Yes, it's a game about dress-up, but it's not just any game about dress-up. Coming from the mind of Tim Schafer and visualized by Double Fine's lead animator, Tasha Harris, Costume Quest is meant to evoke the 16-bit era of action RPG titles — back when graphics were limited but stories were grand. Among other things, both Harris and Schafer cited Nintendo's Earthbound as a stylistic inspiration for the game. If the massive collection of classic gaming consoles littered about the Double Fine meeting room is any indication, they're certainly familiar with old-school gaming.
In order to get a feel for the game, we sat down with Harris and Schafer for a tour of the game's first area. Harris wouldn't let us play — the demo was hands-off — but she did walk us through the basics while THQ's PR rep attempted to ensure that Schafer didn't reveal too much about the title. His exuberance was perhaps the most telling aspect about the entire demo. Unlike most developers who are cautiously guarded when showing off an early build to the press, Schafer was acting more like a proud parent who couldn't wait for us to get a peek.
Set on Halloween, Costume Quest follows the story of two children who are out for some good old trick-or-treating fun. But tonight, there are actual monsters on the prowl, and they're also looking for candy. Since your little sister happens to be dressed like a big piece of candy corn, one of the monsters grabs her and returns her to its lair. Now it's up to you to save her.
What can a little kid use to fight a monster? Imagination, of course! You see, when you are wandering about the world map, you're just a pint-size rug rat. When you enter combat, though, both you and your opponent transform into superpowered versions of your current costume. For the demo, the monster transformed from a rather humorous, pathetic goblin into an evil beast, while our hero turned into a Voltron-styled, anime robot ass-kicker. It looked sweet.
Combat played out in a standard turn-based manner. If you've ever played an RPG, you have a good idea of what to expect. Attack, defend, special move — it's all here. Unfortunately for our little hero, beating the monster didn't mean success. Instead, a gothic witch appeared and zapped away our costume with a whirlwind. Stuck without any cool threads, we had to hunt down the parts necessary to make a new one.
Every costume in the game has a pattern. One you have the pattern, you just need to obtain the parts to make it. Once you've made a costume, you can swap between the various outfits. Why would you want to do this? Because each costume transforms into a completely different character, with a different set of special moves. It's quite possible that a specific costume will be needed to get past a given obstacle or to exploit a weak point in an obstinate boss.
When you're not fighting monsters of the supernatural variety, you'll have to deal with monsters of the pre-pubescent sort: the local bully. He blocks your progress early on and harasses other characters. In order to take him down a notch, you have to embarrass him, and that's done by beating him in a race.
Showing off the variety of gameplay tucked inside Costume Quest, Harris had our hero quickly skating around the neighborhood, avoiding obstacles and jumping ramps. It was a close race, but our hero won by forcing the bully to crash ... right in front of a patrolling policewoman. That's one way to show 'em.
That was the end of the demo, but we did eke out a few more tidbits. It seems that in addition to your costume swapping, you will also be able to eventually build a small party in the game. This should allow for a decent amount of customization, simply by mixing and matching costumes among the party members.
Visually, the game looked good, with a style that both paid homage to the 16-bit era and offered quite a bit of detail. All of the character models are rendered in a stylized, super-deformed look when not in combat. It's almost as though the designers started with 16-bit sprites, blew them up, converted them to 3-D and then added detail. Costume Quest makes it work by feeling retro without looking retro.
The THQ PR rep at our demo wouldn't let either Harris or Schafer commit to a release date, only going so far as to say that the game would be out in the near future. Call us the betting sort, but given the game concept, we're thinking that Costume Quest is likely to drop sometime around the end of October. Without any hands-on time, it's too early to tell how well everything is going to come together, but at first glance, Costume Quest is a lot more intriguing than its name implies.
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