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Friday, October 23, 2020

[Review] ‘Pumpkin Jack’ Brings Distilled Halloween Vibes to its Imperfect 3D Platforming

Pumpkin Jack looks like a game from 2005, but that’s a small price to pay for such pure distilled Halloween vibes.

There’s never been a better time for a Halloween-themed game. As a writer, I’ve been working from home exclusively since March. As the pseudo-quarantine of COVID-19 continues to stretch on and on, I doubt that I’m the only one longing forward to the changing of the seasons and the ritual markers that accompany them. I carved a pumpkin for the first time in years, shook up a cocktail with apple pie moonshine, and, in addition to my usual diet of horror flicks, watched Hubie Halloween and Halloweentown. Playing through Pumpkin Jack in the past few weeks has been a welcome part of this pre-Halloween ritual. We may not get to celebrate Halloween in person, so a game that manages to capture its energy in 3D platformer form has been a welcome treat.

Pumpkin Jack is a servant of Satan, a deceased trickster whose soul has been placed within a pumpkin atop the shoulders of a humanoid shape to fight back against the forces of good on Earth. As Jack, you must track down and defeat a powerful wizard, the champion of humans, who have been terrorized by the Devil and his army of minions. To do that, Jack must run, jump, and engage in simple hack-and-slash combat, unlocking new weapons and skins as he goes. He’s also joined for the trip by a crow who he can send to attack enemies at range. This story set-up is less important than the game’s frequent text boxes seem to think it is, but it provides a good enough explanation for why you’re playing as a guy with a pumpkin for a head and hacking, slashing, and jumping through spooky haunted zones.

Those zones effectively evoke a Halloween vibe, with glowing green cauldrons, cawing crows, graveyards and a jangling soundtrack that conjures images of jack-o-lanterns and dancing skeletons. Each level isn’t all that distinct from the ones that came before, but they’re varied enough — this one has snow and candy canes, that one has a platforming challenge on the grim reaper’s boat — that I remained interested throughout the eight-hour campaign. More importantly, the Halloween vibe remains potent throughout. 

Pumpkin Jack’s greater aesthetic problem is graphical. It generally didn’t bother me that the game looks like it could have launched during the early days of the PS3. It was mostly developed by one person, Nicolas Meyssonnier, and the game is an impressive achievement from that standpoint. But, occasionally, the lack of visual crispness hurts the play experience. For example, there were times when the heavy shadow and muddy graphics conspired to make it difficult to parse how many enemies were attacking me at once. Generally, that didn’t make too much of a difference in combat. But, the difficulty I had reading the screen did make the occasional no checkpoint rail cart section more frustrating than it should have been.

Additionally, there are some gameplay sequences, too, that feel like they were ripped from 2005. This is, at times, by design. Certain platforming sequences in Pumpkin Jack are demanding, but fair, in a way that reminds me of the secret levels from Super Mario Sunshine with the difficulty turned down a bit. And the controls are, thankfully, tight enough to pull this off. I was especially fond of the sections where you’re tasked with controlling Jack’s disembodied head as it solves simple but satisfying platforming puzzles. But, there are some obtuse bits as well, like a Lost Woods-style section where Jack is met with an instant death the instant you take a wrong turn. As far as I could tell, there was nothing signposting the direction you were supposed to take, and I watched helplessly as my game-spanning death counter ticked ever higher.

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We’re in the midst of a revival of the 3D platformer at the moment. Activision tested the waters with Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017, brought back another beloved mascot in 2018’s Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and gassed Crash up for last year’s Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. This year, the publisher officially revived Crash for his first new platforming adventure in 12 years, the excellent Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time.

There’s plenty more on the horizon, too. Next month, we’ll get Sackboy: A Big Adventure, a Little Big Planet spin-off from Sumo Digital. A new Astro Bot game will come pre-loaded on the PS5. At some point in that console’s launch window, Insomniac is bringing its famous mascots back for Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. Psychonauts 2 has been delayed a bunch of times, but will, presumably, eventually, release. And new IP, like Balan Wonderworld and The Gunk will keep the good times rolling, running, and jumping for the foreseeable future.

Pumpkin Jack, then, is getting in while the getting is good; while there’s still an appetite for a good indie 3D platformer, even if it is a little rough around the edges. 

Pumpkin Jack review code provided by the publisher for Xbox One.

Pumpkin Jack is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/exclusives/3638097/review-pumpkin-jack-brings-distilled-halloween-vibes-imperfect-3d-platforming/

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