Throughout my childhood one of my favorite video game genres was the 3D action platformer. I was a huge fan of the 3D Mario games, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and many of the other franchises that were released during the late 1990s and early 2000s. While the genre used to be one of the most popular in the industry, it has been basically forgotten for the most part by the largest game publishers. Thankfully the indie industry has stepped up to fill in the gap. Because of my affinity for this genre I always like to check out new indie 3D platformers. This brings me to Pumpkin Jack which is a spooky/Halloween take on the genre that was released last October for Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One. Recently the game made its debut on PlayStation 4 so I finally got the chance to try it out. While the experience is a little too short, Pumpkin Jack takes its Halloween inspired theme and creates a loving tribute to the PlayStation 2 era of 3D action platformers.
The kingdom of Arc En Ciel has been peaceful for far too long for the Devil’s liking so he decides to upset the balance unleashing terrors into the world. The humans have a magician on their side though to help fight back the Devil’s evil forces. The magician becomes a menace for the Devil as he grows in power threatening the Devil’s power itself. To finally put an end to the pesky magician the Devil decides to recruit Jack, a condemned trickster, and places his soul into a pumpkin. Can Jack defeat the magician and regain his freedom from decades of torment?
For the most part Pumpkin Jack’s gameplay can be broken down into a couple of different elements. Arguably the game’s main mechanic is platforming. If you have ever played a 3D platformer before you have a good idea of what to expect. You mostly jump across gaps and climb in order to progress through the levels. The game gives you a double jump to help you with this task.
I wouldn’t say that this mechanic is particularly original as it doesn’t really do anything different from most other 3D platformers. Yet I really enjoyed it. The platforming is not particularly challenging as there really aren’t any hard jumps and the double jump is pretty forgiving. It is still really satisfying though. There are occasional minor issues where you can’t really tell where you can jump to and where you can’t (mostly when looking for the collectibles), but otherwise the controls are quite good where your deaths will be your own fault. As a fan of this genre since I was a kid, I really enjoyed the platforming elements of the game as they were probably the game’s greatest asset. Basically the game does a really good job at capitalizing on what has always been enjoyable about this genre.
After the platforming comes the game’s combat. For each new level in the game you are given an additional weapon that you can use. While each handles slightly different, most basically boil down to melee combat or a very limited range in a couple of cases. The game gives you one attack button and one dodge button. Outside of these controls you mostly just have to move around to attack and avoid enemy attacks.
I didn’t enjoy the combat as much as the platforming, but I still found it to be pretty satisfying. I wouldn’t say that the combat is particularly deep as it mostly relies on button mashing. Button mashing works to a degree, but you also need to occasionally dodge enemy attacks or you will lose a lot of health. It might not be the deepest, but I still thought it was fun. It is satisfying being able to take down a bunch of enemies that are surrounding you. The controls are pretty satisfying, and do a good job making you feel powerful as you can easily take on quite a few enemies at a time.
Speaking of combat each of the game’s levels ends with its own unique boss battle. These were honestly the best parts of the combat in my opinion. While the bosses share similar weaknesses to other video game bosses, I really liked the game’s boss fights. Each boss fight actually feels pretty unique as they are based around the theme of the rest of the level and require players to handle them in a different way.
The final element of Pumpkin Jack’s gameplay is what I will refer to as the game’s various minigames. Each level seems to have its own little minigame that you will encounter a couple of times. These can range from memory games, to Simon/repeat the pattern, to various chase sequences where you have to avoid obstacles along your path. None of these are particularly deep, but I thought they were nice additions to the game. I mainly enjoyed them because I thought they were nice little distractions to break up the platforming and fighting sequences that dominate most of the gameplay. I also thought they did a really good job incorporating what was going on in the story at that point.
Speaking of Pumpkin Jack’s story, I was actually pretty surprised by this aspect of the game. The progression of the story is kind of predictable, but it is still enjoyable. I think this is mostly due to the game’s characters being quite interesting. Jack in particular is a fun character as he never really takes what is going on all that seriously. In fact the game never takes the story too serious which I found to be refreshing. The game isn’t afraid to make fun of itself or the industry in general. I actually found the game to be pretty funny.
This is supported further by the game’s overall atmosphere. I will admit that the atmosphere will work better in October (when the game was originally released) as it has a strong Halloween vibe to it. It is kind of weird to play this type of game in March, and yet I still really enjoyed it. In a way the game’s style kind of reminded me of The Nightmare Before Christmas. For an indie game I thought it did a very good job with the atmosphere. The graphical style is quite good and the soundtrack fits the game well. The best part about the overall atmosphere is that it seems to influence the gameplay as well. Each of the levels have their own distinct look which is incorporated into the gameplay.
I had a blast playing Pumpkin Jack. The biggest complaint that I had with the game was just that it ended too quickly. Length will somewhat depend on how good you are at this genre and how much of a completionist you are. I would guess that it will take most people around five hours or so to beat the game if you don’t really worry about the collectibles. Completionists might take a little longer at maybe six to eight hours. I wish the game was longer just because I was really enjoying it. With the retail price being $30 though it might make some players consider waiting for a sale before picking it up.
Going along with the game’s shorter length is the fact that Pumpkin Jack is not a particularly difficult game. The game has a few sections that can be somewhat difficult, but anyone who has played games from this genre shouldn’t have too much trouble beating the game. As I mentioned earlier the platforming is pretty easy as there is quite a bit of leeway to make it between platforms. As long as you are willing to dodge, the combat isn’t that difficult either especially since it is pretty easy to find a health pickups to recover lost health. Honestly most of my deaths in the game came from insta-deaths while trying to look for hidden collectibles. I didn’t mind the easier difficulty as it still presents a challenge without being so hard that it becomes frustrating. If you are the type that only likes really challenging games though, this might disappoint you.
The final complaint people may have with the game is going to affect some people more than others. While I really enjoyed playing Pumpkin Jack, it is not hard to notice that the game is not the most original. In a lot of ways the game feels like an homage to the PlayStation 2 era of 3D action platformers. It doesn’t have any particularly new mechanics never seen before. Most of the levels involve the same platforming and combat elements seen in many other games. Those who have never really cared for this genre, probably won’t like Pumpkin Jack.
This didn’t really bother me all that much though. I think this is mostly due to the fact that I have always loved this genre. It is hard to find new games from this genre that stand out. Despite not having many unique mechanics, I thought Pumpkin Jack stood out. The gameplay is just really fun. While playing the game it just brought me back to what I have always enjoyed about this genre. I think Pumpkin Jack would have fit in perfectly with many of the other great 3D action platformers from the PlayStation 2 era.
As soon as I started playing Pumpkin Jack it was obvious that it was inspired by the action platformers of the PlayStation 2 era. The game’s inspirations were pretty easy to spot as I am a big fan of this genre. I will admit that the game isn’t particularly original as it doesn’t add any new mechanics to the formula. It really didn’t have to though as it instead focused on the elements that have always made this genre enjoyable. Between the satisfying platforming, combat, and various minigames spread throughout, I had a blast playing Pumpkin Jack. On top of all of this the game does a fantastic job with the story and overall atmosphere. Honestly the biggest issue I had with the game is just that it ended sooner than I would have hoped.
Those who have never been a fan of the 3D action platformer genre, probably won’t find anything in Pumpkin Jack that will change their minds. Fans of the genre though will likely love Pumpkin Jack and should really consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Nicolas Meyssonnier, Headup, and Beep Japan for the review copy of Pumpkin Jack used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.