By Aaron Dias
Pumpkin Jack is a game that left me asking “is this all there is?” And that was before I learned that the whole thing can be completed in four hours. It has the feel of a well-polished game, but I suspect that’s easier to do when you’re only working with small variations of the same game elements for every level. Everything in this game is so similar that to write this review I had to pull out a thesaurus for the word “same.”
Each stage has a different theme, but somehow they all feel identical. You see carbon-copy boxes, crates, and platformed towers in every environment. Every level consists of two auto-scrolling action sequences and two puzzle/mini-game sections wrapped around a mostly linear path of basic combat and platforming. Even the bosses are all clones of the same premise: avoid predictable attacks for 30 seconds, hit the boss, then do a Xerox copy of that two more times with less floor each time.
The real meat of the game is the platforming and combat, so let’s spend a little bit of time talking about them. As a platformer, it mostly works. My real complaint here is that when you use your double jump, it continues the momentum from the first jump. This isn’t a huge problem, because all the platforming is pretty basic, but it does leave you feeling a loss of control and that’s not ideal for the genre.
As an action-combat game, it completely fails. For starters, it doesn’t allow you to customize your controls. Since I play a lot of these types of games and they all have different attack, dodge, and jump buttons, I prefer to set them in a specific way. When I can’t do that I find myself jumping when I should be dodging, and I hate the idea of completely relearning my button placements for a mediocre four-hour game. All the weapons you get, including a shotgun, are short-ranged and do very little damage. This makes dodging essential, and not something for which you want to be scrambling to find the right button. The game makes a big deal of providing you with a new weapon at the end of each level, but since they all handle pretty much the same, I don’t see the point.
The good news is there’s very little reason to engage in combat. Since there’s no experience, levels, or upgrading in the game, you won’t be underpowered if you just skip it all. I found I could just run past nearly 80% of the enemies without any consequence at all. You will take damage, but you’re never far away from a full health refill, so even that doesn’t matter. I would have preferred to increase the difficulty level to adjust for this problem, but hard mode is not an option.
The story is fun, if underdeveloped. It’s a horror game that favors being spooky over being scary and you play as a sarcastic spirit working on behalf of the Devil. I found the concept of playing as a bad guy working to end world peace to be a breath of fresh air. All the characters you come across are cute and quirky, which meshes with the overall aesthetic well. It gave me a real Nightmare Before Christmas vibe, and not only because the protagonist of both is a pumpkin-themed Jack.
It’s a game that despite its flaws, I might be able to recommend to hardcore fans of the 3D action-platformer genre, but not at its current price point. For a game this short with so little to offer, you’ll certainly feel like you’ve overpaid by the end. Just wait a few years and look for a good sale and you might feel like you got your money’s worth.