Pumpkin Jack review: Squashed

by VR Lars
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Pumpkin Jack is a delightfully spooky 3D platformer developed by one man, and with that in mind it’s a pretty astonishing accomplishment. This is a fully fleshed out adventure in the vein of classics like Jak & Daxter and Medievil, complete with ray-tracing and RLSS support. You are the titular Jack, a conman so notorious he tricked the devil himself three times, sent back to earth in the body of a pumpkin to wreak havoc on the forces of good.

Pumpkin Jack will instantly appeal to a lot of people. It is so unashamedly confident in its dark, whimsical world, never holding back from cartoonish exaggeration. Progression itself is fairly simple, you’ll battle through hordes of minions with an ever-expanding arsenal, topping off each level with a unique boss fight. The gameplay is spiced up with the addition of vehicle and puzzle sections which rarely outstay their welcome, always energetically launching you towards the next challenge.

Pumpkin Jack rarely slows down, drip feeding the player new weapons at just the right pace. Just when you think you’ve found your favourite, it’ll drop something cooler in your lap, and the level after that will be spent gleefully smashing up skeletons with a new toy. The emphasis is on fun, and it really shows – the story is mostly present for context and the odd joke, which is perfectly fine for a game like this.

Although the graphics and music are incredibly effective at conveying Pumpkin Jack’s lurid yet gloomy world (especially with ray tracing), it has a few rough gameplay edges. Jumping doesn’t feel as tight as it should, which results in some very clumsy sections here and there. Combat feels pretty solid overall but there’s not much of a sense of momentum in the platforming sections which kills a bit of the game’s flow. The puzzle segments are a welcome change of pace whilst being very much on the simple side, so don’t go expecting Tomb Raider-esque levels of environmental interaction.

Levels are linear yet large, so the game never feels too much like you’re just on rails scooting towards the next big fight – unless you count the various minecart sections, obviously. It’s never hard to figure out where you’re supposed to be headed next, but diverging from the obvious path rewards you with collectibles you can use to buy new outfits. It’s probably not compelling enough to reward multiple playthroughs by itself, but it’ll satisfy achievement hunters and give a little bit more depth to the world.

I might be a little bit biased here. Pumpkin Jack is the perfect mix of cartoony gothic elements and 3D platforming finesse for me, and it’s also the only game my little PC has managed to achieve a framerate above 30 with ray tracing enabled, so it’s basically the best thing I’ve played so far this year. This is a game with so much potential yet to come, and I really hope we haven’t seen the last of Jack or his creator.

It’s a short ride, but an incredibly entertaining one. You’ll probably get about six hours of quality game time out of Pumpkin Jack, maybe more if you decide to chase all the collectibles and outfits. The graphics and combat are so far above what would be expected from a game at this level of indie development it probably instils a few unrealistic expectations – the game never promises more than it delivers, but the scope for what it could achieve is massive.

Pumpkin Jack overall thoughts: The new king of Halloweentown?

Pumpkin Jack submerges you in a vivid, animated realm of darkness where the lessons of the past and technology of the future come together to create something really special. It’s a great time, a game that focuses on being a game above all else, and a major credit to the people who worked to bring it to fruition. Just a little bit of added complexity to the environmental interactions and some smoother jumping would have made Pumpkin Jack damn close to being a modern classic.

Pumpkin Jack was developed by Nicolas Meyssonnier and published by HeadUp Games. It’s available on Xbox, PS4, Steam and Nintendo Switch! Check out more reviews here.

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