Pumpkin Jack is back! No, not with a new game, but around Halloween the game finally received some next-gen updates to make it run smoother on the Xbox Series X|S and PS5. At the same time, the developer also fixed some longstanding issues with the achievements that wouldn’t track correctly so now seemed like the perfect time to finally light the candle in our hollowed-out pumpkin head and dig in.
I saw a lot of friends reinvested in playing the title just before Halloween, but sadly an issue kept the game from launching if your console had HDR enabled and I also heard concerns about savefile getting lost, which is why I opted a little longer to play the game and try to experience it in its best possible shape.
Blast from the past
Pumpkin Jack certainly has a great hook to being played around All Hallow’s Eve with its themes of monsters, hell and above all the titular protagonist donning the orange vegetable for a head.
Ever since the first gameplay footage was shared on Twitter, I felt drawn to the nice aesthetics and gameplay that somehow reminded me of Playstation classics like Medievil and Maximo. Your movement feels much alike and you can also endure only a few hits before you perish.
Especially the bosses pack quite a punch, but luckily they have predictable patterns and it shouldn’t take too long for experienced players familiar with the genre to make short work of them.
Lots of variation
The majority of the game is spent jumping from platform to platform, trying to get to the next objective or collectable crow skull, and fighting of waves of minions. But as you might suspect, that’s a gameplay loop that could get boring rather quickly. The developer probably realised the same thing and thus implemented something new to experience in every level.
You’ll often have to twist of your head and solve puzzles with just your smaller version that crawls around. These are small challenges to break up the pace, ranging from knocking a bomb closer to explosives, playing a game of Simon says or Whack-A-Mole, and even knocking the right shapes of presents towards Santa in his workshop (yes, really!)
You’ll also have to perform some skilled vehicle sequences like staying afloat on the ferryman’s ghostly barge or riding a minecart across some broken tracks. These are a lot of fun, but failing them results in your immediate demise and sometimes the camera works against you and you won’t see the next obstacle coming.
Something I could also appreciate are the many musical intermissions. The game already has a great soundtrack full of modern renditions of classic songs by long-dead composers (because they are now public domain and therefore free to use), but it also brings attention to the music by inserting a collectable gramophone in each level and having Jack perform a little dance.
(The music in the one below was edited in by me, it just reminded me of a TikTok trend that is currently popular)
Exploration is rewarded not only with collectables (the crow skulls you find can be exchanged for new skins, quite literal ones) but also by hiding winks and nudges to pop culture. It all adds to the lighthearted humor and self-aware jokes that are present throughout the game. There are even quite a lot of fourth-wall-breaking jabs at fetch quests and the typical structure games make you go through to complete them.
Not all perfect
While it’s very impressive that a game with this level of polish was made by a solo dev, there are still some issues that reared their (pumpkin) heads here and there, though it’s very possible these bugs were caused by the porting to consoles.
Quite often I found myself walking in the air after a failed jump that should have killed me or clipping through the environment and having to restart the game to get out of a location I shouldn’t have had access to.
Also very common was an issue caused by a transparency shader: I imagine it was added to help with the platforming and keeping the camera from obscuring your view with random objects, but it frequently occurred that a bridge would suddenly become transparent as well, making it hard to estimate where to jump or crossing a beam of light make the entire screen fade to a purple colour that didn’t seem entirely intentional.
How long to beat and complete
My first run through the main game took me around ~6 hours but I spent a lot of time looking around for collectables without consulting a guide. If you’re going for the main adventure alone I imagine it would take closer to 5 hours to beat.
There is a fun achievement list however that requires you to find 1 gramophone and 20 skulls per level and then a few final achievements for purchasing every costume for jack and getting all the other chores checked off your list.
It’s pretty straightforward and very doable if you use a guide. Completing the game with all collectables shouldn’t take much longer unless you have to go through each level again from scratch because you only missed 1 or 2 skulls per level. That being said, exploring every nook and cranny brings its own rewards like finding these boney fellas jamming:
Final word on Pumpkin Jack
Pumpkin Jack is a blast to play, it’s got an amazing visual appeal with its colourful yet dark horror-themed environments, fun levels to explore and plenty of variation to keep things fresh.
The basic combat can grow rather stale but exploring levels, searching for collectables and the large variety of things to do for such a short title makes it very much worth its asking price. This is one indie game you definitely shouldn’t miss, especially if you share a fondness for the classics it drew inspiration from.
*disclaimer: Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Prefer to see the game in action? Here’s a playthrough of the first level, captured on Xbox Series X: