Way back in the mists of time, just in time for Halloween 2020 in fact, we reviewed the original Pumpkin Jack, liking it enough to give it a very respectable 4.5 out of a possible 5. Wind the clock forward to Halloween of 2021 and the next gen version of Pumpkin Jack is available as a free upgrade; a classy move by developer Nicholas Meyssonnier and publishers, Headup. So, I guess the question is, does a move to a new and shiny console generation make this a new and shiny game?
First off, I have to say that I came to Pumpkin Jack completely fresh. I somehow missed this game first time around (I blame going back to work after lockdown) and so I was a Pumpkin Jack newbie. For those of you in a similar boat, Pumpkin Jack is a “spooky, scary 3D platformer”, and to be fair, this sums it up pretty well.
The story of the game is that Jack, the only man ever to swindle the Devil, has been reincarnated by the very same Devil in order to be his Champion. He is tasked with stopping a powerful wizard who has the power to bring about the end of evil in the world. Now, clearly, the Devil has a vested interest in stopping this occurring, and he stuffs Jack’s spirit into a pumpkin, gives him a body, and sends him up to the world to stop the wizard.
This is easier said than done, as you’d expect. What Jack needs to do is go from his lowly beginnings – armed only with a shovel – to explore the world and find not only tools to help him win the fight, but also allies along the way. These allies come in a variety of forms, ranging from an Owl who seems to have been sent to keep an eye on Jack and keep him on target, via a crow who comes along on the journey after Jack defeats an evil scarecrow, to a sentient magical sword who offers to teach Jack about fighting. The list goes on. And the same can be said for the tools he picks up along the way, again ranging from a simple shovel, right up to a kind of spear thing. You can equip different weapons at will, but to be fair, I’ve found the sword to be the most effective weapon to use.
Now, the way Pumpkin Jack plays is split into two halves. There is the platforming part, including puzzles to solve, and the combat side. The platforming is the main focus of the game, and the news here is that it is pretty good. The controls are very much up to the job, and Jack comes equipped with a handy double jump that will allow you to clear big gaps. The only issue I have with the platforming is that Jack feels a bit, well, leggy when it comes to jumps, and it’s actually harder to make short jumps than it is long ones. His basic jump just seems too long in a way, and there have been a few annoying deaths as he has sailed past the intended platform.
But there’s more and Jack can also, in certain sections of the game, detach his head and use it to explore without the encumbrance of a body. He then becomes some kind of pumpkin/spider hybrid, and there are various puzzles to be solved here, each of which will allow progress. Generally, these involve moving an explosive to a heat source and blowing up a column, freeing the path forward. However, you will also be playing a variation on Whack-a-Mole, burning books and more as you go through the game.
Combat is the other side of the coin, and thankfully it is equally good. Jack needs to batter various monsters, who have decided they don’t appreciate the Devil trying to replace them with an upstart pumpkin, and so they have to be shown the error of their ways, preferably with a pointy bit of metal. Combo-ing the wrong ‘uns, dodging their attacks, calling on his crow friend to take out ranged enemies – the combat has a good flow to it, and while it isn’t going to trouble Dark Souls, the combat system is up to scratch.
Obviously, these types of games are nothing without a variety of enemies, and Pumpkin Jack has you covered with enemies ranging from tiny bats to sword wielding skeletons. Bosses are all present and correct, with many to go at, delivering memorable fights, even if they do borrow from the big book of platform game cliches. I mean, a boss that throws bombs at you, that you need to hit back to damage it? Check!
Now to the thing that the Xbox Series X|S version should bring to the table over that previously is an increase in graphical quality. Now, having never played the original, I have to judge this game purely on its merits: Pumpkin Jack looks great in the next-gen, with draw distances being very good, and little touches ensuring that the graphics pop. As an example, the collectibles – crow skulls – come with a pinkish glow and the visuals are sharp enough to be able to see where these are by the glow from the skulls. In fact, the light sources in the levels cast the right shadows, the animation of Jack and the enemies is bang on, and the imagination shown in the design of the levels, as well as the enemies, is very good indeed. The sound works equally, with great tunes to listen to, including a memorable remix of The Ride of the Valkyries on a mine cart level (yep, another cliche ticked off) as well as the combat sound effects.
Is there anything to dislike? Well, there’s only really one thing, and it’s an odd one. You see, if you want to play Pumpkin Jack on an Xbox Series X, you have to hard reset your console before you do, otherwise it will not load. If you restart the console, then immediately choose Pumpkin Jack, all is gravy. If you dare to play another game, or even go to the Microsoft Store, it will not load until it is restarted again. Granted, this isn’t a problem only associated with old pumpkin-head, but it does need pointing out.
In all though it’s been a pleasure to play Pumpkin Jack on Xbox Series X|S. It looks and sounds brilliant, comes with decent combat opportunities and will have you dipping in and out for a while, all as the exploration and hunting of skulls becomes all consuming. In fact, the character and story is good enough that I sincerely hope there will be a sequel.
You can pick up Pumpkin Jack on Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store