As someone that grew up with 3D platformers and has been disappointed with their decline in the past decade or so, Pumpkin Jack was definitely a game on my radar. We’re now a little over a week out from Halloween, so it’s time to give it a look.
Fun gameplay. As I said, I am a big fan of 3D platformers. I played a ton of them during the GameCube/PS2 era and some of my all-time favorite games fall into that very genre. So imagine how excited I was when I hopped into Pumpkin Jack and found that – yes – it plays just like the 3D platformers of old. You’ve got the solid platforming mechanics, the numerous collectibles to find, and even the boss fights structured in 3 stages. You’ll go through a boss’ series of attacks, immobilize it, hit it, and repeat the process two more times with the boss using new moves each time. That’s a classic from the genre and one that Pumpkin Jack does well while also making each boss feel unique.
And the levels are more than just platforming. Sure, the base platforming is the bulk of the experience, but you’ll frequently get segments where you’re riding a minecart through a rollercoaster of tracks, being carried by a gargoyle through a mazelike cemetery, or otherwise taking a break from just raw platforming. It’s not a difficult game by any means, but it’s definitely a fun one and it has all the core mechanics on lock.
Straightforward game design. Pumpkin Jack is not a game that tries to do anything special. You won’t find complex game mechanics, tacked-on features, or any of the other usual filler you find in bigger-budget games. It’s very much a game that knows what it is and sticks with it until the end, not straying from that path. I’ve come to appreciate games that take this straightforward approach. Sure, they’re not going to be setting any records, but it’s nice to sit back and play a 3D platformer that just focuses on that aspect and nothing more.
And it doesn’t overstay its welcome either, offering a smoothly paced experience that took me just over three hours to clear. I imagine many will see that as too short, but as I said, this is a game that knows what it is and doesn’t pad itself with filler or other unnecessary gimmicks to inflate the playtime. This is part of the reason why the game felt so nostalgic to me as a lot of the older 3D platformers took this very approach. With all of the games coming out nowadays, it’s nice to have a breather like this.
Nice aesthetic and overall polish. Of course, coming out during Spooktober with a Halloween theme is a perfect match, and Pumpkin Jack does a pretty good job with it. The levels, while not complex in their design, are all tuned to this aesthetic, whether that be a haunted mine, a cursed swamp, or even a Nightmare Before Christmas-themed village. The overall graphical style is simplistic, but again, is a nice fit for a 3D platformer. And the music too, while not groundbreaking, is equal parts spooky and goofy, depending on the level.
What also surprised me was how polished the game felt. This is a game mostly developed by one guy, so the fact that it runs well at 1440p, unlimited fps, and without any freezing, crashes, or other bugs honestly puts the bigger studios to shame. Granted, I wasn’t able to test the RTX features, but otherwise, I had no issues playing through the game in its entirety.
Floaty controls. Unfortunately, Pumpkin Jack commits the one cardinal sin of 3D platformers: floaty controls. This applies to the game’s movement in general – there’s a clear turn rate when trying to flip directions – but is most noticeable when in the air. Jumping, for example, does not feel precise and lacks the control that I would usually expect from a 3D platformer. This leads to the controls not feeling entirely intuitive and makes precision platforming a lot more difficult. Fortunately, the game is not heavy on precision platforming, so it becomes less of a problem once you get used to it, but it’s still something I hate to see in any 3D platformer.
Disappointing combat. I wouldn’t say that the combat is necessarily “bad” here, especially given how straightforward the platforming and general game design is, but there were some aspects of it that just came off as disappointing. For one, every time you clear a level, you unlock a new weapon. That sounds great at first, until you realize that all of these weapons basically play the same way and there’s really not a need to swap back to any of the previous ones, even though you are given that option.
Even something that seems like it could be different – the shotgun – just boils down to spamming the same button until the enemies are all dead, albeit with a little more range than the previous weapons. It would have been cool if the game had more than one attack button, even the two-button “light attack” and “heavy attack” system would have been more interesting.
Pumpkin Jack is a reminder that you don’t need a bunch of fluff to make a fun video game. It’s designed in the same way as the 3D platformers from decades past and does a great job capitalizing on what made them fun, with solid platforming mechanics, cool level variety, and even a nice aesthetic and sense of polish to top it all off. Granted, the combat leaves a bit to be desired and the floaty controls are definitely a major problem, but it’s still a game I would recommend. If you’re a fan of the platformers from the GameCube/PS2 era, this is one to keep an eye on.
You can buy Pumpkin Jack on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.