Pumpkin Jack

Independent game developer Nicolas Meyssonnier wanted to recreate the nostalgia of PlayStation 2 platformers when he quit his job in 2019 to finish work on Pumpkin Jack. Originally released October 23, 2020 I feel that he was entirely successful at bringing back gameplay rarely felt in modern releases.

The game takes place in the Boredom Kingdom, where everything is peaceful, cute, and boring. The Devil himself finds this annoying and places the Curse of Eternal Night on the land to make things more interesting. The human population found this monster summoning, world altering curse inconvenient and thus employed a masterful wizard to dispel the curse.  Naturally, the Devil retaliated against this rebelliousness by cramming the infamous soul of “Jack” into the skin of a pumpkin and set him off to find and destroy the wizard.Crashing from the sky into a farmer’s field, Jack’s pumpkin head affixes itself to a scarecrow’s body and the adventure begins.

I felt at home with the controls immediately. The smooth movement, forgiving double jump, and straightforward combat allowed me to explore the environments and enjoy the game without complication. This isn’t to say the game does not have depth, more to highlight that Pumpkin Jack never bloats itself with the unnecessary.

Combat consists of swinging your selected weapon, dodge rolling, and firing your trusty crow companion at enemies (or the environment). New weapons will be found as the game progresses. In my experience, each one replaced the last in terms of power and utility, keeping combat fresh as I made my way through the game’s 7 levels. Brawling with enemies is quick and the pacing of the game is seemingly always considered when fighting waves of foes. Pumpkin Jack’s best combat moments come during the boss fights. Each has unique and engaging mechanics, requires focus, ramp up in complexity, and are genuinely fun to overcome.

Outside of combat, Pumpkin Jack’s 3D platforming feels just like I remember PS2 era games controlling like. Navigating dangerously long jumps, searching for hidden collectibles, solving puzzles, or overcoming the special activity of the current world are all enjoyable because of the incredibly tight and reliable controls. The double jump has generous mid-air control, which avoids many annoying deaths. Crow skulls are cleverly littered throughout each area, making an annoying chirping noise until collected. They can be redeemed on costumes to keep your look fresh, but provide no other bonuses. Occasionally, Jack must remove his pumpkin head and scurry into a confined place to solve a puzzle. There are a variety of pumpkin puzzles, ranging from concentration style matchups to physics based challenges. Finally, each level has some sort of “on the rails” action sequence. Running through a burning building, avoiding walls while riding a ghost horse, and even a mine cart ride are only a few of the often silly activities Jack faces while chasing down the wizard.

Graphically, this game looks like a remaster of a PS2 classic. The art style is clean and concise, but never plain. Being made by a single developer makes this achievement only more impressive. Each chapter of the game feels visually unique, without disrupting the general tone of the game.

There were very few issues I came across in my 4-5 hours of total gameplay. Water became deadly sooner than I would have guessed a few times, and my dive attack was hilariously off target once or twice (resulting in a few unearned demises). With that said, any deaths I suffered due to bad jumps or deadly water were not heavily punished; checkpoints were always not too far behind.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Pumpkin Jack. From the quirky story to the exceptional boss encounters, this homage to a style of games from years past was a pleasure to experience. While not breaking any new ground in terms of gameplay, narrative, or graphics it is still worth noticing when a complete package of competency comes together so faithfully next to the design intention. Pumpkin Jack may look like a game to play around Halloween, but I hope this review spikes your interest no matter what the calendar says.

~~Ian Voegtle~~

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