Pumpkin Jack Review. No work and all play makes Jack an exciting pumpkin.

 
It is not easy being the Devils right hand man. Especially if you are about as perfect as they come. You know what they say: "It is lonely at the top".  Jack, pumpkin king and trickster ordinaire has been tasked to finish the ongoing war in  the land of Arc en Ciel (which is French for rainbow by the way ). Defeat the stubborn wizard who is holding back a victory for the lord of darkness, full fill the prophecy, and gain finally access to the afterlife as a reward.  But Jack does not only do this for the reward, no he also does not mind showing demons and humans alike that he is still the smartest and strongest amongst everyone.


What is it?

Pumpkin Jack is a 3D platformer in which you play as Jack, the Mythical Pumpkin Lord. Set in an spooky world that fits in well with the Halloween season it evokes memories of games such as MediEvil, Maximo and a dash of Jack and Daxter for good measure.  During its 5-8 hour run you will walk, climb and jump your way through the cursed kingdom, battling many foes, solve devious puzzles and find many secrets, as you work to stop the people champion wizard from breaking the curse. Along the way you will have to polish your jump skills, perfect your reactions and time your attacks.  


Gameplay

Being a 3D platformer first and foremost, Pumpkin Jack will give you full control of Jack to roam the beautiful and eerie landscape. The usual suspects are there;  jump, double jump, dodge, attack. The game will start you of initially without any weapons but after a quick tutorial area you will find a shovel as the first piece to your arsenal.


Now armed with a tool you also will unlock a more powerful attack and combo moves such as a spin move and a slam attach. There is some variety between each of the weapons you unlock over time however I found that even though your most recent required weapon tends to be more powerful and usually has a purpose in the next part of the game, you can really pick any weapon of your preference.

Enemies will need to be approached with some level of caution. Unlike some games you do not get a blinking prompt on screen that an enemy is about to strike. The queues however are there in the character animation. That skeleton is raising its sword? Be ready to dodge and then strike. Swarming rats? Mash that that attack button and unleash a combo to break through. In some cases such as those pesky rats or ghosts you have to find and destroy their nests or they will keep spawning Gauntlet style, making your live difficult.


Other enemies fire at you from a distance. dodge and weave your way to them and take them out with a mighty strike. But why not enlist the help of someone else? Early in the game you gain the companionship of a talkative and increasingly nervous crow. You can send him flying ahead and take out or stun enemies that are still out of your reach as well as open doors or disable traps through out the game. A useful ally indeed. 


But Pumpkin Jack is not all whacking things in the head. Being a platformer there are plenty of jumpy bits to navigate. Moving towers, walls and rotating traps to avoid. Along the way you will find things to break to collect energy but be careful to no knock over candles as they will set the area ablaze and make your journey more difficult real quick. This fire does not fade and will expand quite a bit as it moves up the ropes and beams of the structures you are navigating. Some restraint is advised.


 
Pumpkin Jack also aims to bring variety to the player by breaking up the game in various challenges. From waves of enemies between platforming challenges to boss fights with each a unique way to defeat them. There are also a number of chase scenes that are basically on rails where you will need to dodge and weave your way through the fast moving level. Weather is is by mine cart, fly by ghost horse or pushing train carts across the castle walls you will need to use some wit and reaction speed to make your way through. I did find that there is a bit of trial and error involved with these levels as you have to learn where the turns are and the moments you need to hit something or send your crow out ahead of you. The save points for these levels are a bit frustrating causing you have to start all the way over in some cases after you missed one step near the end. 



To change the pace and bring in a bit of cerebral action you will find areas throughout where Jack sheds his body and uses his head.. literally.  As a creepy pumpkin you crawl around pushing boxes, pulling levers or punching bombs across the area in order to open up the area a-head(get it?) of you. Overall these puzzles are not too hard and they provide a fun variety to the rest of the game. Perhaps these levels could have been a bit more complex but as it stands it fits in well with the overall feel and difficulty of the game and should not be a point of concern in regards of getting stumped and not being able to move on. 

Should all this just not be enough of a challenge for you? Why not try a speed run as every level will have a timer to show how long it took you to complete it.  Not a speed runner but more of a completionist? Why not locate all the crow heads and unlock the costumes in the game or perhaps you can find all the hidden gramophones and jacks secret dances.


Presentation

As I mentioned before, the look and feel of Pumpkin Jack is lifted straight from the PlayStation 2 era, but thanks to the power of the unreal 4 engine has been lifted into the modern age. The developer Nicolas Meyssonnier has created a vast world and lore that has a unique feel while also drawing you in with a big heap of nostalgia. You feel like you have been here before and I mean this in a good way. Here is a brand new franchise that feels like it is actually a remake of a classic we somehow all missed back in the day.  The art style fits very well and despite the dark and gloomy world is actually very colorful and interesting. Do not let the simple looking design fool you. Jack is a pretty game and the game even supports RTX for that extra shine and polish.


The characters you meet on the way are fun and have great designs, especially the way the heroes are  portraited are great as they actually feel like the villains in a way. It really reflects the way Jack seems to see the world although even your trusty flying friend wonders at some point "Are we the baddies?".
The story in Jack is straight forward and fun but even though it is a fairly light affair it seems pretty fleshed out. It feels like there is a lot more to the lore of Jack that is going on behind the scenes. The concept of playing the bad guy and stopping the heroes is well integrated to the point that when you die a few times you get to see a screen that says " the world has been saved X times so far"  It took me a moment to realize saved is a bad thing here. Combined with the self aware commentary it make for a fun and interesting world.


Accompanied by a beautiful sound track that feels like it could fit in a Tim Burton movie, you will find compositions reminiscent of classic tunes such as William overture and clearly pay homage to the classics. These fitting melodies and the robust sound effects help flesh out the game world and keep things from becoming monotonous. There is no voice acting during  gameplay but a narrator describes the adventure in cutscenes between each level and I liked the way it would the format of giving an overview of what just happened in the last level instead of being some cutscene moving past certain events. Throughout the game you will get some exposition through dialog with the varies allies and enemies you find and a pretty descent heap of commentary by Jack and his contempt for pretty much everyone else and his unhappiness with fetch quests. 

Final thoughts

Pumpkin Jack is a fun game that arrives at the perfect time. Right as Halloween is around the corner the story of Jack delivers a treat of an adventure that can be enjoyed by everyone. .  At 5-8 hours is it not long game but it is great to play again and find all its secrets or show of your skills as a speed runner.  A nice touch is that as you complete the game you can go back to the earlier levels and use the tools you unlocked in your previous run. The game might not revolutionize the genre but Pumpkin Jack brings life to a bye gone age with great execution and delivers an original world full of fun and interesting lore. It is mind boggling to think it is the work of one person. The art style and gameplay invoke feelings of a time when games felt more adventurous, inspired and unique. Pumpkin Jack comes to a satisfying conclusion all while setting up for a sequel I hope will be made so that by next years Halloween we can continue to learn more about Jack and the world he lives in. One thing is for sure we will carve the pumpkins, light the candles and cozy up with Jack this Halloween weekend and enjoy a good time. Jack might be a trickster but this game is a treat. You can check out Pumpkin Jack on consoles and PC this October 23, 2020.





Game information
Title: Pumpkin Jack
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Publisher: Headup games
Release date: October 23, 2020
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC
Review platform:  PC ( Steam)
ESRB: T for Teen 

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