Pumpkin Jack’s timely mix of 3D platforming and eerie Halloween fun makes for a perfect way to spend the spookiest night of the year. Your adventure introduces you to Jack, a miscreant in his time on Earth, who has been aimlessly wandering the afterlife for far too long. The Devil, whose ghoulish assault on Earth is in jeopardy, enlists Jack’s help to go “take care of” the hero of the humans, a pesky wizard who refuses to bow down to monster armies. If Jack succeeds, he’s got a one-way ticket to Heaven. Jack, armed with a new pumpkin body and a conscripted, cowardly crow companion, sets off on a quest through Earth’s spookiest nooks and crannies in an unexpected second chance on the afterlife.
Built on good, not great nostalgic 3D platforming mechanics reminiscent of the PlayStation 2 era, Pumpkin Jack’s gameplay is a mixed bag of platforming, combat, minecarts, puzzles, and a bit more. The good shines through to craft a strong experience. Small puzzle rooms maintain fun platforming while tasking you with a bit of environmental manipulation. Minecart sequences are tons of fun, if not a bit barebones compared to similar excursions in titles like Donkey Kong 64. In general, the game sends Jack through expansive, spooky levels loaded with treacherous paths and hidden items (which can be used to change Jack’s appearance) that make exploration a joy.
In true old-school platformer fashion, Pumpkin Jack likes to finish off its levels with boss fights that, thankfully, shine pretty brightly. These showdowns are standard fare, usually requiring that Jack survive a few rounds of scripted attacks that, through shockwaves, homing attacks, and giant undead monsters lunging at you, force you to skillfully hop about the arena in order to survive. Finishing off one of the game’s bosses feels like a genuine accomplishment, and these battles are a highlight of Pumpkin Jack.
When Pumpkin Jack works, it is quite fun, but like just about any PS2-era platformer, the game has its share of frustrations. You’ll occasionally run into an annoying platforming sequence prone to a cheap death or two, or something won’t load properly and will leave you stranded without any indication as to what you’re missing. (That happened to me once in my playthrough.) Combat is noticeably undercooked with its reliance on flurry after flurry of attack button spamming with the occasional dodge thrown in. Churning through horde after horde of monstrous enemies was simply a repetitive experience. Ultimately, outside of boss battles, combat is a chore.
The atmosphere is a major component of Pumpkin Jack, and thankfully, the lone developer knocked it out of the park. Funny dialogue and narration set the stage as Jack gets an opportunity to escape his condemned afterlife by aiding the Devil himself in an assault on a world that got just a bit too utopian. The soundtrack expertly mixes tunes both eerie and upbeat for very catchy results, and the environments capture every shade of a stifling autumn cold front. You’ll wander across bent-up train tracks suspended high beyond a glowing canyon, through rocky valleys crawling with monsters, and you’ll ride minecarts through musty old cave networks. In short, it’s the perfect game for Halloween.
Given the short amount of content, the $30 price tag (if you don’t buy it during its launch discount period) might deter some. You’re looking at around five hours to beat Pumpkin Jack and another three hours to grab missing collectibles.
Pumpkin Jack is a decidedly fun game. I’d love to see what could have been accomplished under a full dev team, as there’s not a ton of content and some of the platforming woes are disappointing. However, this adventure was developed by a single person and was never supposed to be an epic. It’s great for what it is: a fun, nostalgic platforming romp built for the season. Similar to how you might watch your favorite campy Halloween movies like The Witches or Hocus Pocus every October, Pumpkin Jack is a reliably enjoyable experience that I might find myself replaying every few times that Spooky Season comes ‘round.
Pumpkin Jack does not reinvent the wheel and it’s far from mechanical perfection, but the game’s strong atmosphere and fun platforming have earned it success.
A review code was provided by the publisher.