GAME REVIEW: COSTUME QUEST

We’ve all heard of some of the great games that have come out of the DoubleFine studios: Stacking, Pyschonaughts, Brutal Legend and the up and coming Broken Age. However, we’re looking at Costume Quest instead.

TheChoice

Costume Quest is an adorable and hilarious RPG where you enter the world of squabbling siblings Reynold and Wren. You must choose a sibling to play as and after selecting Reynold, the quest begins to save our sister Wren who has been captured by the evil Grubbins. Reynold must go around collecting and completing missions in return for candy to spend on upgrades to use in battle rounds. The player also has to find materials in order to create new, magical costumes. These costumes all have different abilities, and you must equip different ones to complete your quest and defeat enemies in battle.

The exploration part of the game is done with a third person camera overseeing your actions as you search for Wren, make new friends and trick-or-treat. The controls are basic but intuitive, you move around as you would expect and you also have a special ability that comes with the costume you are wearing e.g. the robot can move faster or the knight can use his shield to protect you. Different costumes and their special abilities are needed to progress, such as jumping over fences or shielding through dangerous areas. It can occasionally bit a bit awkward to control, you may be trying to jump a fence and not line it out properly and you have to realign, and that can get a bit frustrating. The different battle abilities of each costume makes you want to acquire them all and try them all out. Some, such as the box of fries costume, perfectly display the humour of the game and add all round adorableness to the adventure.

BattleScenegif

Along with exploring and completing missions, there is also a Final Fantasy style turn-based battle system, which, admittedly, can be a bit awkward if you’re not using a controller, but it is by no means unplayable. These battles can be activated by a nasty Grubbin greeting you as you trick-or-treat in your neighbourhood, or by Grubbins catching you in the open in a Pokemon style aggro system.

gameplay

The costumes you wear affect your powers in the battle, all the basics are there; buffs, heals and AOE but you can find it very repetitive as you fight of boring Grubbin after Grubbin. The boss fights may appear difficult at first but they often drag on with no real change of tactics and are usually beatable upon first attempt. The battle scenes don’t really work, but something is needed to break up the adventuring, I just think that not enough is done to make you want to fight; you will find yourself trying to avoid battles as the game goes on, especially if you manage to aggro too many Grubbins in a row. The base game is about 6 hours long, comprised of three main sections that will take you about 2 hours each to complete. There is also DLC available which adds another adventure of a similar format.

The graphics will be familiar if you have ever played a DoubleFine game before. It looks very similar to Stacking in some ways, and this is recognised in a self-referential easter egg hidden within the DLC. Costume Quest has a very strong cartoony look to it. The strong points are the endearingly cute face of Reynold as he blurts out blunt sarcastic quips and darkly comic phrases. There are occasional cut scenes that look a bit paper-crafty but you will find yourself trying your hardest not to skip them in case you miss something charmingly funny. The battle scenes have a more heroic feel to them as the costumes transform into warriors, losing the cute babyish features.

Costumes

The overall ambience given off by the general sound effects put you in the picture of a kid on his first Halloween; everything is larger than life, spookier and funnier than anything you’ve ever seen before. A sound effect comes with every costume’s special ability, they fit in well and add depth to the game but if you’re in a puzzle that requires constant use of the ability you’ll find it grating.

I loved Costume Quest, and I’ve never wanted to sit and waste away time more than when I played this. I wanted to finish it, I wanted to know the story, and I didn’t want to leave Reynold behind. I’d happily have him with me at all times. I’m not sure if I would want to replay it, because I don’t want to lose Reynold again, but I fondly look back on my time playing it every so often.

John Green once made the analogy that you could fall in love like you fall asleep “just a little, then all at once.” And I feel that way about a lot of my favourite games. It goes slow at first and then I can’t not think about it, but this one knocked me out and I loved it instantly. Buy it. Play it. Now is the perfect time to buy it. With DoubleFine working on Broken Age they are bundling it up with their other games and selling them on mass everywhere to raise money. You’ll find it cheap somewhere. For 6 hours content it’s probably not long enough to warrant the £11.99 price you’ll find it for on Steam (and that’s without the extra £3 for the dlc) but if you find it cheaper buy it. You won’t regret it.

 

BUNDLE BABY: APPLE JACK

Recently the best way to fill out your Steam library has been through bundles from websites like Humble Bundle, Indie Royale and Bundle Stars . I picked up some of my most played games through bundles; The Binding of Isaac, FTL: Faster Than Light and even FEZ could have been picked up through bundles for as much or as little as you want to pay.  And what’s better? You can choose how big of a percentage goes to charity.

Sometimes, however, we pick up some games we’ve never heard of, the baby of the bundle. Some are boring, like Yumsters, some are completely weird like 100% Orange juice, and some turn out to be diamonds in the rough!

I found Apple Jack in an Indie Royal Bundle alongside games such as Stellar Impact and Thunder Wolves, so it was a bit out of place. People who were interested in the bundle were there for games like that, not for this traditional platformer where you play as a man with an apple for a head and you can turn into an apple by crouching.

But Apple Jack has been a blast to play, especially if you’re a fan of the old school platformer and some good old fashioned British surrealist humour. The plot is simple

Oh right...any more?

Oh right…any more?

 

Oh, okay.

Oh, okay.

Your journey begins here, and you use traditional platformer elements to pick up what’s in your way and throw them together in order to kill enemies. There is a little bit of hand-holding to get you through the first few levels, but after that, you’re on your own and it gets pretty tough pretty quickly. There are a lot of new mechanics constantly thrown at you, my only worry is that there is too many and the first ones you are introduced to aren’t built upon properly. I always wanted to keep going though, I might ‘rage’ a bit if the level got to me, but I didn’t want to stop. That was partly due to the freedom the game gives you, as there isn’t a traditional beginning and end in the style of something like Mario; levels ends when you’ve completed what you have to do and usually there are a multitude of different ways to complete the level.

