game is excellent, but you’ll quickly find the combat can get in the way of the story and fun, which is a shame. The Halloween theme does being to grate after a while, and at times can become a little brash and overbearing in its praise of the largely commercialised event — but if you’re a fan of the spooky seasonal session you’ll likely be able to see past that.
Costume Quest 2 is an enjoyable romp through an appealing story of fun and sugary treats. The characters are all delightful and the game looks the part. Unfortunately the novelty of the combat wears thin rather quickly and some crippling performance issues can at times make the game a frustrating mess. Its simplistic gameplay is more suited to those with less gaming experience, but there’s still plenty to be enjoyed by more hardcore fans looking for something a bit more relaxing or less complicated for a change; just be prepared to play for the charm and story instead of the repetitive combat sequences.