Pumpkin Jack Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
In the really quite boring Arc En Ciel Kingdom, the Devil has grown tired of the orderly nature of things and concocts a plan to unleash chaos upon the world. At first, his plan goes swimmingly, with his monsters terrorising the people, fire ruining the landscape, and ghosts and ghouls haunting every corner - but then humanity's champion, the Wizard, is sent forth by the King to find a magical Amulet that will stop the Devil in his tracks. What else is the Devil to do but elect his own champion to take on the Wizard? And who better to be his champion than the legendary trickster Stingy Jack, who had thwarted him not once, not twice, but three times before?
Pumpkin Jack follows Jack as he carries out the Devil's will, hunting down the Wizard and taking out anything standing in his path. It's an action-packed 3D adventure platformer entirely developed by solo developer Nicolas Meyssonnier.
The game features six levels: The Fields, The Haunted Mine, The Cursed Swamp, Skele-Town, The Spooky Cemetery and The North. Each level (including boss battles) takes approximately an hour to complete, making the game's full runtime around 6-8 hours. If speedruns are your thing, it is a strong possibility to streamline these runs upon subsequent attempts, though most transversal events, minigames and boss battles will always require the same amount of time to complete.
In each of the levels, there are 20 crow skulls and a gramophone to collect, with crow skulls being used to purchase outfits from the vendor and the gramophones to, well, give Jack the opportunity to bust out his moves! To obtain these collectables, and reach the end of the level, there are many different platforming challenges, puzzles, and minigames to be overcome.
At the end of each level, there is also a boss to defeat before progressing to the next one, and these boss battles can be challenging, but not overly so. You'll rely on learning their attack patterns and looking for key openings to attack them within each encounter, though it may take you a few attempts to get things right. With each boss defeated, you gain a new weapon, and these weapons range from a shovel to a shotgun to a powerful magic spell. Each weapon has its own attack types and combos, which grant advantages over particular enemies and obstacles when used strategically and make for some great replayability, as using these additional weapons while playing previous levels creates some great gameplay variety.
Combat can, however, feel a little too simplistic at times. The variety of available weapons is great and necessitates tactical decisions when coming up against particular enemies or bosses, but the limited combos available mean that combat can seem repetitive or cheesy at points. Mashing Square to attack and using the raven with L1 to score a hit may feel unsatisfying, particularly in the later levels if sticking with an "old favourite" weapon, but due to the high damage dealt by enemies and their tendency to appear in groups, it is often a comfort to know exactly how your attacks will land, and at what speed. My personal favourite weapons were the shotgun and scythe, for instance, as these gave me range and could often eliminate monsters in one shot when used from the air. It's fully worth experimenting with each weapon to see which suits you, as using the right weapon can make your experience all the more enjoyable.
In terms of its graphics, Pumpkin Jack is simplistic but impressive and visually reminiscent of games like MediEvil. It is colourful, stylised, and boasts a variety of levels that are unique yet consistently charming. Its underlying spooky colour palette of oranges, purples, greens and black makes it the perfect Halloween game, though it is, of course, an experience you can enjoy at any time of the year. As you progress through the campaign, you'll pass through environments like the murky swamps, eerie graveyard, and snowy peaks in the north, and all of these have their own flair and secrets to uncover. Jack's various outfits are humorous to wear and make for some interesting photo opportunities if you find the time between slaying monsters.
The backing tracks for the levels, characters and boss battles are also a joy to listen to, with the gramophone songs being particularly entertaining when watching Jack boogieing away. Nothing feels overly repetitive or bland throughout, which makes it easy to get sucked in. A nice touch is the loading screens following each death, as these keep track of the number of times you have died. For some, this may be a painful reminder (I'm one of you!), but for others, a mere reflection of the challenge the game poses as it unfolds.
Pumpkin Jack runs almost flawlessly, with only some very minor technical hiccups to impact your gameplay. Load times are minimal, and the only notable frustrations I had were with the camera panning and movement, both of which can be easily overcome once you get the hang of them. The camera angles are not always helpful or easy to use - particularly during the minigame segments - and when riding the minecarts or the horse, it is difficult to judge exactly how much space you have to manoeuvre. Jumping between distant ledges and over obstacles is similarly tricky, as it is not always clear whether a single jump or a double-jump is needed. If needing to double-jump across larger gaps or to far-off collectables, it is especially inconvenient that air-based movements are somewhat momentum-based, as this can lead to some unfortunate demises when you don't end up quite where you wanted to. Still, it doesn't take long to grow accustomed to these quirks, and a few more deaths never hurt anyone, right?
The most notable issue I had with my playthrough was with the earnable trophies, of which four were unobtainable. In the first level, 'The Fields', the trophy for collecting all of the 20 skulls would not unlock, and consequently, the trophies for collecting all skulls, unlocking all outfits, and collecting all other trophies (i.e. the platinum trophy) were prevented from unlocking for me as well. As a completionist, this is irksome, but as this issue is known to the developer and due to be fixed in a future game update, for the moment, it's just a case of patience.
Overall, if you're looking for a colourful, quirky 3D platformer with just the right level of challenge, then Pumpkin Jack is not to be missed. It's fun, humorous, and has variety both in terms of its gameplay and its environments. The graphics are stunning, as is the backing audio, and you'll never want to miss Jack busting out his moves to the sound of a wayward gramophone. Although the combat and platforming can sometimes feel a little clunky, you won't notice this much as you traverse the many puzzles and do your best to stay out of monsters' reach. If you decide to pick it up, I wish you the best of luck in your quest to doom the world and slay the Wizard.