Jack has a problem. He’s a pumpkin. He’s also in the Devil’s pocket. The Devil has cursed the world and it’s now a really minging place to live. But there is hope. One brave man is ready to take on the Devil himself and restore the world to all of its natural beauty. And no, it’s not Jack. Jack’s a bit of dick.
The Wizard is the saviour the world needs, then, and Jack has been sent on a mission by the devil to kill the wizard. I won’t spoil the story for you, not that it’s an Oscar-worthy tale or anything, but it’s enough to give birth to a world worth exploring as the eponymous hero.
Jack is joined by a cowardly crow and a sarcastic owl on his journey. The owl provides tips and exposition, while the crow is your projectile weapon. A quick tap of L1 and you’ll send the whining wimp darting towards enemies or, in some sequences, towards breakable barriers. They’re nice characters and while they’re not voiced, I still found the short and snappy dialogue fun to follow along. There are some voiced segments, but these are the inter-level storybook scenes and they basically just tell you what you’ve done in the previous level.
If I had to complain about the story at all, it would be that the characters, despite being kid-friendly cartoony figures, could have been elevated to the next level if they were voiced. I imagined Jack sounding like a proper cockney geezer, and I would provide my own lines during play, though I would be saying quite naughty things that I can’t really say here. But that’s a small complaint, and considering that Pumpkin Jack comes from a solo developer who has had only a handful of external support, I’m generally impressed that there’s a semi-decent tale being told at all.
Nobody is playing Pumpkin Jack to find out what happens at the end; the real fun is in the journey through the game’s spooky, mostly Halloween-themed levels, and the challenges you’ll overcome within.
Pumpkin Jack is an old school style platformer and it bears those hallmarks like a badge of honour. A colourful anti-hero? Check. Simple platforming, complete with double-jump ability? Check. A cast of wacky characters? Check. It’s got it all, and I’m down for that. Growing up, I loved playing Spyro, Banjo Kazooie, and a bit of Mario.
Pumpkin Jack feels a lot like those old games. The jumping is forgiving and floaty, allowing you to give Jack a little bit of movement while in the air – an essential tool in the bag for any platformer worth looking twice at.
The gameplay isn’t a one-tone deal, either, with the game regularly switching it up between combat encounters, timed platforming, platforming puzzles, and even some mini-game style puzzles. I appreciated the effort to break up the gameplay by switching from regular play to, say, racing a minecart along perilous tracks, or dodging projectiles while riding a magical horse through the air. They punctuate the levels at just about the right time, and it’s always a real treat when they do as the music kicks up and a Danny Elfman-inspired track beats the scene to life.
These moments are the best among Pumpkin Jack’s eight-to-nine hour run time, and easily the most memorable. What’s not so memorable, or at least won’t be remembered for the right reasons, is the game’s combat. It works and it’s generally OK, but it’s just not all that fun. You can get through most fights against ghouls, rats, and other monsters by mashing the hit button and spamming dodge right afterwards. You’re supposed to be able to tell when an enemy is about to attack, but with the effects of Jack’s own attacks often splashing around the screen, it’s hard to read what’s going on, so most of my encounters boiled down to: hit, dodge, repeat.
You unlock new weapons after each level, though, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have cared much if I was stuck with the starting shovel for the duration of the game. The changes they bring are minimal and you’re rarely forced to use a certain weapon, so their additions feel like weak attempts to spruce up what is otherwise serviceable – if unremarkable – combat. I rarely died in combat, though, so there is that. I did die during the end-level bosses a lot, and the game reminds you how many times you’ve died every time you do. Charming…
Platforming, exploring, and solving puzzles are the order of the day then. The puzzles range from the very simple to the “eh, what am I doing here then?” though they’re rarely difficult to the point where I’d have to really think; it’s usually a case of looking around and spotting the obvious.
Like any platformer worth a damn, Pumpkin Jack has collectables, and in this game they come in the form of crow heads for you to hunt down. There are 20 in each level and you can trade them in to buy Jack some new outfits. There are also gramophones hidden throughout the game, and finding these will launch Jack into a ridiculous dance sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in Fornite. I hate such things, ordinarily, but as it’s an optional side-task and not a core of the game (looking at you, Destruction AllStars) it’s fine, and I appreciate the silly humour.
I did have a few issues with the game on the technical front. For the most part, the game looks and feels really good. The levels are well designed and generally look great, too, with lots of incidental details and secret areas to explore. Moving Jack around feels smooth and I never found myself fighting with the controls, but I did have to fight against some glitched visuals.
After jumping into the game from my PS5‘s rest mode, I would notice certain effects would be broken and would display as black blocks on the screen. Other times, the audio would be out of sync with the gameplay, which is really odd. Thankfully, these were easily fixed by closing the game down and starting it up fresh, but it’s worth noting just in case you come across it yourself.
Pumpkin Jack sets out to deliver a seasonal platformer that at least stands on its own. I contest that, despite it not having the same scope or budget as a big-name release, like Spyro or Crash Bandicoot, it’s easily up there with them. It’s definitely a game I’ll come back to, but probably not until Halloween so I can pair it up with the ultimate Halloween tune: Zombie Hands, by The Killers. You didn’t think I’d go for Monster Mash, did you? Fool.
Pumpkin Jack PS5, PS4 Review
- Overall - Fantastic - 8/108/10
Pumpkin Jack is a fantastic platformer that gets very little wrong. While it does have its flaws, mainly in the combat department, the rest of the game carries the weight superbly.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Version tested: PS4. Reviewed using PS5 and PS4 Pro.