Look at the cute panda!

Look at the cute panda!

Apple Jack is fun to play and even more fun to look at. There are some adorable sprite drawings in the game from adorable pandas and astronauts to savage washing machines, however, the backgrounds are somewhat underwhelming in comparison. The overall feel of the game is whacky and fantastic; it really is a diamond in the rough and I can’t wait to continue my progression through the panda ridden British countryside!

Gameplay

Both Apple Jack 1 & 2 are available together on Desura for £3.99 (Store Page), and you can find it on Steam Green light now if you want to help it out! Also, you can check out the dev’s blog here and give them a follow on twitter @MyOwlSoftware.

FILM REVIEW: THE CONJURING

Supernatural horror conjures up classic horror nostalgia

STARRING: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

GENRE: Horror/Supernatural

Based upon a real case documented by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring depicts a family’s struggle with demonic spirits when they relocate to a house with a horrifying past. Well acted and stylishly shot, the film stands out from its fellow modern day horror flicks and is clearly inspired by and redolent of classic horror films from the 1960s and 70s.

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We are first introduced to spook detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren (played wonderfully by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they tell the tale of a creepy doll possessed by an evil demon to an audience of fans. This scary story serves as a good introduction to the world of Ed and Lorraine, a husband and wife duo who, somewhat unwisely, decide to keep souvenirs from paranormal cases in a room in their house; a room easily accessible to their small daughter. The main story, however, begins with the introduction of married couple Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and their five young daughters. The basic plot is nothing new and follows the basic family-moves-into-new-house horror cliché.  Although the plot is neither edgy nor terribly creative, as the film harks back to the style of old fashioned classic horror, the familiarity of the plot seems not to matter as the story is strong, skilfully crafted and well told.

As with most supernatural horror films, the haunting begins fairly mildly and escalates dramatically: there are a few days of clapping and faulty clocks, followed by a few days of ankle-grabbing and arm bruising/scratching and then everything quickly gets out of hand when a whole bunch of spirits appear hiding on top of wardrobes and inside closets. The first half of the film builds a lot of tension and we do not actually see a demon for a good 30mins or so into the running time. Even in the second half of the film, viewings of the evil spirits are few and far between; the director opts for chilling long shots of the monsters, or blurred glimpses through dirty mirrors as opposed to close-up shots favoured in many other horror movies. This classy and subtle cinematography leaves much of the horror to the audience’s imagination. Although they are aplenty, The Conjuring does not rely on ‘jumpscares’ to spook the audience and the filmmakers refreshingly realise that gore and a high body count do not always equal a great horror film.

The cast is strong and the acting from all involved was perfect. The characters and the actors interacted well with each other; Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson convincingly portray a loving married, and the actors playing the parts of the Perron family, especially the child stars, were equally good. Often in modern horrors, the acting is sub-par and the characters portrayed are weak and flat. The horror genre has to some extent become synonymous with poor characters, however, in The Conjuring, the characters feel human, they feel real and you begin to care about them. In so many horror movies the characters involved make stupid, illogical decisions and mistakes, but this film more accurately portrays how a sensible family may react in the event of a terrifying situation. The family decide to seek help quickly, and they stick together; many other horror stories show families waiting until someone dies to get help, or they depict parents who leave their child in a separate room while a demonic presence commandeers their soul. This means that the horrifying plight of the Perron family seems neither deserved nor amusing. The Conjuring is a well balanced film, and scenes of daylight, open countryside and light, loving family scenes are interspersed with frightening images of haunted cellars and dark bedrooms. Again, this helps to create a real story and 3-dimensional characters and therefore the audience has more empathy with the characters.

THE CONJURING

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren

The Conjuring is a good, atmospheric horror tale, yet it is not scary enough to keep you awake for a week. Of course, this does not by any account make it a bad film, though films are rarely perfect, and there are a few ‘problems’ that come to mind. Many supernatural/possession stories attempt to create a backstory of the haunting demons. In this film’s case, as the events were based on a true story in which the historic background is terrifying and tragic, little was said about the spirits and the links to the Salem Witch Trials and it seemed that this was merely glossed over. The film could have benefitted from fewer shots of doors opening by themselves to accommodate a chilling real-life historical story. Furthermore, a few other things in the film felt a little under-explained for example the significance of the music box and the ghost of the little boy visible through it. A largely well crafted film, the climax of the film does fall into the trap of trying too hard to scare and thus loses some of its spark. The ending draws upon stock horror clichés such as shots of trembling pots precariously placed upon old shelves, speedy camera pans accompanied by shouting and flailing so that the audience has no idea what is happening in the scene, and of course, close-ups of rubber looking scary monster faces which just look cheap, dated and ridiculous. A somewhat silly climax however does not detract from the rest of the film, and The Conjuring remains a solid, enjoyable horror film.

THINGS LEARNT FROM THE FILM:

  • The memories of a nice day at the beach are often more effective than exorcism when trying to vanquish demonic spirits.
  • It is not a tactile move to shout out the location of a hiding child when a demon known for murdering children is after them with a pair of scissors.

SUMMARY: From the frightening, dramatic title screen to the atmospheric Hitchcockian score, The Conjuring has a feeling of classic horror nostalgia, and presents an old fashioned scary story which stands out from crowd amongst many of today’s forgettable horror flicks.