A Few Tricks, A Few Treats

HIGH Getting the sword and gun.

LOW Muddied visuals on a Switch Lite. The overall feelings of repetition.

WTF This game might have helped me face my fear of crows.

This year has seen a lot of great throwback-style releases, specifically of the mascot-centric 3D platformer variety. While triple-A studios have largely abandoned this style of game, I’m happy that indie devs are picking up the slack, even if the results aren’t always perfect.

Pumpkin Jack is an action-platformer heavily inspired by those of the PS1 and PS2 eras, specifically titles like Medievil and Jak & Daxter — two games the sole developer, Nicolas Meyssonnier, mentions as influences.

Players control Jack, a pumpkin-headed warrior summoned by the devil to defeat a wizard protecting Boredom Kingdom. Jack must make his way through linear levels full of enemies and bosses using weapons he acquires from the world.

The visuals have a striking style reminiscent of cartoons like The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy or Invader Zim, with its dark and bold design. However, even with a great art style, the visual quality on the Switch wasn’t great.

Textures and character models look blurry from afar and textures pop in and out — so much so that there were times when platforms became transparent as I stepped on them. This didn’t often affect gameplay, but a Switch Lite clearly isn’t the optimal place to play Pumpkin Jack.

The visual quality was losing me soon after starting, and the gameplay in the early levels wasn’t winning me back. Players jump and attack through straightforward areas (occasionally deviating for a collectible or two) and partake in some fairly basic brawling. Jack is also accompanied by a talking crow which players can use to perform ranged attacks.

These starter levels were grating due to the button-mashing nature of combat and platforming that required no skill — it felt like I was going through the motions just to reach the end of a level without really being engaged along the way.

Even worse were puzzle sections in which Jack removes his head and makes it crawl around while trying to place a bomb or play a Simon Says-type minigame. It’s annoying, and the controls for the head didn’t feel great.

Much to my surprise, the second half of Pumpkin Jack got significantly better. Platforming became pleasantly challenging, weapons like an ice sword and a gun added depth to combat, and the later boss battles became my favorite part of the experience. Sure, there were still feelings of repetition, but the short length of the campaign meant that it didn’t overstay its welcome.

Pumpkin Jack packs a lot of charm in this breezy adventure. It has flaws for sure, but players who have nostalgia for the specific kind of platformer that it’s paying homage to might find it to be worth their time.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by Headup Games and developed by Nicolas Meyssonnier. It is available on Switch, PS4, PC and XBO. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 8  hours were spent in single-player and the game was completed. There is no multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Fantasy Violence and Language. For kids who have seen a few episodes of The Simpsons or even watched a movie like Shrek, there is nothing too objectionable here. Violence is very animated with no blood or gore. Suitable for young kids.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: Most of the dialogue is shown through text boxes, and there are no audio cues needed to enjoy this one. Subtitles cannot be resized or altered. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable, but there is a control diagram. The Y-axis can be changed.

Cj Salcedo
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