I know I know, I’m a tad late to the party when it comes to reviewing this Halloween themed release seeing as everyone has long switched out pumpkins and bats for decorated trees and fat men in red suits but after a number of long RPGs and huge open-world adventures, an action-platformer that harkens back to the days where these types of games were plentiful and popular sounded neat. So, while it may not be the month of horror does Pumpkin Jack still deliver a good and spooky time?
The Arc En Ciel Kingdom is a calm and happy place where its inhabitants live peaceful lives, a fact that the devil finds far too boring for his liking and deciding to bring chaos to the land with his undead armies. Of course, the people of Arc En Ciel Kingdom are none too pleased about this, enlisting the help of a great wizard to defend their home and send the armies back for whence they came. The devil isn’t quite done yet though sending his own champion to take on the wizard, Stingy Jack, a wayward spirit crammed into a pumpkin and promised passage into the Afterlife if he succeeds. It’s simple stuff sure, but I do appreciate the fact you’re actually trying to help the bad guy here as opposed to once again playing the hero.
Pumpkin Jack takes a number of different elements to create its five or so hour adventure. You’ll be platforming, getting involved in combat, solving the odd puzzle, riding minecarts and taking on a line-up of bosses. It’s an initially attractive sounding combination, but here it definitely feels like a case of ‘jack of all trades but master of none’. The platforming is fine once you’re used to Jack’s movement but level design underwhelms especially in later levels where you feel like you’ve seen the same narrow walkways or ideas one too many times already.
Combat meanwhile is relatively simple with Jack’s repertoire of moves offering a few attacks combos and a dodge. Again, like the platforming, battles are entertaining enough despite their button-mashing nature, and here kept a little more exciting as you’re awarded new weapons after defeating each boss going from a shovel to spear to a talking sword and more. Puzzles aren’t too taxing but did lead to the odd moment of confusion as to what to do or where I needed to go whether that was down to my own stupidity or the game not being as clear as it could while the mine cart stages are certainly fast rarely require little more than pressing jump at the right time.
Boss battles prove to be the highlight of the game each one posing as a decent challenge. While you could argue it follows the same tried and true formula of dodging attacks and waiting for your moment to counter to a tee, it’s hard to deny how much of a rush it is jumping and rolling your way around giant shock-wave creating hammers, lasers and huge knives. Offering an ideal balance of challenge and surprise, they’re a great way to cap off each section of the game.
It’s a shame then that the game can’t keep up that same fun factor throughout its run time. For every thrilling boss battle, I’d then have to face off against an increasingly bigger group of minions in fairly straightforward combat or another insipid platforming section. I’m by no means saying these moments are terrible, but rather just… they’re okay which in a way reminds me of those older action-platformers like Ty the Tasmanian Tiger or Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. It’s an uneven mixture of engaging and fun highs but also unremarkable moments too.
Pumpkin Jack isn’t a scary game by any means feeling more like it was ripped straight from the pages of a Goosebumps book. The game opts for laughs rather than scares in its writing and unfortunately, I found a lot of this to be forgettable. The same can’t be said for the look of the game, which while it may not be winning any awards technically, does deliver in terms of atmosphere from the characters to the suitably spooky locations you’ll be exploring.
Playing through Pumpkin Jack definitely took me back to the days of the original Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube and the plethora of action-adventure games like this that populated those consoles. What that means though is while Pumpkin Jack can be an enjoyable nostalgic trip at times, it also suffers from the same problems those games were guilty of back then namely their simplicity and uneven quality. Pumpkin Jack is charming and atmospheric, sure, but held back by the very games it’s trying to evoke.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Headup Games