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Costume Quest

Could Tim Schafer's latest be an XBLA and PSN gem?

The names Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions have come to represent certain qualities.

Ask any fan what the defining characteristics of their games are and you'll be cited unique visuals, buckets of humour and top-notch writing.

Whether it's the dark giggles of Grim Fandango, the unforgettable peculiarity of Psychonauts or the painstakingly detailed love letter of Brutal Legend, Tim Schafer and Double Fine studios are known for creating unique gaming experiences.

The original idea for Costume Quest was born from the mind of Tasha Harris - lead animator at Double Fine. An RPG that takes place during Halloween, it looks like it's on track to be equally as memorable as DF's previous works.

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Chalk this one down in the 'most brilliant download games of the year' pile. Limbo, make some room.

Play Dress-Up
The game starts off on Halloween night. Kids have flooded the streets dressed in their best scary attire and are frantically scurrying about fending for candy.

As the new youngsters in the neighbourhood, you're encouraged by your overly enthusiastic mother to go out and make new friends. Because that's what Halloween is about - according to her anyway.

"Mom, it's about terror", rebuts Wren, a wide-eyed brazen young girl, it's about "showing the world who you really are". And this statement perfectly encapsulates the premise of Costume Quest.

After being told to stick together, and threatened with a grounding for misbehaviour from Dad - who barely peeks over his newspaper - we are made to choose who's in charge for the night.

We pick Wren over her timid but mischievous younger brother Reynold. She immediately asserts her authority by addressing Reynold as "slave" when he speaks out of turn.

The town is well furnished in Halloween themed decorations. Jack-o-lanterns adorn nearly every driveway, Witches are menacingly placed behind plants and the town bully is dressed up like a Mummy; declaring that no child is allowed to trick, or treat, before him.

Though the art style might not be as striking as the intentionally malformed and lopsided characters of Psychonauts (or, for that matter, the paper-craft look of the denizens of Grim Fandango's Land of the Dead), Costume Quest is a striking and uniquely stylish adventure.

Schafer and co's colourful cast of characters sport a soft, cutesy look - complete with wide expressive eyes and an almost cel-shaded finish. Although the environments and monsters carry a darker, gloomier aesthetic, they are both detailed and stylised to represent the whimsical Halloween theme.

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Our first attempt at trick or treating doesn't end too well; perhaps we should have fallen in line with the other kids. Unexpectedly, the first house we knock at is home to a reptile-like creature named Gus, who sees Reynold's bile-coloured, oddly-shaped costume and mistakes him for a candy treat.

Wasting no time, the green critter grabs our sibling and scarpers, taking him to a nearby demonic gate - and offering him to Bojhan, the game's candy-obsessed bad guy.

A Monster Appeared
Gus catches us listening in on things and, as is par for the RPG course, a battle ensues. The battle mechanics of Costume Quest don't stray too far from the usual turn-based RPG conventions. Player characters and enemies line up and take turns to either attack, defend or support. Costume Quest's twists comes from the (surprise) costumes, which offer up various special abilities.

With Wren dressed as a big blue robot, she leaps into the air and transforms into a giant, rocket-equipped mech that wouldn't look out of place in Voltron or Transformers.

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