Publisher: Headup Games
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Release Date: 10/23/2020
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Small indie platformers are something I like paying attention to. Pumpkin Jack caught my eye as it looks and feels like a PS2-era platformer that would have fit in at that time, but has more polished gameplay than most did in that same time period. You play as a demon named Jack who is sent by the Devil to stop an evil wizard from taking over the world. It’s a very paper-thin story, but the game is so short that anything else couldn’t really flourish. This is also akin to PS2-era platformers as most of their stories were pretty basic and uninteresting due to the length and budgets. You have a crow companion that spews hints and dialog at you, but that’s it story-wise. The cinematics are nice and the presentation for the story is fantastic, but the content is really lacking.
This goes for most of the game honestly. While what is here is really solid it’s very elementary and basic. Combat consists of one button mashing over and over with an aerial attack. You can send your crow out for a quick hit from afar, but the main attraction is the various weapons you acquire at the end of each level. Ranging from shovels, scythes, magic orbs, and a shotgun. The arsenal is quite fun and keeps things mixed up, and so do the enemies. The enemies are well designed and have one of the strongest points in the game. While you can button mash you must also dodge as dying is quick if you aren’t on top of your moves. Some enemies require being stunned first, some will spawn until you destroy their spawn point, some are strong, some are weak, and each enemy needs a certain approach to them.
The main focus outside of combat is platforming. You will be pressing the jump button at least once every 2-3 seconds without a break. Tons of platforming that can get a bit tricky, but the momentum and physics of Jack feel just right and the double jump helps quite a bit too. This would be a pretty monotonous game if there were just platforming and one-button combat. To break this up there are some mini-games you can play with some using only Jack’s head that have you doing Simon Says, guiding bombs, memory games, etc. There are also on-rails sections in each level that require dodging and shooting down enemies. It’s quite fun, but you realize there is a formula in each level and while these are different such as riding in a minecart versus being carried by a giant bird they are essentially the same mini-games with different skins. At least the amount you do these is varied with some levels having a lot and some having only a couple.
The only thing you collect in the game is crow skulls used to unlock costumes, which feels pointless as the game is about 4 hours long and there’s no replay value. You see everything the game has in the first playthrough and due to its repetition and overall basic gameplay I have no desire to go back through. It’s fun while it lasts, and can offer a decent challenge, but it’s very formulaic when you step back and look at the game as a whole. The level design is great with various spooky themes like mines, graveyards, swamps, forests, and a neat Christmas level, but again, this is a PS2-era designed game with 2020 flair. The boss fights are probably the most unique things in the game, but I can say if this game came out 15 years ago it would have been a smash hit.
The visuals are also very dated looking a couple of generations old despite using DirectX 12 and even having ray-tracing and DLSS support. The textures are just muddy and low-resolution and they’re meant to look like an older platformer, and the game had a low budget, but it still needs mentioning. However, with the tight controls, great platforming, decent challenge, and unique enemies and bosses, the game is just good enough to recommend for a one-time playthrough. The story is paper-thin and uninteresting, the combat is simple, but there are five different weapons to use, interesting level design, and there’s an actual challenge.