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Costume Quest 2 review: Sweet tarts

S. Prell, @SamPrell

PC, Mac and Linux. Also coming to PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Xbox 360 and PS3
A pterodactyl, a wizard and Thomas Jefferson walk into a bar that exclusively serves candy. No, this isn't the set-up for an old-school joke; this is Costume Quest 2 from Double Fine, and it is a bag bursting at the seams with strange and charming humor. Unfortunately, it's also a shallow bag, lacking variety and depth.

This is a snack of a game; easily consumed and enjoyable while it lasts, but packed mostly with sugar and little else. Still, that sweetness is addictive, and it's okay to binge every now and then.

Gallery: Costume Quest 2 | 5 Photos

Despite featuring a plot revolving around special talismans, wizards, monsters from another dimension and time travel, Costume Quest 2 is pretty simple at its (caramel apple) core: the town's local madman dentist has gone back in time and set into motion a series of events that results in the criminalization of candy, costumes and Halloween. It's up to brother-and-sister team Wren and Reynold to stop him, a goal they pursue via turn-based battles where the costumes they wear turn them into powerful warriors.

Wren and Reynold, as well as the rest of the cast, are wonderfully animated, and not just in the literal sense. Everyone has a story to tell and an identifiable personality, and Double Fine nails that Pixar-like humor where kids, adults and everyone in-between can laugh at the same joke for different reasons. For example, in one area, I met a monster named Mongo. Mongo was a guard who could not be budged – except by the promise of candy. "Candygram for Mongo!" Wren told the lumbering lummox, referencing a movie she's probably too young to even know about, let alone have seen.

It's not just the dialogue, either: Humor permeates every nook and cranny of Costume Quest 2. When I met up with a vendor who could sell me items to improve my costumes, the jokes were subtle but nonetheless still present. Giving my werewolf a letterman jacket and shades improved his attacks, as did bleaching my gray wizard's robes to turn him white. There are no misfires here; while not every joke will be the cause of uproarious laughter, there are no groaners or off-color jabs to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Combat is likewise entertaining to watch, as the kids and their foes transform into larger-than-life versions of themselves and their costumes. A wizard costume may just be a pointy hat and a cotton-ball beard in reality, but transform its wearer into an actual spellcaster in battle. The sense of personality infused into each costume is awe-inspiring, and I found myself trying out new ones every time I could just to see what the animations would look like.

Thomas Jefferson was an easy favorite thanks to his spindly frame, oversized, rocket-launching quill and devastating special move, "The Declaration of Destruction." Unfortunately, while combat was fun to see unfold, it's less fun to partake in.

Costume Quest 2's combat operates similarly to another game featuring kids playing dress-up: South Park: The Stick of Truth. When a character attacks, an indicator shows when to press the attack button again to deal extra damage, or defend to reduce incoming damage. Later in the game it's possible to learn how to counterattack and follow through on successfully-timed hits, but it's still an extremely simple system that can feel repetitive and monotonous, especially given that each character only has one regular attack and one special attack.

Meanwhile, enemies are categorized as being either Monster, Tech or Magic type, which leads to a rock-paper-scissors strategy. Thomas Jefferson, for example, deals out tons of damage to Tech enemies, but is weak against Magic ones. The Wizard is strong against Monster types, but weak against Tech, and so on.

There are also special cards – 45 in total, though you can only equip three at a time – which can give you a special buff in battle. One card caused enemy attacks to reflect back onto themselves, while another allowed a chosen hero to be ignored by foes. The game is easy enough that you don't need to factor either cards or enemy type into account, but if you want things to be a bit less painful and more expedient, there is a system in place to help.

There's nothing to help speed up the game's plodding, padded pacing however. Whether it's trick-or-treating, making or receiving candy deliveries or helping candy-obsessed monsters make business deals, the progression through each area is the same: Knock on every door, collect every costume piece.

Doing chores and running errands for people is nothing new to the realm of video game heroes, but rarely is a game so blatant and nonchalant about the fact that it is having you perform the exact same actions over and over. Rather than feel rewarded for completing my tasks, I was relieved that I could finally move on with the story.

And yet, every time I had the chance to step away from Costume Quest 2, I didn't. I kept playing. Battles became tedious, but it was always worth it to see a pterodactyl put on goggles and drop egg bombs like a prehistoric B52. I hated methodically going from door to door to collect this or that, but I kept knocking because the characters I met were so interesting and funny, and I wanted to know what would happen next. Collecting costume pieces could be a pain, but watching them in action was always a treat.

Costume Quest 2 is a lot like the bags of candy Wren and her fellow Halloween heroes collect: often sweet, sometimes sour, and (for the most part) worth the occasional tummy ache.

This review is based on an approved Steam download of the PC version of Costume Quest 2, provided by Double Fine. Images: Double Fine.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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