Idle hands, as they say, are the devil’s playthings. When the Arc En Ciel kingdom is just a little too happy, the devil decides to end his boredom by unleashing the Curse of Eternal Night, covering the land in equal parts darkness and equal parts monsters. Ahh, the classics never go out of style! In response, humanity places their faith in a champion: a wizard who claims he can break the devil’s curse. Not one to let a hero ruin his fun, the devil summons his very own champion. Enter Stingy Jack: Bane o’ the devil himself. You have to be some sort of special jerk to draw the ire of the devil, which is exactly why Jack has been banished to roam the world as a wayward spirit due to his shifty trickster ways. Promising to grant him passage to the afterlife if he defeats the wizard, the devil plops Jack’s spirit into a pumpkin and sends him on his way.
Following the PlayStation One classic MediEvil (from which it clearly takes its inspiration), Pumpkin Jack is a spooky Halloween-themed 3D platformer/action game with a solid dose of cheeky humor. It is a relatively short experience, however, as it only contains six levels that can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how thorough you are in your exploring. There are a number of crow skulls to find in each level, along with a well-hidden record player that gives Jack a chance to strut his stuff and show off his fancy dance moves whenever you uncover one. While the record players offer nothing but a short dance scene and an achievement, the crow skulls can be used as currency to purchase different outfits so Jack can doom humanity in style.
The combat is pretty standard for a game like this. With only one button to attack and one to dodge, it is quite simple. You gain a new weapon each level, which adds some decent variety since each one has unique properties and combos. For example, the spear is the only weapon that allows you to do a lunge while running and attacking. One of the coolest is a talking magic sword with a glowing blade that mouths off to Jack about his combat performance. The blade vanishes as you attack, but once it regains its form your next attack is a special one. You gain a snarky crow companion early on that serves as a ranged attack. It isn’t that powerful but it’s good for taking out the annoying skull-on-a-stick enemies that pepper you with fireballs from a distance, and for interrupting some of the close-ranged foes attacks. I find the basic enemies lack variety and challenge but at least the boss fights are unique and interesting. Instead of a straightforward bash ‘em til they die, they force you to learn their patterns while dodging attacks and other environmental hazards while figuring out how to damage them.
In addition to MediEvil’s obvious influence on Pumpkin Jack, certain gameplay segments reminded me of another early PlayStation One classic: Crash Bandicoot. Jack finds himself in predicaments much like when Crash jumps onto an animal for an on-rails runner experience, where he must hang on for dear life while maneuvering around hazards and occasionally destroying oncoming hazards. Pumpkin Jack does a solid job of breaking things up with an eclectic mix of gameplay in each level. From time to time Jack will lose his body and takes control of his head to engage in some type of puzzle minigame. These differ greatly, from games of whack-a-mole, jostling a bomb along narrow runways to a goal point, or even simple box moving. One minigame near the end of the game is quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever had to experience. It involves knocking shaped packages into the corresponding hole so you can fill up a gauge. Sounds easy in theory but is incredibly aggravating since the gauge depletes when you miss your shot, meanwhile the packages disappear quickly and can spawn out of reach, rapidly depleting your gauge to nothing. Plus it takes a lot of shots to fill it up, so you can be getting one perfect shot after another and then lose all your progress thanks to a few bad spawns. It is just as tedious as it sounds.
The graphics and audio are the places where Pumpkin Jack absolutely kills it. The soundtrack manages to simultaneously sound great and exciting while also sounding incredibly familiar as if it were made up of every Halloween cartoon in existence. It goes so well when paired with the spooky cartoon-style levels you’ll be cavorting about, like a cursed swamp, spooky cemetery, and uh...the North Pole. Even though the settings are gloomy, they are far from dark and depressing. The developers manage to use a brighter color palette while staying thematically on point with their Halloween setting. The graphics in Pumpkin Jack are sharp, especially now with the new-gen edition upgrade featuring HDR support and 4k. You also have the option to toggle the video options between quality and performance, but quality mode turns your framerate into a jittery mess so I don’t advise using it. The difference in quality between the two is negligible anyhow, so no big loss there. When you tie the whole package together, Pumpkin Jack is a good game any time of the year, but a fantastic game to pick up and play around spooky season.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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