COSTUME QUEST / Double Fine / PC
For a studio founded by LucasArts refugees, Double Fine never really did get around to making much in the way of adventure games. Instead they keep dabbling in other genres - debuting with the action-platformer Psychonauts, then moving on to the odd RTS-action fusion Brutal Legend. And Costume Quest is a Paper Mario-style RPG, where the timing of button presses in a simplified combat scheme takes precedence over level-grinding and upgrading equipment. There's maybe a touch of Earthbound too what with the band of precocious suburban kids exploring a goofy cartoonish adult world that's been invaded by monsters.
It's set at Halloween, which is the pretext for all the costumes. Twins Wren and Reynold just want to go trick-or-treating, but one of them (whichever you don't pick) gets mistakenly scooped up in a candy raid by a bunch of orc-like monsters from another dimension. Because of Reasons, pursuing them means going through three areas where you have to trick or treat every house to open the way to the next area. The catch is that about half the houses are occupied by a monster in the midst of tossing the place for candy, so you'll either get some free candy or have a fight on your hands.
It's a very small, short game - maybe 5 or 6 hours of total gameplay time, tops. And each of the three areas follows the same pattern - trick or treat 20 houses, play an apple-bobbing mini-game, find six kids that are hiding around the area. You can also search about for a bit to find materials needed to make new costumes tucked in out-of-the-way corners, but it really feels at times like an hour of actual gameplay time stretched out to cover another few hours. There's an expansion pack called Grubbins On Ice that you'll likely get thrown in with the game at this point, but it's just 3 or 4 more hours of yet the same trick-or-treat pattern.
The battles are maybe a bit too stripped down, as well. All of the challenge revolves entirely around timing the button presses on defense, but there really isn't much challenge to this unless you haven't touched the gamepad in a couple months and have forgotten which button is where (ahem). There's never really much in the way of strategy. There's one boss battle where you have to have a certain ability equipped, but other than that it really doesn't matter much, and I found the best combination for getting through the entire game was the first three costumes you get.
That's not to say there's nothing to enjoy here. The Wind Waker-esque art style is really nice and the battles are a visual treat. And it's another Double Fine universe to roam about in, with the same sort of charm and humor that Psychonauts had (the camp music even makes a guest appearance in a camping store here). While the battles are a little too simple and samey, they are pretty well executed. All the things the game has going for it just sort of amplify the core gameplay and design being so short and repetitive, however.
All things considered though, if you're a fan of Tim Schafer and Double Fine's work, it's still probably worth the 2 or 3 bucks you can often grab it on sale for. It's a decent game to play in small bites when you're busy, at the very least. Costume Quest 2 is apparently in development, and if they flesh the game world out a little more it could be a real winner.