Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Publisher: Headup Games
Genre: Action, Adventure
Platform: Reviewed on PS5 (Also available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 24.02.2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Warts and all
Emblazoned across Pumpkin Jack’s website is the slogan “Medieval meets Jak & Daxter”. If that isn’t an indicator of what’s to follow, I’m not sure what would be. It’s indicative of everything this game stands for, warts and all, and feels very much a take it or leave it approach by the developer. ‘Remember those games from the late 90’s and early 2000’s that we all know and loved? Well, if you think you’ll still love them now, I’ve made a new one.’
Offering up the opportunity to embody evil to overcome good, you take on the role of Jack who is under the guidance of the Devil himself. You travel throughout Boredom Kingdom, a mythical realm shattered by a curse, and tackle all manner of enemies, platforming segments and puzzles. There’s a solid variety of gameplay mechanics, and they are done well enough to make it feel a complete package.
Carving a personality
Noticeable from the outset, Pumpkin Jack manages to carve its personality through a well-crafted set of aesthetics and an atmosphere that’s synonymous with evil spirits and mystery. It feels a little too familiar at times and leans heavily on the games it’s been inspired by, but it nails everything from the art style to the colour palette.
It isn’t just the visuals that pop, the humour is on point too. Discussions between Jack and the multitude of NPCs is brilliant, with sarcastic takes and witty responses being shared back and forth. I enjoyed almost every conversation, for the most part, and I was left wishing that these characters had been given voiceovers to really capture the magic. There were one or two occasions where the dialogue felt forced. In one particular instance, the NPC refers to “stupid plot contrivances” whereby the developer is making a tongue-in-cheek joke about tired storyline tropes. In doing so, it then becomes somewhat of a tired trope in itself.
Trick or treat?
Thankfully, these examples are few and far between. Pumpkin Jack is an excellently paced action-platformer that doesn’t look to redefine anything at all, just reinvigorate some of the fundamentals of platformers that we hold dear. There are puzzle elements that are intuitive, if a little safe; boss battles which offer a welcome change of pace; trips on boats and mine carts to mix things up; and, of course, platforming.
Platforming is where Pumpkin Jack excels. Fluid movement and the right balance and weight to the character makes it a perfect pick-up-and-play platformer. Again, it’s quite simplistic in its approach, but it’s a joy to play through the relatively short five-to-six-hour campaign. ‘Short’ is a relative term because I found it to be the ideal length for a game of this kind. It was designed well enough to never outstay its welcome – all whilst delivering a nostalgia kick and a new experience too.
Proud as Pumpkin punch
There is the odd moment where the game shows signs it’s about to veer off course into Boredom Kingdom, yet it manages to hold on to the end. The later level designs are repetitive, and there are almost one too many boat trips, but it’s over before it becomes a problem. Combat in the game toes a similar line. It’s fairly one-dimensional, and very much reminiscent of a bygone era. However, it exposes arguably the biggest weakness of this game’s development.
Methods have been used to make the enemy encounters in the latter parts of the game more challenging, including multiplying the number of enemies so it becomes impossible to defeat them all at once. There are other enemies who disappear and reappear too. Again, it isn’t enough to make you want to turn it off. Had the game been any longer, though, it may have been. It also helps that new weapons are introduced periodically which breathe new life into the journey.
This game was made from the ground up by a sole developer, Nicolas Meyssonnier, something which hasn’t been discussed until this point is that. While it isn’t a reason to review this game on anything other than its own merit, but it has to be recognised as a phenomenal achievement. It’s is a very well-polished game from one man with a clear vision, make no bones about it.
When all is said and done, Pumpkin Jack is a thoroughly enjoyable affair, despite its flaws. Creativity, personality and simplicity have allowed the game to be enjoyed for what it is. This ensures the game doesn’t become confused by contrived systems and complex mechanics. It could have been more, but I’m happy with what it is.
Rapid Reviews Rating
Soon… You can purchase Pumpkin Jack for the PS4/PS5 by clicking here.