Pumpkin Jack is like a bag of Halloween candy. It won’t last long, but it’s very sweet, explodes with colour and is crammed with spooky treats. There’s a lot of variety inside its seven-hour run time and, like any big bag of sweets, there’s some full size bars of goodness and also some boxes of raisins. Pumpkin Jack tries to make each of its levels different, and while there were a couple of frustrating parts, for the most part, the game is a delight.
Anyone who plays this will undoubtedly compare it to MediEvil. The pair share similar combat mechanics, spooky-cute tone and a ‘wide-linear’ structure which features straightforward level progression with open arenas. The comparison is fair, but also does Pumpkin Jack a disservice.
Jack has a much drier sense of humour, much closer to Fable in its wit, and features a lot more out-and-out platforming. With a new weapon on offer every level – each changes your approach to the game – neat chase sections scattered across the levels and intriguing takes on the standard boss battle fare, Pumpkin Jack has more than its fair share of surprises hidden up its gourd.
The platforming, however, is not without its issues. In my first 20 deaths, three of them came at the hands of enemies while the other 17 came from various platform-related misadventures. Granted, some of these were legitimate: I mistimed a jump, fell into a trap or crashed into a wall… the usual. Far too many, though, left me feeling cheated.
The jumping and traversal in the game is fine, but once the tougher levels add in more contraptions and obstacles, the platforming begins to shine. However, too much of the gameplay features balancing on a thin beam, and with imprecise controls and jumping that’s too difficult to aim, these sections frustrate more than they entertain.
Falling into water results in instadeath, too. It’s a dated mechanic, but for the most part it’s used well, mostly to guide your path and block off certain areas. It’s not so much the falling into water that I minded; it’s the fact that screeching past and getting a toe wet in the process could kill off dear old Jack, too.
Platformers are often at their best when they’re frustrating, when they snatch you away from the jaws of victory and hurl you into the bowels of defeat. For the most part, Pumpkin Jack gets the balance right, but you’ll certainly notice a few times when it wobbles.
The only other major issue with Pumpkin Jack is the levels themselves. The game took around seven hours to beat, but only features six levels. Each had a different theme and a unique feature like rail riding, cart racing or an obstacle course on horseback – but individually they just felt too long. Themed worlds with shorter individual levels within them, and the boss battle to top things off, would’ve been better than an hourlong slog.
There were a lot of save points scattered across these long levels and lots of opportunity to recover health, so on a material level, it doesn’t matter if it’s one 60-minute level or six 10-minute ones. Stopping in the middle doesn’t feel quite as satisfying, and isn’t going to promote that sense of ‘just one more level’ replayability that turns platformers into cult hits.
By far, Pumpkin Jack’s biggest strength is its variety. Combat starts off a little rudimentary, but at the end of each level, you add a new tool to your arsenal. Start out swinging a basic spade at enemies, but finish with sweeping scythes, exploding blunderbusses and long sharp blades to drive the hordes of skeletons back. This variety translates to the boss battles too, which all come with novel approaches that don’t feel like easy rehashes of other similar games.
On the whole though, Pumpkin Jack has a lot to love about it, especially at its low price point (under $/£30). That the whole thing was developed by just one person – Nicolas Meyssonier – is mighty impressive, too. It’s one pumpkin that won’t be stale and rotten even after Halloween ends.
Pumpkin Jack is a fantastic addition to the Halloween game canon, delivering an exciting, energetic platformer with lots of variety and hidden delights. It’s not without its design frustrations, but there’s a lot more candy than raisins in this trick-or-treat sack.
- Excellent variety
- Great wit and humour
- Combat gets more complex as the game goes on
- Platforming is unfairly frustrating at times
- Overly long levels disrupt the fun
- Enemies can feel quite repetitive