Review: Costume Quest

By Kelsey Rinella 17 Oct 2013 0
Trick-or-treating need not exclude the possibility of both. Apparently the inclusive "or", with the roles played by execution of the port and lighthearted creativity, respectively.

Videogaming's lovably crazy uncle, Double Fine, have brought their trick-or-treating RPG, Costume Quest, to iOS from consoles. Describing the game's premise (fighting monsters on Halloween using the power of your costume while on a quest to save your sibling) doesn't do it any justice. There's an imaginative glee of transforming from a boy in a cardboard robot costume into an giant chrome and steel robot. Costume Quest is a love letter to childhood, displaying on screen the sort of over-the-top awesomeness we used to imagine in the years before emptying our inboxes and finishing those TPS reports were our fondest aspirations.

Ports, though, are dangerous. If you think of the fruits of Double Fine's creativity and humor as mangoes, briefly casting your mind back to Apocalypse Now may help you understand how cripplingly harrowing landfall can be. This is especially true when the control scheme of the target device is necessarily different from that of the original--Bastion is a fantastic example of how seriously it can be necessary to rethink a game for a port to work as well as the original. Costume Quest may best serve the gaming community as a cautionary tale in how seemingly reasonable choices can go seriously wrong.

In fairness, if I chose a different rotational axis, I'd have a different problem. Tap now? But my iPad's already in landscape--if I rotate it 90˚, it'll be untapped!

The most obvious control mismatch shows up during the battles. During both attack and defense, a quick-time event pops up in the middle of the screen which will let you either deal more or take less damage. It always gives a slightly lazy impression when developers superimpose the buttons of a console controller onto a touchscreen, but it can work well enough. However, in this case someone made the puzzling choice to randomize the button placement, so even when you know you have to tap the red button, you still have to find where that button is every time. The periodic stuttering of the game on my iPad 2 made the events which require careful timing unintentionally difficult.

I tried it on my much newer phone, but found that my finger obscured most of what I wanted to see while navigating the overworld. The problem is that, while you can tap to move someplace, there's no pathfinding--if anything impedes a straight-line move, you just stop.

Worse, you can only interact with things when you are close to them, and since there's no physical button to change your costume, they've added the ability to tap your character to do this. As a result, you constantly have to keep your finger near your characters to guide them through the often narrow environments, and frequently open the costume menu when you intend to bash a nearby object or talk to someone.

The fact that there aren't physical buttons and fingers are opaque are inherent to iOS device use. More subtle, however, are the different expectations users have of how their apps will work than of how XBox games will. The omission of cloud saving, while disappointing, is still relatively common in iOS game ports.

What seems positively archaic at this point is the continued use of save points. When my children display too little appreciation of how easy they have it, I tell them stories about how I had to walk a quarter of a mile (uphill) in the snow just to save a game when I was their age. The idea of a modern (light) RPG from a respected developer making the leap to iOS without effective multitasking or autosaving would have been hard to credit before I started this review.

They're basically old-school medicine without the medical benefits. Necco Wafers, seen here as XP, are the horror story I tell my children when explaining how hard my parents had it.

Despite all of that, the game basically works, and retains its humor. The quests are generally simple, repetitive, and silly, with an irritating absence of alternative pathways. After incinerating multiple enemies with the torch of my Lady Liberty costume, I was particularly annoyed at having to quest for a lightsaber to light my way through a dark patch, for example. The system isn't complicated, which combines well with the child-friendly theme. Sadly, the humor of Costume Quest would make it easy to accept its relatively shallow mechanics if the port were more thoughtful.

Review: Costume Quest

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