Friday, July 1, 2011

Costume Quest = Fight Club for Kids

Costume Quest is a lil' downloadable RPG developed by Double Fine Productions, the company founded by Tim Schafer of Grim Fandango and Psychonauts fame. Its inception came about during Double Fine's tumultuous Brütal Legend period in 2009, when they had no idea if the game would end up getting published at all. The developer went through a series of what they called "Amnesia Fortnights," where the company split into four teams that each worked on their own small game to potentially be released in the future.

As it turns out, the Amnesia Fortnights might be what saved the company, after Brütal Legend was a bit of a Jack Black-filled disappointment. Last year, Costume Quest was the first of the four to be released--the other three are this year's aptly named Russian-stacking-doll Stacking and post-World-War-I-battle-mech Trenched, along with the upcoming Kinect-infused kids' game Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. All three of the games released so far have received great reviews.

Anyway, let's get back to Costume Quest. You play as an elementary school kid getting himself or herself into a bunch of Halloween hijinks. The kids fight evil monsters, Grubbins, who wish nothing more than to steal all the candy of the world. The characters wear quintessential Halloween costumes like cardboard-box robots and trash-can-lid-for-shield knights, and they go trick-or-treating and collecting as much candy as possible.

Besides the beautifully cartoony cel-shaded art style and Tim Schafer's hallmark sharp, humorous writing, this is a standard turn-based RPG with Paper Mario-style quick-time moves during battles to keep you on your toes. But what stands out most about CQ is the context in which these battles are fought.

When the characters enter battle, the world transforms into a fantasy realm. The kid in the cardboard box transforms into a Gundam-style superbot and the kid with the makeshift shield becomes a larger-than-life knight in shining armor. The characters are fantasy versions of themselves.

But the children in the world of Costume Quest seem to be the only people who even notice the Grubbins. Whenever the characters attempt to call the police, their reports are dismissed. The children talk to plenty of adults throughout the game, but have strictly non-Grubbin-related conversations. Do the Grubbins really exist? Are the characters actually fighting at all? The quest is subtly ironic--stop the Grubbins from monopolizing the world's candy, while at the same time grabbing as much candy as they can get for themselves.

Are the children fighting themselves?

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