Costume Quest 2 is a costume cobbled together at the last moment, a disguise that slowly falls apart as Halloween night draws to a close so that when you’re standing beneath the porch lamp of the final house, mustering one last “Trick or Treat!,” you find yourself dressed in ordinary clothes. All the magic of the holiday has fallen into gutters and on driveways along the way. You’re an ordinary human being after all. CQ2 bears all the flaws of its predecessor and only half the magic.
At its best, CQ2 is a cheerful Halloween treat, innocuous and a bit naïve: colorful, simple, amusing. At its worst, CQ2 is simplistic, repetitive, and lazy. The original Costume Quest captured the childlike joy of Halloween better and more vividly, rendering the sequel — which imitates but never improves — unnecessary to all but the most fervent Double Fine fans. All the rudimentary elements of an RPG are present in their simplest forms: turn-based combat, equipment, NPCs, side quests, and collectibles. And when I say simplest, I mean it. There’s one piece of equipment for each character. Every quest involves some form of fetching. And there are few options in combat beyond attack, run, and — when the meter is full — special attack. The timed button pressing mechanic used to boost attacks (à la Paper Mario) doesn’t make the battles any less predictable. With so few options, your fate seems decided before you even begin. And since the game is about half as difficult as the original, that fate is usually nothing to worry about.
Each of CQ2’s three acts consists of similar core quests, nearly identical side quests (you can play Hide-and-Seek three different times), and the same run-around busy work that takes all the fun out of gaming. These are the same activities found in the original, only simplified: collect candy, find costumes, and fight monsters. Costumes have field abilities that might, for example, blow away a pile of leaves to provide access to a hidden path, but these are merely excuses for more busy work. Changing costumes between battles just makes it more frustrating to get where you need to go.
Bright candy colored graphics and an enjoyable, if limited soundtrack make the game more palatable. The setting is one of the only imaginative features in the game. It’s a dental dystopia, the result of a psychopathic dentist’s vision of a world free of candy — hackneyed, but cute. The environments are delightful, complete with self-aggrandizing statuary, propaganda (“BRUSH NOW”), and toothy architecture (pearly white fountains fed with water from dentist’s tools). It makes what might have been a Three Musketeers bar into, say, a Milky Way: it’s not a Reese’s Cup or a Snickers, but it could be worse.
The first half of CQ2 is enjoyable if you have the patience for slow and predictable combat. Toward the end of the second act, I started avoiding battles and I might have rushed through the third act had the game not done it for me. It’s as if the developers were tired of it too and only wanted it to end. The time travel narrative’s final twist feels rushed and cheap: a few lines of dialogue, a lack of drama. Play the game with your family on the night before Halloween, perhaps. Sharing it might make the game worthwhile, but CQ2 is really just too simple and repetitive to recommend. I always thought my grandparents were crazy for suggesting that there might be razors in my sweets, but Costume Quest 2 lends credence to that old wives’ tale.