I loved the 90s gaming trend of colourful horror mascots. Sir Daniel Fortesque of Medievil comes to mind immediately, but who could forget such classic characters as the Jersey Devil and Decap Attack’s Chuck D. Head. Although maybe not the most iconic of characters, I’ve always appreciated a little spooky imagery in my family friendly platformers. Well this year Halloween has come early, thanks to Pumpkin Jack making his way to the PS4.
The Boredom Kingdom was (unexpectedly) a boring place, until the Devil decided to unleash some serious evil on the peaceful inhabitants. After casting out the Curse of the Eternal Night, terrible creatures roamed the land and terrorised the poor humans living in the Kingdom. In an act of resistance, a powerful wizard has come forth to stop the curse, and as one of the Devil’s allies it’s your job to crush this defiant mage and restore chaos to the land.
Jack will need to make his way through seven linear platforming stages to accomplish his goal, each with a different spooky theme. Getting from one end of a stage to another is fairly simple, armed with a familiar double jump you’ll bound past flaming environments, bottomless pits and swinging traps to reach the goal. Controlling Jack is as precise as you’d hope it’d be, and he has a handy shadow so you can tell where you’re going to land.
Jumping abilities will only get you so far through the swamps and forests, as Pumpkin Jack puts a big emphasis of combat. With a single attack button and a dodge roll, fighting various rats and knights isn’t particularly deep, but is satisfying. As you progress further in your quest you’ll be given an array weapons to switch between, as well as a crow “friend” you can fire at further away foes. If you’re not feeling like a fight you can usually opt out of a scrap, but beating all the baddies in an area often rewards you with a Crow Skull.
Like any good 3D-platformer, there are a bunch of collectibles to find in each level for completionists. 20 Crow Skulls are hidden all around the stages, and if you collect enough of them you’ll be able to afford new outfits for your pumpkin protagonist. These literal skins can be bought from a mysterious shopkeeper, and although entirely cosmetic I did appreciate being able to play as a cowboy vegetable. Even less important is the hidden gramophone in each level, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the reward of Jack’s dance moves I got for finding them.
Each stage in Pumpkin Jack adds a couple of new gameplay segments or minigames to keep thing fresh, with varying degrees of success. I had a lot of fun riding a mine cart and performing a daring escape from a burning barn, but playing whack-a-mole or Simon Says to unlock a door to the boss is hardly revolutionary.
At the end of a level you’ll come face to face with a final hulking foe, and will need to use all your skill to take it down. The bosses are all dispatched in the same way; you’ll need to dodge their attacks, wait for them to expose a weak point, and attack it 3 times to send it packing. Despite the similarities in these encounters, I enjoyed every one of them.
It’s worth mentioning how entertaining the characters and dialogue are in Pumpkin Jack. The sarcastic comments come in thick and fast, and each character you meet is more snarky than the last. Hearing a boss mocking my “Emo Canary” ally with its classic nonsense noise voice acting really made me smile, and gave me all sorts of Banjo Kazooie nostalgia.
Everything about Jack’s adventure feels like a PS2 era platformer. This is entirely deliberate, and helped fill a Maximo shaped hole in my heart I didn’t know existed. But as much as I enjoyed my time in each of the game’s spooky levels, I was a little disappointed in how similar each of the environments were. One dark forest blends into the next, and I was left longing for something a little more colourful.
Pumpkin Jack is a throwback to a simpler time, where mascot platformers were popular and voice acting was scarce. If you’ve missed collectibles, minigames and epic boss fights, this is one creepy caper you won’t want to miss.
Classic PS2 era platforming
Boss fights are a blast
A lot of the stages look similar
Not every mini game is a hit