For some, gaming is a hobby limited to the best 1 percent or so games on the market. But, some of the most interesting and charming titles are made by passionate independent developers. Maybe they take a charming idea to the next level or offer a unique take on a weird genre, resulting in things like Cuphead or Castle Crashers. Among the latest is Pumpkin Jack, a haunting look at the action-adventure genre but with limited resources and a lot of charm, is it the next instant classic or a disappointment?
Pumpkin Jack has a simple, yet fun, storyline. Essentially Arc En Ciel Kingdom is a boring place, to the extent of even the Devil being bored, resulting in the Devil cursing the world with “eternal night.” This curse caused creatures to rise from the grave and havoc across the world. However, someone known simply as the Wizard wants to break the curse and return the world to peace. Naturally, the Devil doesn’t like this idea and makes a deal with the trickster Jack to go kill the Wizard in exchange for passage to the afterlife.
Similar to the PS1-esque games Pumpkin Jack is striving to imitate, most of the story from here is told through silly banter between creatures like an owl or friendly zombies that sell you costumes. The self-aware humor and general silliness make for a charming adventure, though it can be a bit much. Thankfully, there is a fair bit of gameplay between these interactions.
Initially, there really isn’t much to Pumpkin Jack. You get a shovel and have a raven for a distance attack, with waves of enemies to defeat. Progressing further will unlock additional weapons, such as a spear or shotgun, though gameplay doesn’t evolve very much. An overly cautious approach is usually enough to make it out of any problem alive, oftentimes unscathed, though there is enough leeway to allow someone with modest skill to make it out alive.
In a lot of ways, Pumpkin Jack reminded me of Ratchet and Clank in approach. There is a certain amount of challenge, depth and bosses were a bit more than mindless peons with large health bars. It strikes a nice balance between challenging but accessible that will appeal to a younger player, though not alienate an old pro.
During my run, I wouldn’t say there was ever a point where I worried about dying, though there was also no point where I could turn my brain off completely and win either. Often times I just baited enemies, dodged away, and then rushed for a quick kill. Bosses required a bit more methodic of an approach, though most damages came from a lack of understanding than a legitimate challenge.
All this being said, Pumpkin Jack often feels somewhat bland and unambitious. The vast majority of levels and spaces are fairly linear, with it relying heavily on the concept that every side area has some kind of purpose. More often than not, there was a direct and obvious path forward, with maybe a small path to the side or some boxes arranged in just the right way that it’s clear there is a reward over there. Given collectibles given a fairly substantial and obvious glow, this is likely intentional, again pushing this towards a younger demographic.
Given the small development team behind Pumpkin Jack, levels can sometimes look rather rough, with a lot of reused assets. The silly art style helps mask it, though it stands out when you see the same collection of boxes or bale of hay. Even when Pumpkin Jack steps out of its comfort zone, like you can knock over lamps and start fires, the area it affects is extremely scripted.
Pumpkin Jack Review – Verdict
In all and all, Pumpkin Jack accomplishes exactly what it wants to do. It’s a charming action-adventure game with a couple of amusing jokes and engaging gameplay. It can be a bit rough, both in mechanics and visuals, though nothing game-breaking like impossible jumps. It would be nice if it was a bit longer or more engaging, though for the money it’s still pretty good.
[Editor’s Note: Pumpkin Jack was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]