Reviewed for the Xbox One.
3D platformers have been going through a renaissance over the past few years. Fan-favorite characters like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro have been making a triumphant return to our consoles. Newcomer Pumpkin Jack enters the fray this Halloween, a new title amidst a sea of series veterans. Although this game doesn’t quite reach the heights of those AAA giants, it sets a high bar for indie platformers to come. Here’s my Pumpkin Jack review.
Pumpkin Jack throws the classic ‘race-to-beat-the-villain’ formula on it’s head. The player assumes the role of the titular villain who must defeat the protagonist before they can save the world. It’s a fun to change that we don’t see often enough in the gaming medium, but it ultimately leads nowhere. The cast are occasionally funny, but the story itself feels rather hollow. This is especially jarring coming hot off the heels of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, which excelled in blending an engaging narrative into the classic platformer genre.
Smooth, Responsive Gameplay
Pumpkin Jack is clearly emulating earlier 3D platformers, when the story was less of a focus than the gameplay. This is clear throughout the game, as the controls are responsive, which makes Pumpkin Jack feel especially smooth to play. Likewise, the checkpoint system is fantastic, another aspect that is especially noticeable after playing Crash Bandicoot‘s latest adventure. Whenever I died, I always found that I respawned nearby, giving me that itch to have just one more go. Where Crash 4 mostly failed, Pumpkin Jack is a delight.
One more go is usually all I ever needed though, as Pumpkin Jack isn’t particularly difficult. Most of my deaths stemmed from my own lack of attention rather than the difficulty presented by the path ahead. Death certainly didn’t elude me though, as my attention did wander rather often due to Pumpkin Jack‘s formulaic design. Within the first couple of levels, the structure becomes very predictable. Grab these items, do these minigames, a big set piece and a boss fight. These parts tend to happen in a set order every level, making the game feel like clockwork.
Although you can often predict when a boss fight is approaching or when you’ll jump into a minigame, there is a lot of variety between them. The set pieces, for example, have you doing all manner of things. From kart racing to horse riding, there are plenty of fresh, entertaining moments, although the camera did tend to feel wonky during them. Regardless, they were a delight to discover, as were the many minigames throughout Pumpkin Jack. Likewise, the boss fights are varied and interesting. Despite all being based on the same principle of running around whilst waiting for an opportunity to strike, there are always new elements introduced to keep you on your toes. Each boss fight feels like an evolution of the last, leading to a challenging finale. I did encounter one bug in this final battle which I could only fix by forcing a respawn, but there were no other bugs throughout the game. The framerate did noticeably dip a handful of times whilst I did my Pumpkin Jack review.
Collectibles and Speed-Runs
Pumpkin Jack also held my attention by littering Crow Skulls throughout the levels. These are the game’s collectible, as well as the currency used to buy new skins. These skulls were fun to collect, but never proved much of a challenge to find. Despite being easy to locate, they add entertaining little distractions into each level. However, I found ignoring these and trying to speed-run levels to be just as fun. At the end of each mission you are able to see your best time on that level. However, the game lacks any kind of dedicated ‘Time Trial’ mode, a disappointing oversight. A simple timer overlay and a ghost version of your best run to compete against would make this much more fun. Currently, Pumpkin Jack feels far too short for the price, but this addition could have added some much needed replayability.
Combat Functional, Not Fun
Many of these Crow Skulls are tied to combat encounters. A few groups of enemies will spawn in, after which you can collect your prize. I often did ignore these, though not for a speed-run attempt. Rather, I found the combat to be a mixed bag. It’s functional and sometimes challenging, but I didn’t find it particularly fun. After each level, Jack gains a new weapon to use, but there’s no actual need to swap between them. The scythe is slower than the shovel, but does more damage. However, using the variety of weapons isn’t necessary to kill anything. They all serve the same role, as there’s no actual strategy to combat encounters. Just mash the attack button until the enemies are dead. The game gives no reason to actually swap between the weapons you earn. They are essentially just different Halloween themed weapons with no gameplay changes.
The Halloween theme is a delight though. Although it isn’t spooky, it leans into the theme well and uses it plenty in it’s level design. There’s plenty of visual variety between each level too. From the fields to the forests to the snowy North, each location is wonderfully designed. Pumpkin Jack offers a crisp, updated take on old 3D platformer visuals. It harkens back to the PS1 platformer era, but with a modern coat of polish.
Pumpkin Jack Review Verdict
Pumpkin Jack is a fun, yet short return to the early days of the 3D platforming genre. The controls are responsive, which makes the platforming a delightfully smooth experience. Despite being fun, the game does have a rather predictable structure. It doesn’t stray away from this comfort zone at all throughout Jack’s adventure. The actual activities in these minigames and set pieces are varied, but it’s obvious when they are coming. The Halloween theme is well utilised, although it isn’t scary. For those wanting to avoid a fright this spooky season, Pumpkin Jack is a good alternative. You probably won’t find yourself coming back afterwards though, as it doesn’t offer much replayability. There’s a lot holding this game back, but it’s certainly fun whilst it lasts.
You can buy Pumpkin Jack on the Microsoft Store here for $29.99. There’s also a launch discount, making it $23.99 until October 30th 2020. Did you enjoy my Pumpkin Jack review? Let us know over on the forums or on our social media! You can find more reviews from our team below:
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