You got Winter in my Hallowe'en!
I am a very big fan of Costume Quest (it was my favourite game of 2010), so it isn’t hard to imagine how excited I was to hear that it would receive an expansion. The persistent smile that refused to leave my face while playing the game in October returned from the moment I booted up Grubbins on Ice. There were a couple moments where, unlike my time with the main game, my smile became a frustrated grimace (and once, at the end, where it uttered several expletives). These minor detractions should be weighed against the fact that this is more Costume Quest; if you loved that game, you will want this expansion.
It’s easy to assume Grubbins on Ice is the Christmas to the main game’s Hallowe’en, but not so; while the scenery is blanketed in snow, there is still trick or treating afoot with nary a Santa Claus in sight. In fact, it almost feels like some of the Hallowe’ens I’ve been through up here in Canada (believe it or not, we sometimes get snow as early as October). Costume Quest’s main plot wrapped up nicely, so Grubbins on Ice opens a new chapter with Lucy, the brainy kid. She’s trying to prove the existence of Repugia, the world from whence the monsters came on Hallowe’en night, and promptly finds an open portal in the park. A familiar scene plays out: the heroes assemble, one of their own is captured, and the remaining three must quest to save their fellow. This time, however, the action takes place within the alternate dimension of Repugia. The monster population is subservient to a new overlord, Araxia, who has kidnapped Lucy. Your former foes are attempting to mount a revolution and, naturally, they enlist you to help them take Araxia down.
It’s a pretty compelling hook, especially with the twist that the same monsters you fought in Costume Quest are your allies this time around. Repugia itself doesn’t look all that different, until you see the flora, fauna, and the green slime flowing through its rivers. This is an initial source of confusion: in Costume Quest, you could smack certain environment elements (such as mailboxes and jack-o-lanterns) for bonus candy. There are similar elements in Repugia, but they won’t be as obvious; you might find yourself running up against things to see if the Smack icon pops up for the first while. There are understandably no humans wandering around in Repugia, so the original three monster types make up the sympathetic NPCs and quest-givers. A fourth monster type (which look like Grubbins in whiteface) represent your enemies. Thankfully the stand out enough for players to be able to make the distinction, and not blindly wander into an unexpected battle. Another thing to note is that Grubbins on Ice is completely standalone: characters start at level 10 with all costumes unlocked (there appeared to be no save game reading, so I must assume that costumes missed in the main game will still be available in this expansion). Even the environment is standalone; there are no portals to Costume Quest’s three original worlds.
I said that Grubbins on Ice was more Costume Quest, and it’s true almost to a fault. While there is no Hallowe’en in Repugia, the heroes still have to go door-to-door to solicit candy to fund the revolution (resulting in a random battle or copious candy donations). There are battle stamps and candy cards to collect, and three new costumes to assemble. The pirate outfit offers a new mode of traversal (along ziplines) and the eyeball garb allows you to zoom out to see more of your surroundings (this ability gets used all of once). The third costume, the Yeti, is one of those that has no ability in the overworld. In battle, these costumes fit into the existing mechanics and don’t bring anything new to the table. They do, however, look great in the battle mode. The “more of the same” aspect spills over into everything in the expansion; the new battle stamps are just better versions of existing ones, and even the bobbing-for-apples minigame returns (though the apples are replaced with eyeballs in Repugia). I was definitely not complaining, as I loved Costume Quest and was content simply to experience more of it. Those looking for something radically new or different will be disappointed.
For an alternate dimension, Repugia appears awfully small. The level is set in an area slightly bigger than the original game’s neighbourhood, progressing upwards through four “levels” that are separated by gates. It made Grubbins feel more video-gamey than the main game, as it literally involved completing core quests to unlock each gate and progress upward to the next level. I wasn’t left with the impression that Repugia was a place worth ruling, since it seemed incapable of housing the vast armada that had invaded the human world in the original game. Overall, the setting left me a little disappointed and wanting for more. The caverns were a nice touch, even if they were essentially the same basic screen with small details changed. They did, however, feature an excellent Lost Woods-style puzzle that left me quite satisfied.
There are very few strategic options when it comes to battles, but Costume Quest never really required much strategy. However, this changes completely in the final encounter. Let me be clear: my characters had reached the new maximum level, I had acquired every new item in the expansion, and my party was equipped for maximum efficency. I failed the final boss over a dozen times. I have rarely seen such a dramatic difficulty shift in a game. Don’t get me wrong: the final battle isn’t that difficult if you select exactly the right combinations of costumes and battle stamps, and reserve certain abilities for the appropriate moments. This is no different than most console RPGs, but it is a dramatic shift for Costume Quest. It was wholly out of character for the game; it did not ease players into this difficult battle by gradually ramping up the challenges.
Finally, let’s not talk about ending. Let’s just say that Double Fine had better be hard at work on another expansion, or Costume Quest fans are going to be very disappointed.
If you enjoyed Costume Quest, chances are you have already purchased and played Grubbins on Ice. If you hadn’t yet decided, I say it’s a worthwhile purchase; just prepare yourself for that final battle.
For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
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Developer:Double Fine Entertainment
Release Date:December 2010