At the center of the 3D Platformer universe lies prominent series like Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot. During the start of a global pandemic, unbeknownst to many, Pumpkin Jack was released October 23, 2020. This game is a horror-themed adventure where you hunt down the only chance humanity has left as Pumpkin Jack, a dangerous soldier for the dark forces at work. Jump and swing your weapon of choice away in 6 macabre levels in this charmingly scary installment.
Halloween isn’t until October, but why wait when the theme of this adventure is all “Hallow’s Eve.” Developed solely by Nicolas Meyssonnier, Pumpkin Jack is a very straightforward game as it doesn’t offer too much new in the way of features or mechanics. Nicolas states in an interview with goombastomp.com that he wants his game to instill the same feelings he got when he played the Jak and Daxter series as a child. This is obvious in both it’s achievements and it’s shortcomings.
Many love the spooky levels in 3D platformers. Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie come to mind when thinking of prolific Halloween levels that you explored as a kid. Now, Pumpkin Jack is only a 6-8 hour experience, but the entire thing is one long sinister ride. Even the great trope of the hero’s journey is turned on it’s head, as Pumpkin Jack is actually trying to stop the hero, a great and powerful wizard, from saving the world.
A cast of ghouls awaits you from the mind of Meyssonnier, as you will find a well-crafted arrangement of characters to greet you in game from the morose Gravekeeper to the mysterious Architect. The artistic vision found here is inspiring to those hoping to go into the development field. The developer fine tunes spooky environments to really nail the atmosphere he was hoping to get. Rather than focus on the wrong aspects for creation on such a small game, he maintains the right ones such as musical atmospheres and thematic graphics.
Haunted cart rides and Gargoyle speedruns are commonplace in this fantastic world of Pumpkin Jack as things to do other than beat up skeletons. The eerie world of this game provides all of the frights of a real Halloween adventure including monsters, shooting voodoo heads, and ghostly knights. Each level provides a tricky boss encounter to end cap it, none of which seemed too difficult.
The main cornerstone of action in Pumpkin Jack comes from taking out mobs of enemies with a selection of six weapons that are unlocked in each level. These weapons include a shovel, a spell of crows, a cursed sword, a scythe, spear, and a shotgun. As a virtual shotgun enthusiast, I spent a majority of my time wielding the only firearm in the game not only because of personal preference, but also because it had my favorite attack animations of all the weapons. In the long term, no weapon has any meaningful advantage over another, so feel free to play with whatever your heart desires.
A more complicated combat system could have been a cherry on top for this treat of a game, as most enemies can be dispatched without too much dexterity. As a video game journalist, I have come to understand the harsh difficulty that comes with video game development, and Nicolas has done this all by himself aside from porting the game. I will take into consideration the limitations of solo game development, but perhaps a true 3D platformer was too far a reach for one person alone.
I’m excited by the traditional values of 3D platforming that are found in this game as it is one of my personal favorite genres, but the game does suffer from some of the common mistakes found in modern 3D platform making. One of which is that the load times do not match the playstyle. A game that involves insta-deaths and quickly depleting health bars should not have the player wait 20-30 seconds between reloading and respawning. This review was written using the Nintendo Switch port, and while I understand this is lesser hardware than other options, some things should have been taken into consideration when optimizing. Many of the optimization complaints I have may vary for different consoles and users, while that isn’t an excuse the game is otherwise a exciting addition to 3D platformers.
This currently sits at a base price of $29.99 across all boards, a steep price for an independent game. While we understand the grind and trouble Nicolas had to go through to make this game happen, that is just too much for a lot of people. Thankfully, we can always go digital. The game consistently goes on sale for under $20, and digital purchases make great money for those receiving as there is no production cost.
While the game is rather quick, the work put into it is nothing short of stupendous and I give a tribute to Nicholas Meyssonnier and his associates Yohan Jager and Adrien Lucas.
Spring has sprung but all I can say is “Happy Halloween.”