Back in the ’90s and early 00’s 3D action platformers were all the rage. With Crash Bandicoot having run rampant for a few years, Spyro breathing a hot breath of excitement into our lives and Jak & Daxter fighting with Ratchet and Clank battling for the title of supreme platform duo, there was no shortage of exciting adventures for fans of the genre. Fast forward to current-gen consoles and the offerings isn’t quite as fulfilling as they once were. Developer Nicolas Meyssonnier is looking to change that with Pumpkin Jack taking us back for a splash of nostalgia with an attempt at a classic action platform experience once more.
The story of Pumpkin Jack takes place within the mythical realm of the Boredom Kingdom. When the Devil decides he’s had enough of the peaceful and calming way of the land, he decides to unleash hell by way of a curse of Eternal Night. It doesn’t take long of course for the people living within the land to decide they’ve had enough of the Devil’s interference, so they decide to employ the powers of a wizard to rid the land of the curse and reinstall the once boring yet peaceful utopia they previously enjoyed. In retaliation, you are drafted in – Pumpkin Jack, the bad guy made to do the dirty work in all of this, as you are expected to pursue and enforce the main objective of ensuring the Devil’s work is fulfilled.
Gameplay takes place across six unique levels, most of which are suitably themed for the Halloween festivities. Each level provides plenty of classic old-school 3D platforming and puzzling action and players even get their own tag along side-kicks to join in on the adventure with a haughty own and a harrowing crow for long-range attacks – although they aren’t quite your Clank or Daxter!
Throughout each level, players slowly build a dangerous arsenal of weapons before putting them to the test against groups, or hordes on occasions, of enemies that look to defend the land, whilst other areas will see more intricate platforming sections in which steady footing will be key as you jump and run across areas usually accompanied by a large drop for any mistakes made. Then there are some on-rails sections within each level and even the occasional side-quest type effort, not to mention each level is rather large in size and environments will need searching thoroughly to either progress onto the next area or to grab the elusive collectables that fill out every level, with 21 to collect in each.
If all that doesn’t quite grab your interest then rest assured the boss fights alone are worth a look in and they can also be enjoyed at a one-per-level ratio, with some challenging battles to be had across multi-stage fights.
Whilst the levels themselves are certainly entertaining, the story isn’t a highlight, with the narrative proving forgettable once you’ve begun rummaging and rampaging your way through the beautiful fantasy world. That could of course be put down to the more fantastic environmental design rather than a poor story, but it would have been nice to have seen the story show a little more excitement and thrill as there really isn’t much that will pull your focus away from the gameplay and this is of course inspired by PS2-era classics which were always renowned for classic storytelling. Fortunately, it’s not a bad outing once you’re off swinging your weapons about at the many incoming enemies, but the story certainly could have been much more, especially given there is such an abundance of Halloween tales to choose from for inspiration.
Now, of course, let’s not forget that Pumpkin Jack isn’t a new release in 2021 and whilst the arrival of the Series X|S upgrade is fresh in time for Halloween, the game did originally arrive on consoles this time last year. So what are the next-gen features you can look to love and adore I hear you ask?
Well, the key differences here come down to the visual and performance improvements more than anything else, and what was already a rather visually pleasing game with its fantastically stylised cartoon art style now looks even better with lighting and shadow effects that really help bring more of a creepy feel to the environments, enabling some levels to look almost entirely different when utilising the Quality Mode on Xbox Series X. Should you go for Performance Mode that looks to bring 60fps and 4K loveliness, then you may have a few issues as, during my time, I saw a few crashes that forced my game back to the dashboard when using this mode. Of course, this is something that can be remedied in a patch but if you want to see a real difference then the Quality mode is by far the way to go as the game is more than smooth enough even without the upgrade and the improved lighting is a fantastic addition to the already impressive art style.
Another positive is that whilst it’s been a long time coming, the achievements are now finally fixed, with Full Closet and Official Groupie now unlockable once more. It’s a minor fix in that it doesn’t change the gameplay side of things, but for many gamers achievements can be an important part of the experience so it’s nice to see Pumpkin Jack‘s 1000g fully obtainable once more.
Besides the additions of Performance and Quality modes for next-gen consoles, Pumpkin Jack is still the same game players got their hands on last year, just a more refined visual experience of that same game. It doesn’t quite match that same level of prestige as the titles it aims to take the magic from, but in 2021 when 3D platformers aren’t as ripe for the picking as they once were, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air that shows there is still plenty of love to be had for the genre yet, and who knows, with the very passion developer Nicolas Meyssonnier has put in here, there’s still chance to see Pumpkin Jack return to become a household name before long.
Overall, if you’re after a classic platformer that harkens back to the good old days of platforming past, then Pumpkin Jack is certain to bring you some joy. The story may not be one I, or anyone else, will be telling their children about (as I did with Crash Bandicoot as if it were a true story) but it’s not a totally inept offering either, and if you simply want something that can return that nostalgic charm, and some Halloween festivities, then there are many worse options you could choose than a shot with Pumpkin Jack.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.