When you’re as into video games as I am, you tend to follow a lot of news and review site on social media. You do this so you can keep up to date on announcements and trending topics surrounding the game industry but sometimes it can lead to you getting exposed to games you weren’t even aware of. Around a week ago a saw an article posted by Nintendo Everything showing footage for an upcoming game called “Pumpkin Jack”. This game wasn’t even close to being on my radar but from what I saw I was impressed. I was a big fan of the game’s visual style and seeing that it was trying to emulate PS2 era action platformers had me really intrigued. I bought it day 1 and while it took me a few days to ACTUALLY get to it (if you’re a regular visitor here, you know this happens a lot) I finally sunk my teeth into this game’s pumpkin-flavored meat. Was it sweet? Was it sour? Have I eaten a pumpkin before? All these questions and more will be answered here! But first, the intro.
Pumpkin Jack is a 3D Action-Platformer developed by Nicolas Meyssonnier and Jesus Christ the fact that this game was developed by a single person blows my damn mind. Starting development around 2016, Pumpkin Jack actually had a lot of changes throughout its development, at least if the concept images in the credits are anything to go by. From wildly varying designs for the main character, levels, and even bosses, it was clear that a lot of love and passion was put into this game from the very beginning. It actually makes me a bit bummed out that I didn’t find out about this game sooner because I would have LOVED to see this game being worked on in real-time, but it is what it is.
The game tells a story that’s a tale as old as time, things are really good and some asshole decides he wants to ruin everything. The Arc-En Ciel Kingdom has enjoyed peace for so long that the Devil himself wants to put a stop to it. He summons monsters to plague the land but the humans decide to rally against the forces of evil by calling upon their champion, a tiny man in a wizard hat named The Wizard, To combat this opposition, the Devil summons a champion of his own. Stingy Jack, prankster, conman, and general dickhead is chosen to fight the Wizard and stop him from usurping his power and breaking the curse. If Jack wins, his soul will be freed and be allowed to pass into the afterlife. Jack, being the jerkass that he is, takes him up on his offer and goes to fight the wizard…and anyone on his way. He is joined by the wise (?) owl, a cowardly crow, and a whole cast of crazy enemies that will stop at nothing to stop Jack and (sometimes) save humanity.
I love this premise. Short, simple, and to the point and it’s truly brought to life with the games brilliant and dark sense of humor. Every single character in this game is rude, abrasive, and in-your-face with what they have to say and it’s REALLY funny. Jack, despite being just the WORST dude ever, is super likable and oozes charisma with no only his dialogue, but his design. Everything about Jack from the way he looks, the expression on his gourd, and even the way he walks tell you everything you need to know about him. He absolutely sucks but like, in a fun way. Really, the visual style as a whole is phenomenal. It brings to mind things such as Nightmare Before Christmas and MediEvil with its marriage of cartoony visuals and gothic horror, which is understandable as MediEvil is one of the game’s biggest influences (they even say it on their itch.io page). Even with that comparison though, Pumpkin Jack is still wholly unique with its presentation and brings a lot of its own style to the player and creates a gorgeous world that is as fun to explore as it is to fight in. Speaking of which, gameplay! It’s what you’re here for!
If there’s one thing I love, it’s unrestrained simulated violence and luckily for me, Pumpkin Jack delivers that in spades. The game is structured like a PS2 era action platformer with linear progression, puzzles, platforming, and light combat with a basic level-based structure. Great job putting two of the same word in one sentence, me. Jack has a few abilities to help him along his journey. A jump, double jump, a three-hit combo, a crow that acts as a projectile, and an instant dodge. While the combat is certainly anything but deep I still found it to be fun enough. I really liked the different kinds of weapons you acquire throughout the game and how different they all felt but I never really felt…powerful?
Each weapon absolutely has different attributes that others don’t (the spear has a long-range, the crows have an A.O.E attack, etc.) but none of them felt stronger than the other and there was never a point where I felt like I NEEDED to use a specific weapon during a level. Around the latter half of the game, they started introducing enemies that couldn’t be hit with the crow and I thought that was a GREAT idea! But they only did it for snipers and I wish the game expanded upon it a tad further by adding enemies that could only be killed using a specific weapon. I think that would have kept the enemy encounters fresh and engaging, at least for me.
Now one thing I think Pumpkin Jack freaking nails is its level design and puzzles. All sic levels in the game not only look beautiful, but each one is home to some really fun platforming challenges and entertaining puzzles to help break up the action. Again, the platforming is a tad basic since Jack isn’t THE MOST mobile person in the world, but the way they’re structured makes up for it. While the game forces the player to follow a linear path most of the game the areas are JUST wise enough to hide hidden collectibles to encourage exploration. Each level hides around 20 crow skulls which can be used to buy extra costumes for Jack, and one grammar phone which unlocks jack (ha) shit but you do get to watch Jack do a funky little dance. These items can be tucked into some pretty well-hidden areas too and to be honest? That kind of stuff goes a long way with me. I love being able to explore platforming levels to find stuff like this. No joke just running around and jumping was my favorite part of the game.
If I haven’t made it clear, I love this game. I think it’s fun and charming, and entertaining as all hell. But. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There are a few little brown spots in this pumpkin (is that indicative of quality? I don’t know) and depending on which version you get, some pretty big hiccups that can pull you out of the experience if they let you.
One thing I can tell you is that I wasn’t a fan of the vehicle segments that were in almost every level. I thought a lot of them pulled you out of the action in a negative way and while I appreciate the variety, I wish they were more than just dodging incoming obstacles and pressing the L button to shoot the crow at some wood. The length as well has been a BIG point of contention with a lot of people. If you’re just going through the game without exploring the levels or getting collectibles or anything like that, Pumpkin Jack is going to last you around 3-3 1/2 hours. Now, this playtime DOES get doubled a bit if you want to 100% it, but it’s still a very brief experience. For me personally, I don’t have an issue with that because I actually like shorter games more, but I am aware that it can be a tough sale for some people that are used to longer experiences. I will also say that if you’re going to get this game, maybe consider the Xbox One or the PC versions because the Nintendo Switch port takes a BIG hit in terms of visual fidelity and performance. I still think the game looked great but it looks unbelievable on PC and Xbox One.
Pumpkin Jack is a game I absolutely adore and I’m really glad I found out about it. It oozes charm in every way and in my opinion, lays a great foundation for a potential new series, or at least a game using similar ideas. It’s a tad on the short side, yeah, and I wish the Switch port ran a bit smoother, but I still can’t recommend this game enough. Truth be told I haven’t done a damn thing for Halloween this year, didn’t even work on a single Spiderslashers review, so playing this really helped bring me back into the holiday spirit. If you’re looking for a grey hearted romp to get you into the Halloween spirit, Pumpkin Jack is your game.
I don’t know shit about Pumpkins.