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In more than just its old-school RPG gameplay, Costume Quest aims to harken back to the good old days. Trick-or-treating is a childhood tradition closely adhered to by its participants, however archaic it may be, because of the delicious reward of earning something, much like the RPG's of old. As someone who's both put the practice behind them and sometimes takes care of two nephews, watching dewy-eyed children run amok on Halloween night was genuinely heartwarming. It felt like I was providing adult supervision to these kids on the craziest night of the year.
And with actual monsters running around, stealing candy and abducting children on this particular year, perhaps it was the right choice to let me tag along. Earning candy is about more than just knocking on doors and saying the magic words, as goblins, trolls, and crows have randomly replaced the usual inhabitants, and you'll have to fight them using your costumes. It's a creative way to implement the classic random battle mechanic, since there are a limited number of houses, and every other encounter you can avoid or take on when you're ready to fight the bad guys.
Fortunately, since real monsters are allowed, your costumes turning you into more fight-ready version of your caricatures also flies. Your party members can turn into giant robots, unicorns, French-fry spiders, and more as you collect new costume designs and find their components. Some also have abilities outside of battle, like letting you roller skate over ramps, see in dark, or walking through waterfalls or falling debris, which is about as close as the game comes to having solve something other than quests.
The battles themselves are turn-based with an element of timing thrown in to increase an attack's power or mitigate an opponent's strike. The battles also keep themselves engaging with some costume specific special attacks, quick-cut camera angles, and a higher-than-average difficulty – any regular encounter can end up killing you if you're not careful. Every battle demands your attention, and it's enough to keep the battles from become a means to end. And even if you lose, you're only dropped back out to the overworld to try the battle again, which helps quicken the pace of the game quite a bit.
The ten-level cap, short quest structure, and Double Fine's signature humorous stylings also move things along quickly, making this an RPG with little filler. There were a few low points where I didn't know what to do or where to go, but they were only small hurdles. There are also a couple of presentation and interface issues, though those are pedantic issues at best.
There aren't any astounding highs, but like Halloween, Costume Quest only needs to provide a single night of adventurous fun to make it worth the work (or cash, as the case may be). The reward here is some fast-paced RPG play and the story of, well, a Halloween special with a cute aesthetic. It's also likely the best way to relive your own memories of the fine art of begging strangers for candy.