Friday, March 5, 2021

Pumpkin Jack (PS4) Review

We may be nearing spring and are already in early March, but that doesn't mean we here at SPC can't have an excuse to celebrate with a game better suited for Halloween all the same! Originally released just before Halloween last year on other platforms, Pumpkin Jack recently released on the PlayStation 4 as of the tail-end of February. Let's check it out and see if this particular pumpkin is worth plucking from the patch with the SPC review!

This trick is definitely a treat.

What does one do when they're bored? Maybe do some reading, go out and take a walk, or better yet, perhaps play a video game or two. That's at least what ordinary, everyday people do, but the Devil in Pumpkin Jack? No, no. When he's bored of peace and tranquility on planet Earth, he conjures up some demons and devilry to unleash upon the human race.

When humanity calls upon a sorcerer to contend with the Devil's demons, the Devil in turn calls upon his trusty champion, a conniving villain named Stingy Jack who begrudgingly offers his services to the master of the underworld. This is where our story begins with Jack pursuing the sorcerer, all the while meeting up with a facetious, smart aleck owl, and a talking crow, both assisting Jack on his journey to defeat the sorcerer/wizard/humanity's champion. 

Pumpkin Jack has all the makings of a 3D action-platformer in the vein of games like MedEvil and Maximo, complete with a macabre Gothic aesthetic and setting, and plenty of humor that definitely doesn't mind taking shots at itself, its genre, or its story. The game feels like something classic Rare would make in the Nintendo 64 and early Xbox days, though that isn't to say that Pumpkin Jack isn't modern by any stretch of the imagination.

Doing the Devil's bidding isn't all it's cracked up to be, but hey--it's a living!

No, Jack handles well both on ground and in the air. Being able to control Jack in midair as he falls in order to course-correct landings is a blessing. There's nothing rigid about Jack's movement. He comes complete with a jump, double jump, a roll to evade enemy attacks, the ability to dispatch his crow companion to do damage to faraway foes, and a normal attack of Jack's own that differs depending on the weapon equipped. From a dinky, unimpressive shovel to more engaging weaponry like a high-powered shotgun, a talking mystical sword, and a death-delivering scythe, Jack acquires new weapons regularly along his journey, pretty much one after every level. 

Is Jack doing his best Bill Murray impersonation, because he's definitely do a great job busting these ghosts!

Levels are relatively linear (though with plenty of opportunities to explore off the beaten path), lengthy affairs if you're scouring them for secrets in the form of the twenty Crow Skulls and the single Gramophone hidden each of the game's six levels. The former collectable is used to purchase new skins for Jack, as well as being terrific to add some replay value to this otherwise short-lived game. While levels can last upwards of 30-45 minutes for one's first run, the small selection of available levels means you can complete Pumpkin Jack in a few sittings at most. It's definitely a case of quality over quantity, whether you're exploring spooky swamps, grisly graveyards, or the blazing battlegrounds of Skele-Town.  

And what's here in Pumpkin Jack is of a high quality. The platforming is well executed, the level design is quite clever with some intelligent, though simple puzzles to solve, and boss battles truly shine as far as the combat goes. Otherwise, the combat is more spam-heavy than I would prefer and lacking in impact. Jack has no invincibility frames available to him, so you can find enemies tearing away at his health and ending his current life quite quickly before you even realize it. Still, a difficult game Pumpkin Jack really is not, save for a select few moments, including a jump in difficulty that is the final boss. Though the boss is still quite enjoyable. 

It's not always the best idea to go guns blazing during boss battles, as Jack is about to learn!

Breaking up the running, jumping, and slaying enemies in the somewhat linear-structured levels of Pumpkin Jack are mini-games of sorts. There are moments where you ride mine carts down obstacle-laden paths, including plenty of broken parts of track where the only option is to jump or meet your doom, as well as boards in place that need to be destroyed by sending Jack's crow to destroy them before the cart slams into them. There are also moments where Jack's head gets separated from its body. These puzzle-oriented moments feature concepts like carefully hitting a bomb around a series of planks to reach a pillar of TNT, a Memory-style mini-game where Jack needs to hit gravestones to match names with one another to destroy every grave to continue, as well a Simon Says-like music mini-game where Jack has to hit mushrooms in the proper sequence to play a melody to progress. These are enjoyable enough and successfully break up the platforming and combat in a fun way.

Unlike how these mine cart sections literally go, Pumpkin Jack as a game never goes off the rails.

The feeling of Halloween permeates throughout Pumpkin Jack, and this is of course helped by its gorgeous art design on display and choice of colors. The only real chore visually is the reuse of certain assets in the game, whether they be repeated crates, barrels, snowmen, and narrow wooden towers, something that Jack will have to scale more than a dozen times in this short game. The voice work is charming, as is the music, offering a Danny Elfman-like sound to its compositions. It undoubtedly fits, as one would expect!

Also undoubtedly is the notion that Pumpkin Jack is a quality game. It's just over far too soon, which makes its initial $29.99 MSRP a bit tough to swallow considering you're essentially paying five bucks for each hour of game time. Still, with superb platforming, clever ideas in its levels, and a pleasing presentation--from aesthetics to story, one can celebrate Halloween all year round courtesy of Pumpkin Jack.

[SPC Says: B-]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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