Why the plot of Costume Quest 2 doesn’t really matter is simple enough. We know the bad guy can never succeed; Halloween can never be truly destroyed. Any kid could have told you that.
Costume Quest 2Publisher: Midnight City
Rated: Everyone 10+
Developer: Double Fine
Release Date: 2014-10-07
Costume Quest 2picks up, not where the last game left off, but where the DLC for the last game left off. Our costumed heroes are lost in a maze of portals. It’s a weird, lore-heavy start for this breezy and undemanding game. The issue is solved pretty quickly, however, as the first portal you jump through takes you back home. Narratively, it's a necessary prologue to tie up an old cliffhanger, but it's still an awkward start because most players probably won't even know what that cliffhanger was. The original Costume Quest came out four years ago, which is more than long enough to forget the details of an ending, but even if you played that game, you might not have played the DLC (like me).
Costume Quest 2 just rolls with this and expects you to do so as well. It wastes no time starting its own story of a time-traveling dentist out to destroy Halloween. The game doesn’t care about getting you up to speed with previous events because it knows something you’ll realize soon enough. The plot doesn’t really matter.
About halfway through the game, I officially lost any sense of the plot of Costume Quest 2. I knew I had to stop the dentist, but I wasn't sure how my current objective contributed to that in any way. I was hopping through my umpteenth time-portal when it hit me that I didn’t know where/when I was: the Past, the Present, the Future, or an Alternate Present? But I didn’t mind at all, because Costume Quest 2 isn’t about the plot. It’s about the joy of trick-or-treating in whatever form that takes.
Everything about the game reflects a childhood love of Halloween. From the central trick-or-treating mechanic -- in which you go door to door in a neighborhood, sometimes collecting candy from parents and sometimes getting into fights with monsters that have taken over the house -- to the way in which you acquire new costumes from collecting everyday items. Collect a robe, cloth balls, and a glowstick to become a wizard, then bleach the robe white to become even stronger.
To the degree that the story matters, it presents Halloween as an integral part of the culture, a holiday that can’t be denied and that always finds a way to exist. Even in a world that has outlawed Halloween, you simply become candy bootleggers for underground speakeasies. The context has changed, but you’re still going door-to-door, collecting candy from some houses and fighting monsters in other houses. This is partly why the plot doesn’t really matter. We know the dentist can never succeed; Halloween can never be truly destroyed. Any kid could have told you that.
The aforementioned battles are turn-based fights pulled right out of a JRPG. They’re never very challenging, but a few tweaks to the combat system from the previous game ensure that Costume Quest 2 is never boring. Quick-time events are an integral part of combat. When you’re on the offensive, you can do more damage if you time your attacks well, and when you’re on the defensive, you receive less damage if you time your blocks well. It’s a simple system, but the timing is tight enough to keep you on your toes, and the attack animations and sound design when you get things just right (everything stops for a second as an organ bellows) are undeniably satisfying. Heck, even if you removed all damage bonuses, you’d still try for that perfect attack just to hear that wonderfully deep, gut-rumbling organ.
Combat is also fun because it gives you a chance to see your costumes as the kids do. What looks like a simple ghost costume becomes a floating figment of fear, and a dumb looking hotdog costume becomes a three-headed Cerberus dog that spits condiments. Whenever you complete a new costume, you’ll immediately run towards the closest fight so you can see what it actually looks like.
Costume Quest 2 is a sweet and charming game that captures the childhood joy of Halloween. It’s never very difficult, but it’s never simple enough to be boring. It’s a lighthearted and breezy game, the kind that's great to play if you're sick and you don't want to stress or invest heavily in anything or if you’re feeling down and you just want to crack a smile. Costume Quest 2 is there to make you feel better.