What would you get if you took The Nightmare Before Christmas and turned it into a 3D platformer like BanjoKazooie? If you’ve ever asked yourself that very specific question, then Pumpkin Jack may have an answer for you.
Developed by solo indie developer Nicolas Meyssonnier and published by Headup Games, Pumpkin Jack is ostensibly a 3D platformer. Run, jump, double-jump; the basic tools of the 3D platformer genre are present here. However, where a lot of the bigger/well-known 3D platformers focus on jumping and traversal mechanics, such as Super Mario 64/Poi combo jumps and side flips, or BanjoKazooie/YookaLayle unlocks like gliding and crouch flips, Pumpkin Jack gives you your platforming skills from the outset and focuses more on weapons/combat upgrades instead.
This puts the game in a sort of strange halfway between 3D platformer and action-RPG, a gaming limbo nothing like the game Limbo, if you will. It doesn’t have collectables to be a collectothon 3D platformer like the aforementioned BanjoKazooie nor does it have a large enough arsenal to enter Ratchet and Clank territory or too much platforming to be like a more combat-focused action game like The Legend of Zelda. It also has a puzzle aspect, in the form of short segments in each level where you control the pumpkin head of Jack without the body, which sort of feels appropriate for both the 3D platformer and action adventure genres. Perhaps MediEvil would be the best comparison(?).
In a lot of ways, it’s admirable that Pumpkin Jack has managed to carve out its own sort of niche and identity. However, it does feel like it could have been strengthened by leaning more towards one of the genres more.
Now, this isn’t to say that the game is weak or bad. It has a lot of great stuff packed in. The story follows a world beset by monsters whose last hope is a magic hero known only as The Wizard. But you’ll not be playing as this hero, rather you’ll take control of the titular Jack who is chosen as The Devil’s champion. That’s right, you’re the bad guy who needs to put an end to the pesky hero so the Devil can rule over the lands. However, Jack is also known as the greatest trickster (sorry Loki) and has tricked the Devil no less than 3 times. So will the Devil get his way, or will Jack return to his old tricks?
The story is quite funny and enjoyable. For me, it was well worth playing through the game to follow. Character designs are quite well done, with an Owl guide, a Crow companion, a black mage (a la Final Fantasy) type Wizard, a skeleton salesman, and of course the Pumpkin headed Jack himself to name a few. In addition to the character design, the choice of the colour palette works quite well, too. The game uses a lot of bright yet dark colours, like purple for instance, with the world appearing tinged in Halloween sheen complete with eerie glowing objects.
The colour scheme is somewhat of a double-edged sword though, as important things will glow to be easy to spot, but some use the same colour such as the red Crow Skulls scattered through the levels to be collected. The same red glow sometimes occurs for certain enemies as well. The game also has a lot of lanterns, candles, and other light sources that tend to show you the pathway, but they too can become a little confusing if you get turned around, as most locations share a distinct colour palette for the entirety of the section.
Musically, the soundtrack sort of sums up the game as a lot of the tracks take an existing piece of music (done well) and then add the Halloween feel over the top. Generally, you’ll get different themes for certain parts of the game, such as exploring each level, combat, and then some of the other sections like running through a collapsing barn or riding a minecart.
Each level (of which there are 6) will have 20 optional Crow Skulls to find, which can be used to purchase skins from the skeletal salesman, who explains that they are literal skins he peeled off of corpses to sell, a somewhat strange business model, but hey, anyone who accepts crow skulls as payment is bound to be a little off. There is also a gramophone which is generally harder to find than the majority of the Crow Skulls, but Jack will do a dance for you each time you find one of them. This means a total of 120 Crow Skulls and 6 gramophones are waiting to be located, a far cry from the collectables in some of the classic Rare titles.
Levels are replayable if you miss any of the collectables, or if you want to try and speedrun them, they are also timed. The levels do get progressively longer and trickier, but overall it’ll take roughly between 8 and 11 hours on average to beat the game, maybe a little longer to collect everything. That’s not including the Christmas update which adds 6 short levels with 30 presents split between them to find and some notes to Santa to read.
Now, let’s talk about the combat a bit more. While 3D platformers have always had a combat element to them, they have largely been simple enemies that are supposed to get in the way, so you deal with them or avoid them and continue jumping around. Pumpkin Jack has a little more focus on combat though, with a range of weapons you can slowly unlock through each level, and while most enemies can be dealt with fairly easily, you may notice that a lot of them have ranged attacks. They’ll try to swarm you as well, so a hack-and-slash approach may not be the best.
That’s where Jack’s dodge roll comes into play, hit and run/or roll/or jump tactics are definitely valid, especially with the use of the long-range crow (That you actually get before your first melee weapon). Although, for at least the first half of the game, it’s probably easiest just hanging back and using the crow for all your fighting. Each new weapon you pick up has it’s own sort of move set. However, I found no real reason to swap between them, as each new weapon seems to be just better than the last. This is not always the case, but certainly for the first few, like unless it’s a self-imposed challenge, there is no reason to use the shovel once you have the spear or magic sword.
Overall, though, Pumpkin Jack is a solid game with a few rough edges, but it definitely falls on the side of worth checking out. While I do appreciate the efforts of indie developers and solo developers, I will never factor that in when choosing to recommend a game or not, and this is no exception. For a full team, Pumpkin Jack would be a recommendation, but for a solo dev, it’s just that much more impressive.
Fun Halloween look
Doesn't outstay its welcome
Interesting you're the bad guy story
Later melee weapons make old ones redundant
Movement is a little slippery at times
As all 3D platformers the camera is your worst enemy
Not a lot of variety for platforming