With a release perfectly timed for Halloween, Pumpkin Jack is the creation of solo developer Nicolas Meyssonnier. The game is powered by Unreal Engine and I’ve been playing on both PC/Steam and Xbox One to see if it’s worth your time.
Set in the Boredom Kingdom, the Devil is literally bored to tears. To liven things up he unleashes the Curse of the Eternal Night which awakens all manner of spooky monsters. The humans decide to fight back with the help of a powerful wizard. Not impressed, the Devil summons the soul of Stingy Jack into a pumpkin and sends him to seek out and destroy the wizard.
Pumpkin Jack is a single-player 3D platformer set across 6 levels which run for around an hour each. The developer describes the game as Medievil meets Jak & Daxter and the influences are clear to see. If you’re a fan of all things Halloween you’ll find yourself immediately taken by the colourful and spooky, PS2 inspired, aesthetics.
Watch the Pumpkin Jack launch trailer below:
The core gameplay focuses on platforming mixed with combat. I found the platforming to be entertaining and just about the right level of difficulty. Jack needs to make use of his double jump to succeed so timing is key. The difficulty is often made harder by the fact that Jack can’t survive if he lands in water. The game keeps a count of how many times you die which it has fun telling you about each and every time. I made it through the game in a little over 6 hours with around 80 deaths.
Jack controls as you’d expect and is capable of running, jumping and rolling. Throughout his quest, Jack obtains a variety of weapons which are used with a common attack button. He’s guided by an owl and meets a friendly crow who perches on his head. A tap of a button sends the crow to attack and is particulary useful in taking out enemies from range. The combat is pretty straightforward and many encounters can be beaten by spamming the attack button. Making use of your crow from range makes for a much easier time.
There’s a nice variety in enemies from simple zombies to armored knights. You’ll also come up against groups of ghosts and rats which continually spawn until you take out their spawn points. Most enemies can be taken out with a couple of hits and it’s always useful to keep moving to evade their attacks. Killing enemies and breaking destructible objects helps to restore your health.
The most entertaining encounters are the boss fights at the end of each level. Each boss fight is different and is split up into different stages. Defeating a boss requires you to learn their patterns to know when to dodge or attack. The boss encounters can be quite challenging and really test your abilities.
Your progression through the game is fairly linear but it doesn’t feature a map or waypoint system. Instead it makes fantastic use of visual cues to help point you in the right direction. I never found myself lost for very long and always felt like I was making progress. There’s also a very generous checkpoint system that ensures you never have to repeat large sections if things go wrong.
In addition to the core gameplay, Pumpkin Jack features a surprising amount of variety. Each level features on-rails sections and each has a unique control scheme. My favourite was a kart mini-game that requires you to spam the jump button to move. On Xbox One I had a hard time with the first minecart section and kept falling off on corners. I noticed that when playing on PC with mouse and keyboard that this was much easier but it was unclear if this was due to a different build version. Another cool feature is that Jack can remove his head. This is done at set points throughout the game to play mini-games and beating them is a requirement to progress.
Graphically the game looks rather nice and each of the levels has its own unique style. The graphics reminded me a little of World of Warcraft. PC players can take advantage of RTX and DLSS support if they have compatible hardware for enhanced visuals. I also found the music to be excellent throughout.
Each level is littered with crow skulls to collect. Some of these are awarded when you beat a certain encounter, while others take some searching to find. The skulls you collect are tied into several achievements and can also be traded in for new skins for Jack. The hardest collectible to find on each level is the hidden Gramophone. I found about 75% of the collectibles on my first playthrough and will definitely be going back to get the rest.
Pumpkin Jack is an excellent game and an incredible achievement for a solo developer. The whole adventure is a lot of fun and very entertaining. The brilliant use of different game mechanics keeps things interesting. If Halloween is your favourite time of year then Pumpkin Jack is an essential purchase.
Pumpkin Jack was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Headup Games Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier Release Date: 23rd October 2020 Reviewed On: PC/Steam & Xbox One Also Available On: PC (GOG & Epic), PS4, Nintendo Switch