This piece, along with my recent post on Super Meat Boy, was originally published in a scrappy little pop culture madhouse called The Kartel. I have reposted both stories here for archival purposes; this blog presently serves first and foremost as a catch-all receptacle for my writing, and so whatever can go here, will go here. For a partial list of things I’ve written elsewhere on the Internet that, for various reasons, I definitely cannot repost on my blog, please refer to this page right over here.

The studio that brought you Psychonauts and Brütal Legend–run by Tim Schaefer, the man who masterminded Full Throttle and Grim Fandango–Double Fine Productions has recently set out in a new direction. Like Valve before them, the studio has decided to eschew 20-hour blockbusters in favor of smaller, tighter, digitally distributed projects, of which Costume Quest is the first. The resulting game retains the best of Double Fine’s past efforts–inimitable character design, dialogue, and humor–while essentially eliminating everything that held Brütal Legend back from true greatness.

Where Brütal Legend suffered from “feature creep”–trying to be simultaneously a Zelda-style adventure game, a God of War-style action game, an RTS, and a sandbox, Costume Quest displays a level of focus that would make a Shaolin monk blush. The game distills J-RPGs down to their most basic parts: Exploration, combat, and stat management. You’ll build a party (three great characters, since you only need three anyway), you’ll explore a beautifully realized world (never having to return to old locales, but always having the option), you’ll face ever-stronger foes (with a bare minimum of repetitive variations on familiar themes), and you’ll do it all in around six hours.

This is something of a revelation for anyone who has been told that Final Fantasy XIII “gets really good about 15 hours in.” Costume Quest, in sharp contrast, turns a cardboard box into this during its first 10 minutes of gameplay:

1,200 Microsoft Moon Pennies well spent.

Costume Quest is the brainchild of former Pixar animator Tasha Harris, and although the venerable animation studio has nothing directly to do with Harris’ latest project, Costume Quest brings an unmistakably Pixar sensibility to its every aspect–from its incredible attention to visual detail, to the game’s well-told, well-paced, thoroughly personal story. In a medium too often defined by market-driven emulation, here we have a game that captures what is specifically, emotionally important about Halloween. If you remember feeling like your costume gave you superpowers, or like your neighborhood was the setting for an epic battle between good and evil, then Costume Quest will bring back those feelings.

Perhaps most importantly, Costume Quest finds that sweet spot for family friendly entertainment–that space wherein the material on offer is utterly appropriate for even the youngest children, but never insulting to those children’s’ intelligence. This isn’t just a game that kids can play. It’s a game that kids should play. Like Pixar’s films, Costume Quest speaks to themes that are infinitely applicable to children and adults alike: Friendship, proving oneself, and the strange, begrudging bonds that form between siblings.

And also, there’s a scorpion-like monster made of french fries and salt. No, seriously.

With Halloween only a few days away, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Even if the intersection of Double Fine and Pixar doesn’t do it for you, and even if childlike wonder doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, come on: A scorpion monster made of french fries and salt. And a giant robot. And an armored unicorn. Just try and tell me that’s not what Halloween is all about.

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