Pumpkin Jack is a platformer/hack and slash developed by Nicolas Meyssonier, and published by Headup Games. Imagine every piece of Halloween aesthetic you’ve ever experienced, throw them into a blender, and the smooth delicious essence you’ll be left with is Pumpkin Jack. Join us as we breakdown Pumpkin Jack – from the story to the gameplay, we have it all covered in our Pumpkin Jack PS4 Review!
The world has fallen into ruin after the devil has cast a terrible curse over a once peaceful world, sending the world into chaos filled with monsters. Among the humans a champion rises to save the world, to restore peace and tranquillity, and it damn sure ain’t you. It’s a meddlesome wizard trying to undo the curse, and the devil doesn’t like that one bit.
Enter: Jack. A man who tricked the devil himself three times, now being sent to earth by the devil in the form of a possessed pumpkin to slay the wizard and ensure the curse goes on forever.
The plot is anything but conventional, with you most times thinking ‘Man, this wizard seems like he’s doing the right thing’ and you having to set aside any moral quandaries and just enjoy being a badass undead, which makes for some refreshingly unapologetic narrative. At no point are you made to suddenly feel like the good guy, and it’s beautiful that it sticks to its evil guns.
The writing alternates between brilliant and average. Jack is always a total pain in the arse to everyone he meets, never letting up, making for a great back and forth. However every now and then, there will be a meta joke or something pointing out a game mechanic that completely throws you out of this beautifully crafted immersion. It only happens a handful of times, but you feel it pull you out pretty hard.
Overall though there is some solid worldbuilding and a whole host of ridiculous and unexpected encounters that really make you feel like you’re in a creepy weird new world. Despite all the clever writing and spooky content, the tone is always light as air and never becomes disturbing or truly scary. Even Goosebumps had a darker feel to it than Pumpkin Jack, and that is in no way a negative comment.
I loved my time with pumpkin jack, but ultimately the gameplay does fall short of being above average. The platforming is fun but Jacks movements when jumping are extremely floaty with a fair bit of momentum, meaning turning or readjusting mid air is always risky. The other side is the platforming is very forgiving, with Jack practically clawing his hands into any ledge he slightly brushes and pulling himself up from a certain freefall. It never felt annoying or frustrating to control, but you also don’t feel like you have any fine movement options either.
The combat is equally confusing, with moves and combinations being basic at first, but then you discover you can do different moves by jumping or dodging before attacking, something the game never tells you. The combat won’t feel repetitive due to short levels and a new weapon every level, but on a repeat playthrough I quickly found myself bored with any weapon I used. The first time around though, I had an absolute blast with the latest toy I’d grabbed.
The game is quite short, being fully completable in about six hours, that’s including all collectibles if you know what you’re doing. However to go any further would ruin the pacing and enjoyment of Pumpkin Jack, something that is frankly perfect as is.
The end of every level features a boss fight, with unique mechanics and well televised attacks, making each boss fight different and immediately memorable. Some are naturally better than others but nothing feels repeated and the risk of failure is always apparent.
The final point gameplay wise is that Pumpkin Jack is not a difficult game, at all. It is not meant to be enjoyed for its gameplay really, even though it’s still more than satisfying enough to keep you entertained for hours. This is a game that could be equally enjoyed by both adults and children alike, and would make a brilliant first ‘spooky’ game for kids.
This is one half of the true beauty of Pumpkin Jack, and oh boy does it deliver. There are two main ways to enjoy Halloween. The first is with actual scary or horrific content like horror films or putting yourself into tense and unsettling experiences, the second is to immerse yourself in classic Halloween atmosphere.
Foggy nights, jack o lanterns, trick or treaters dressed up in fancy costumes and all the cliches that come with it, like evil scarecrows or spooky ghosts. These things aren’t supposed to put fear in you, but make you smile and throw yourself into that cosy creepy feeling.
It is hard to overstate just how perfectly Pumpkin Jack absolutely nails this aesthetic. Coupled with the light hearted tone, I was smiling from ear to ear at the levels in permanent dusk over suspiciously empty wheat fields, or a richly detailed cemetery with spooky maseoleums and lightning periodically overhead.
The art style works brilliantly as A) a more realistic tone would have given the game a more mature and probably less inviting feel, B) characters can be portrayed and modelled in more abstract ways that visually convey their chosen cliche immediately to the player, ramping up the feel and atmosphere to a point I don’t think can be beaten.
The only other game that comes close to achieving this perfect atmosphere are the Medievil games, and it’s incredible its taken this long to replicate something with that same distilled feeling.
The enemy designs are all immensely creative, with a new enemy or creepy thing to be found in every level, nothing ever feeling out of place. It’s a cohesive vision that is very rarely seen in games, and needs to be more prevalent in the wider market.
But this is only one half of the immersion puzzle, the other almost beating it.
Every Halloween when I’m alone and need to walk somewhere in the dark, I will put on a generic Halloween playlist and immerse myself in a creepy mood.
That playlist will, forever more, be the soundtrack from Pumpkin Jack.
The music for this game is absolutely incredible, with each levels track somehow creating the exact same spooky tense feeling as you’re exploring these different environments, and yet somehow still tailored and complementing each levels theme.
The only exception to these are the pieces of classical music used in the chase sections of the games, but even then they’re remixed into Halloween like version of themselves with care and love. It’s a shame that recognising the classical pieces ruins the immersion slightly, something that ultimately feels like a negative addition.
The characters are given small wordless soundbites as their dialogue noises each time they speak, but each one is so perfect you can almost hear that characters voice just by reading the dialogue. This along with a charismatic narrator who will summarise a level’s events after completion, round out this incredibly compelling package.
Pumpkin Jack PS4 Review – The Verdict
It’s obvious I like the game, but objectively the gameplay doesn’t have that much going for it. You’re here for an aesthetic that reminds you of a childhood filled with Goosebumps and jack o lanterns, and if that isn’t your thing you’ll feel cheated this package doesn’t offer much.
Equally, to people who prefer their games to be horrific and terrifying rather than mildly spooky, don’t waste your money. But to everyone like me, who adores this kind of atmosphere and feeling, this game gives you exactly what you’ve been looking for without even realising. I know I’ll be playing through the game again come Halloween, and enjoying every minute of it.
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