Last week I proudly rambled about ignoring any desire for retail therapy (aka impulse purchases); unfortunately, there’s a couple of titles that have been on my radar for awhile now that have caused my “buy now” button to throb with anticipation. Luckily, Vanquish deemed itself a non-buy, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn has been pushed into 2011 for PAL regions. Epic Mickey isn’t out for another four weeks, and that feels like a good Christmas / New Year reward to myself. But I have a List (another one) of companies for whom I grant myself a free pass; whose games I will buy Day One, sight unseen, without guilt. Double Fine is one of those companies; Costume Quest is their latest game.

Now, to be fair, I was planning to hold off buying Costume Quest for another couple of weeks (to bump the required Microsoft points purchase into the next credit card billing period – sometimes, I can think too small), but then I mulled on my gaming achievements of October – only one game completed (and what a shit game it was). That didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment at all and, knowing that Costume Quest was supposed to be a relatively short romp, I downloaded the demo to tease myself.

Within five minutes of starting the demo, I’d decided that I was purchasing the full version immediately. Yet such was the wonderful sense of humour and fun on display in the demo, I couldn’t tear myself away from it until it was done. The graphics are gorgeous, the sound full of subtle little bits of joy; the battle system is absolutely delightful and so wonderfully streamlined that it knocks the recently-caned Chrono Trigger into a cocked hat.

When I started playing the full game (around 10pm on Friday night), the grins returned immediately. Five hours straight before I forced myself to bed, and then the game reached out to waylay me on my way to the markets the following morning. Another couple of hours, and the game is done – everything collected, all Achievements snaffled. But that didn’t stop me from leaping back in and playing another 100% game (using the other character) almost immediately; that playthrough was wrapped up by lunchtime Sunday. Costume Quest, on and off The List within days – and thoroughly recommended.

(An aside: the Statue of Liberty’s “Anthem” special attack would have to rate as one of the most magical gaming moments of the year :)

The surprise for the week was a completely inexplicable desire to play Boom Boom Rocket. I’ve no idea where that hankering came from; it’s (essentially) a rhythm-action game, and I generally suck when rhythm is concerned – as evidenced by my performance this week. Playing on Medium, the best grade I managed was a B – and that was after many, many attempts – and venturing into Hard was a complete joke… the game was over in seconds as I battered away at my gamepad with seemingly scant regard for the colours I was supposed to be matching. The timing was askew, too. Needless to say, the hand-eye coordination needs a bit of work there.

The big effort this week, though, was the continuation of my solo Legendary run through Halo: Reach. Last week, I’d managed to get to the penultimate battle: a brute-laden firefight. I’d managed to shuffle a selection of around half-a-dozen potent weapons to that location – a fully-laden DMR, a plasma launcher, needler, shotgun, rocket launcher, needle rifle. All I had to do is choose which to take into battle… and the significance of that decision stymied my enthusiasm to do anything. But, walking home from work Monday night, I snapped – just get in there, I told myself, and do some damage. If it doesn’t work out, dig up an old checkpoint and try again.

I got home, backed up my current savegame to multiple memory sticks, and went in.

The first attempt didn’t go to plan. Covenant 1, petee 0. Ahem. Second attempt was a little better; got a few brutes knocked down, then went to trigger the secret ammo cache (such foresight!). Sure enough, a big block of blammo popped out… then landed face-down on the ground, completely inaccessible to me.

Ummmmm. Restart, try again.

The next attempt is much better; pop some brutes, cap some grunts, ammo cache accessible. I sit up top with my UNSC distractions, and they promptly walk in front of multiple streams of plasma fire and die. Prone and alone, I take cover down below… and there I stay for nearly three hours, popping my head out the door, maybe squeezing off a sniped round or two before being drowned in plasma and retreating to safety.

Seriously – nearly three hours. Check out the (very boring) stats yourself. That’s 39 kills, 9 deaths, 168 minutes.

But here’s the thing, though: from that tiny room, nursing every bullet in my DMR, I felt safe. I was alive. It was all manageable – I’d poke my head out, whittle down the enemy, and then retreat. Checkpoints seemed plentiful, and I felt like I was very slowly making progress.

Eventually, I kill the easily visible enemies – and some of Martin O’Donnell’s characteristically ominous tones start playing. “Hurrah,” I think, “I must be on the final wave already. That was surprisingly easy! Three hours well spent.” I keep up my ultra-conservative play, sniping from shelter with my DMR, and letting loose with my shotgun should brutes venture into my little hidey-hole. One by one the red dots disappear off my mini-map; I can still see the odd brute running around on an outcrop in the distance, but there’s only one enemy somewhere above me. I wait until I’ve got a checkpoint, then wander outside to check out the red triangle that distracts me from the bottom corner of the screen.

Oh shit. Hero brute. With a Gravity Hammer. Which he uses to flatten a surprised me.

Restart from checkpoint. Venture out again. He intercepts my run, mashes me up good. Third time around I notice that merely stepping out of my saferoom is enough to bring him running down to my level; then he’d either rush the room, or pace fretfully outside before returning to his rooftop position.

I hatch a plan. Lure, grenade, shotgun… Oh. Hero brutes have shields. Well there is a painful lesson learned.

On about the twelfth attempt, he rushes the room into which I’ve backpedalled, spraying shotgun shells. He lunges with his hammer, I dodge… and suddenly I’m halfway down a stairwell with two handrails between me and him. The AI doesn’t quite know how to negotiate the stairwell, and he looks to be running on the spot. I reload the shotgun and empty it into him. Reload, more shots… and then he’s dead.

And now I have a Gravity Hammer.

The checkpoint flashes up; I switch off the 360 and go to bed. That night I dream of Covenant slain and yet to face my wrath. Work couldn’t finish quickly enough the next day; I scoot home, back up the savegame again, then start my final assault. And now it’s easy; catch the enemy’s attention (an errant shot here or there, or just running out in the open), then beat them with the mighty hammer. Of course, there was another massive wave of enemies before the end of that section – my previous audio cue guesses were completely wrong – but, with Hammer in hand, I felt good. Strong. Legendary.

Checkpoint. Onto the final battle. The n00b combo (overcharged plasma pistol, followed by a UNSC pistol headshot) is… well, not second nature, but doable. It clears the room out, and there’s one last ultra-fast, ultra-shielded, ultra-angry elite between me and my objective.

He, too, gets stuck on the furniture. And dies by my hand.

As I executed the end-game sequence, I didn’t feel the same overwhelming emotional attachment to the game that I did when I completed the first Halo on Legendary (I had literally wept tears of joy that almost obscured those fleeting seconds of extra footage I’d worked to hard for, and had so yearned to see). But, as my Xbox popped up a “Achievement Unlocked – 2 for 275G”, I must admit that felt a little bit sad that the task was over.

Then I came to my senses. Never again… never again. There’s no need to put yourself through that again. No need to tiptoe through Nightfall, no need to launch an attack on the Corvette, no need to panic-run through Bugger attacks. Never again.

Wait a minute… “Data Pads,” you say? Of which over half only appear in Legendary?

Sign me up!

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