When the Devil’s boredom leads to monsters invading the world, the humans crown a champion to save them so the Devil sends his own champion to even the odds — Pumpkin Jack.
Pumpkin Jack is a 3D action platformer in the vein of classic early 90’s series Medievil or Crash Bandicoot. As the eponymous Jack, you are tasked with hunting down the human’s champion and ensuring the Devil’s victory.
As with any story where the monsters invade the realm you’d expect the outlook to be bleak and it is. The fog hangs heavy on the water around each level Jack explores. Gothic and dark crumbling architecture scattered across swamps, graveyards and crypts hide any number of enemies and other secrets for Jack to explore. Pumpkin Jack definitely looks the part and it’s all accompanied by a delightful score that supplements the platforming well with some spooky tales on classic pieces. Ride of the Valkyries to the tune of a few harpsichords and organs adds enough of a mausoleum veneer to make them fit right in.
Jack himself is fairly spry for a dead guy and he needs to be as the platforming can be quite challenging, the enemies also hit fairly hard and it’s easy to get mobbed by certain types in tight spots. Luckily Jack sports a double jump out of the gates; which helps traversing the levels as well as a dodge roll for getting out of harm’s way. Nearly immediately Jack also acquires his first melee weapon; a spade. This can be swung a few times in a combo attack although it can be cancelled out by rolling at any point. After helping a crow out of a tight spot with a scarecrow he also tags along for the ride as a ranged attack. Weapons are upgraded at specific points within the main story and as a rule generally do greater damage than the previous options.
Levels are self contained and house a main objective which may have Jack explore a few side paths or areas; this becomes more prevalent as you near the end of the story but in the main it’s quite linear. Some artifacts are hidden in places that aren’t entirely obvious at first glance and may require some thought to pick up whilst others are in plain view and are often the reward for a difficult mob encounter.
Most levels finish with a multi stage boss battle with each having its own arena. Battles intensify as you damage the boss and add further attacks to their repertoire for you to dodge since most bosses are invulnerable until they have completed their attack pattern or until you get them to attack specific environmental hazards.
Where Pumpkin Jack really excels is in its auto-scrolling sections. These feel exciting although they essentially boil down to on rail shooting mechanics. Pumpkin Jack does a great job of adding variety to these in every level by theming them on the level itself and changing them just enough to feel new and different. The first runaway minecart is very reminiscent of the hog ride in the original Crash Bandicoot and is just as enjoyable
The platforming can be fairly precise and those looking to find all the artifacts hidden will need to explore every nook and cranny. The payoff is the ability to purchase new skins for Jack from the shady vendor found in most levels. These skins; whilst cosmetically pleasing; don’t actually add any other abilities so aren’t essential for finishing the game or changing the play style. An old gramophone is also hidden inside each level and players are treated to a dance show upon discovering it. Again; it changes nothing though and is a chance missed to keep players hunting them down for added boons.
Periodically Jack will also detach from his body leaving you controlling his Pumpkin head. These sections contain puzzles that either require Jack to move items to a goal, hit enough enemies whack-a-mole style or follow the musical instructions to reach a goal. It’s a nice distraction and although these levels are self contained areas it would have been nice to implement some of these mechanics in the general run of play as potential power ups or skills rather than confined sections creating a more open world feel.
It’s more likely for many players that they will die to environmental issues rather than an enemy depleting their health. Jack carries a certain amount of momentum when jumping and some weapons also change your position when swung so it’s best to be careful when near edges or trying to get out of range given falling in the water is instant death.
Graphically it’s nice and it sounds great but there is a lot Pumpkin Jack borrows from other series, even the main protagonist is ripped straight out of Medievil. It’s an enjoyable platformer that mixes in some great puzzle sections with enough variation to keep you going to the end.