Pumpkin Jack Review – PlayStation 4

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While not originally developed on the PlayStation, it’s pretty obvious that developer Nicolas Meyssonnier holds classic PlayStation platformers like MediEvil, Jak and Daxter, and Sly Cooper very close to his heart because Pumpkin Jack is all of those titles wrapped into one nearly perfect package.  Wait, what’s that you’re asking?

Oh yes, I said that the developer was Nicolas Meyssonnier…and no, that’s not a company, that’s a guy,  One guy.  A French guy.  A French guy who’s not named Michel Ancel.  In fact, he might be even a bit more impressive than Michel Ancel (Rayman, Beyond Good and Evil) because Nicolas Meysssonnier does all his own work. From concept to coding, Pumpkin Jack is made by one dude.  Amazing.  So what’s it like? If I said “amazing” one more time would that break some writing rule about overusing an adjective?

The game starts off with a rather impressive opening cinematic telling of how the world was so happy and relaxed and perfect that the Devil himself was bored.  So for a little fun, he sends down an army of monsters to tear up the perfectly boring world.  The King of the land asks his Wizard to defend the world against the Devil’s army.  Feeling challenged, the Devil conjures up the lost spirit of Stingy Jack (Google the Stingy Jack legend for a background) and promises to free him from his otherworldly imprisonment if he will defeat the Wizard.  Armed with a new body and a pumpkin for a head, the spirit of Jack takes off on his quest.

The gameplay starts off a bit rough around the edges – taking on the perspective of a 3D platformer (Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper) I initially wasn’t all that impressed with what I was experiencing.  The controls seemed stiff and unresponsive, the world seemed simple and sparse, and there were some weird screen glitches that left Jack floating in mid-air apparently attached to some phantom tree branches or something.  I was actually tempted to put the controller down and walk away when I happened upon the Crow, who volunteers to be Jack’s companion and ranged attack weapon as long as Jack defeats the Scarecrow who has been menacing the flock.  Once we set off as a team, the space world became much fuller, the enemies more detailed and challenging, and the story more intriguing – it wasn’t long before I was hooked on this adventure.

Jack picks up a series of weapons along the way – starting with a shovel, a spear, a scythe, a shotgun, and a sword.  Now that I look at that in writing, the developer must have had a thing for weapons that start with the letter “S”.  In English, from a Frenchman.  Weird.  Obviously, these weapons are specialized for various situations which may range from simple fireball-shooting piked “dead-heads”, to slow moving zombie knights, to swarms of nesting mice, and eventually the half-dozen boss characters.  The crow can be used similar to a hunting falcon for long-range attacks – taking out some enemies, momentarily stunning others – but it must fly (almost) completely back to Jack before it can be sent out again.  This makes juggling weapon selection and crow management very important, especially in the white-knuckle boss battles.

There are a number of mini-game challenges that must be completed in the game – many of which involve the use of Jack’s detached pumpkin head, which moves about with octopus legs.  These puzzles typically have the player pushing boxes, bombs, or blocks to destroy some object or to reach some height to throw a switch.  Most of these are pretty straightforward and simple and come across as obvious nods to classic puzzle games – some even offering Trophies named “Crash Boo-dicoot” “Bomberman” and “Whack-A-Mole”.  There are also a couple of action levels that throw Jack into an exhilarating Indiana Jones-style mine cart sequence and a Headless Horsemen-style ghost horse ride.  These are by far the most exciting moments of the game and really showcase the care that went into the game’s development.

Clocking in at roughly six hours start-to-finish, Pumpkin Jack certainly isn’t as epic of an adventure as one of the aforementioned classics, but it really does deliver a rewarding experience that gamers will remember for a long time.  A great deal of that is due to the overall presentation which combines the gothic graveyard aesthetic of Maximo/Medieval and the cute cartoony look of Jak and Daxter and Rayman.  The audio soundtrack is superb, and really adds to the gothic vibe, without sounding at all contrived or repetitive.  The cinematics are overdubbed with fantastic narration and voice acting, but the in-game dialogue is all text-based – thankfully the dialog is brief and generally humorous, so it hardly detracts from the experience.

Pumpkin Jack is a great game, even better/enhanced on the PS4 Pro, and especially given the fact that it was mostly built by one person.  If he keeps on delivering amazing games like Pumpkin Jack, Nicolas Meyssonnier may very well be the Michel Ancel of the new gaming generation.  Platformer fans need to get this game.