Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Say goodnight to the bad guy
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Release: October 23, 2020
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam
With this generation’s rise of the indie game, we’ve seen our fair share of “homage” games. And this makes a ton of sense; a lot of kids grew up with classic video games across 3+ generations, and those inspired by certain games are now taking those memories and creating entirely new experiences that retain that “retro” feel. Shovel Knight is a love letter to Mega Man and Castlevania, Yooka-Laylee wears its Banjo-Kazooie fondness proudly on its sleeve, and Mighty Number 9…well, you know what I’m getting at.
As the generation that grew up with the 3D action-platformers of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 flex their creative wings, we are seeing more games that pay tribute to that style of game. One of those games, Pumpkin Jack, touts itself as a “Medievil meets Jack & Daxter” single-player 3D platformer. Taking inspiration from those classic games, Pumpkin Jack promises to bring back memories of platform-perfect jumping, silly characters, and tough-but-rewarding gameplay. And after playing through it, I can happily say it fulfils that promise.
In Pumpkin Jack, the world has found peace. Everyone is living in perfect harmony, and as a result, there is no evil. This lack of malice in the world has left The Devil bored, so he sets a curse upon the world, unleashing all kinds of monsters to wreak havoc for his own enjoyment. However, he learns of a wizard that is destined to defeat the monsters and send them back to Hell. Having none of that, he summons one of the most evil and conniving spirits from Hell to stop humanity’s last hope.
You play as Jack, the spirit that the Devil has chosen. Jack’s spirit is sent back to Earth and possesses a Jack-o-Lantern, with a scarecrow-esque body. Jack soon befriends an owl and a crow, and sets forth on his mission to destroy the wizard and bring anarchy back to the land. Yes, you read that correct – in Pumpkin Jack, your goal is to stop the good guys. This puts a fun twist on the genre and keeps the game feeling fresh and funny.
If you’ve ever played a classic PlayStation 1-era 3D Platformer, you’ll feel right at home here. Everything that made those games so memorable is all carried over to Pumpkin Jack. Over-the shoulder camera? Check. Basic attacks? Yep. Double jumps? Oh, you know it. Pumpkin Jack includes all of this and more. Each world is set up on a somewhat linear path, which pretty much tasks you at making it from Point A to Point B, but still allowing enough room to explore.
While making your way through the levels, there’s plenty to do. There’s baddies to fight, collectibles to find, and plenty of witty banter between Jack and his crow companion. And at the end of each level, you’ll battle a giant boss. There are even parts where you play as a body-less Jack, zipping around using pumpkin roots as tentacles. It’s all run-of-the-mill 3D platformer stuff, but I’d be lying if it didn’t put a smile on my face. The entire campaign took me about seven hours, but would likely run at about 10 hours if you’re looking to 100% it.
Speaking of smiling, I found myself beaming at the game’s presentation. When I say this is a love letter to the games of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I mean it. Pumpkin Jack sports the same silly, cartoony graphics that made names like “Crash” and “Spyro” so familiar. Bosses are well-designed and have their own personalities, and the detailed art during dialogue sequences only fleshes out the characters. Which is a tough thing to do, considering, you know, they’re dead and all. And honestly this is a real breath of fresh air. With so many realistic, serious games out there, it’s great to see something that reminds us why we got into gaming in the first place – to have fun.
The music fits so well with the theme. This is definitely something you want to be playing around Halloween. The spooky, mysterious songs fit the aesthetics perfectly, and you’ll also hear some creep-ified versions of classical music pieces. Sound effects fit well, from Jack’s grunts and the crow’s caws, to enemy sounds and the cut-scene narrator. And you can’t help but get excited during a scene where you ride a ghostly horse to the theme of The Lone Ranger.
The controls in Pumpkin Jack work, although they can be a bit unwieldy at times. Like the games of the past, this one also requires precision platforming, or you can expect certain doom. Case in point: Pumpkin Jack has a death counter. Every time you die, you get a funny message that also shows how many times you perished. During my campaign, I had died a total of 51 times. Keeping track myself, only eleven of these deaths were during fighting sequences and boss battles. The rest were due to a misplaced jump, slipping off a ledge, or otherwise falling to my doom. However, the mild frustration I had was really no different from the mild frustration I would experience playing games of this caliber back in the day. So, in terms of controls, Pumpkin Jack also pays tribute to the games of yesteryear.
There were a couple other minor concerns I had with the game. First, you can unlock different weapons throughout the game. While cool and flashy, I really haven’t seen much of a difference between the weapons. They all have basic attacks, and a super attack that you can use after a double-jump. Other than that, there’s no puzzle that requires use of one weapon or boss battle that becomes much easier with a certain weapon. This goes for outfits as well. By collecting crow skulls littered around the level (20 in each), you can purchase new outfits for Jack. I would have loved to have seen these outfits have different effects on Jack, such as an attack or defense buff, higher jumping or faster rolling, etc. But, alas, this is not the case. It’s not enough to make the game unplayable, but was still a missed opportunity.
With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to play a game that encapsulates the spirit of the season. You may be too old to go trick-or-treating, but you can definitely relive your childhood with Pumpkin Jack. With memorable characters and classic gameplay, Pumpkin Jack immediately sets itself as a fantastic game that pays tributes to classic platformers of the 90s. I could, confidently say that, had this game been released back in 2002, we would have seen a few sequels and a kart racing game by now. Pumpkin Jack doesn’t do anything new with the 3D platforming genre, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just a fun game to play, and that’s exactly what a game should be.
Final Grade: A
A copy of Pumpkin Jack was provided by Headup for the purpose of this review.