Pumpkin’ Jack (Feature Review) Xbox Series X/S

Pumpkin’ Jack (Feature Review) Xbox Series X/S
Review Score:

The Halloween Holiday may now be a distant memory, along with all its ghouls, ghosts and goblins; but the legend of Pumpkin’ Jack continues to live on as a remastered release for Microsoft’s next-gen console system(s). As ‘Jack’ the Pumpkin Lord, the player is sent back to the physical realm to do the Devil’s bidding. 

Before the game starts, the player is introduced to an owl [Name?] who serves as Jack’s guide. This sarcastic, outspoken avian ‘friend’, provides directions on how to survive the cleverly disguised obstacle course, which serves as the game’s tutorial.

During this brief, but challenging experience – the player must run, climb platforms, and double-jump his way across highly suspended planks that either remain stationary or move (i.e spin, etc) to complete the given objectives. During this brief, but transitional experience, the player is also introduced to a few combat scenarios (more on this later) to become familiar with the in-game controls. This not only sets the stage for what lays ahead for the player, but it also provides a brief glimpse into the game’s easy-to-grasp control scheme, and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts-like combat system. Some may argue its more like Maximo for Playstation 2, but I digress.

After finishing the tutorial, Jack encounters a group of crows who need his assistance. They are terrified of a manmade scarecrow that haunts a nearby field. In exchange for helping them, the crows promise to assist Jack with future missions. (These crows become very useful later in the game: more on them later.) This mission – which is the first of many – also includes a boss battle involving the scarecrow. 

Gameplay is a combination of both hack ‘n slashing and platforming, presented in a puzzle-like fashion. There is a handful of melee weapons available for Jack to use (the shovel being the first of many), and it does a fair job of dealing damage against the pumpkin-headed undead that attack the player. Combat is fairly simple in how its executed, as it involves rapidly tapping the X button to make Jack attack with whatever melee weapon he has equipped (i.e. shovel, spear, scythe, etc.). The player can also ‘dodge’ incoming attacks by pressing the B button. This will send Jack into a fast roll, which can be controlled by the Left Analog Stick. Pressing the A button will make Jack jump. 

With that said, there are brief moments of greatness when battling some of the Devil’s minions. A good example of this is inside the mine (found later in the game), where Jack has to fend off countless minions, while pushing explosive mine carts to block passageways to open them. In addition to this, the player has to fend off a horde of demonic rats, while also navigating platforms containing spinning racks of sharp blades.

As fun as this may sound, there are times (especially when jumping) where the controls feel a bit floaty. This tends to affect the gameplay when navigating the game’s more egregious traps, as mentioned above (to name only one). What may seem like a well-timed jump on the player’s behalf, may sometimes result in Jack falling off a platform (at the most inopportune of moments), or ending up in the path of a dangerous trap that could end the game. This issue doesn’t seem to affect combat or some of the game’s more challenging puzzles (more on these puzzles in a moment), but the platforming segments tend to be far more challenging than they should be, because of the aforementioned issue.

As mentioned earlier, Pumpkin Jack contains a multitude of mini-style puzzle games that add variety to the hack ‘n slash action. For example: there are times when Jack will literally have to use his ‘head’ to overcome obstacles. A good example of this feat is when the player encounters an impassable rock wall early on during the game. The player must a pumpkin-headed statue to decapitate Jack, and then use his head to move a bomb to the end of a level. This is not as easy as it sounds.

When the player pushes the bomb with Jack’s head, a trajectory path is shown where the bomb needs to be taken and where it will land when hit by the player. (The player can ‘hit’ the bomb by pressing X button). The player must be careful not to hit the bomb off the platforms, or the level will start over. Along the way, the player will have to ‘hit’ levers to lower boxes that block the way. When a box is lowered, the player only has a few brief moments available to hit the bomb past  the lowered box/platform before it resets. Even though this sounds simple, it takes fast reflexes and quick thinking to accomplish.

These segments may seem punishing at first (this is due to the targeting system having a somewhat challenging learning curve),  but once its figured out, the challenge of navigating the bomb becomes quite easy. Moreover, if the player moves the bomb far enough away from where Jack starts (and the player happens to die in the process), the bomb will remain where it lays. Only the player starts at the beginning of the level, thus having to make their way back to where the bomb was ‘hit’ to last.

Another mini game segment involves riding a mine cart on a dilapidated rail system. This fast-action sequence sees the player jumping over severed tracks and pressing LB (Left Button) to use the crow to break through wooden obstacles that impede Jack’s progress. The player must also use the Left Analog stick to keep Jack on the rails, when the mining cart takes deep, fast turns. It’s an entertaining experience that feels very arcade-esque in presentation and it adds to the game’s overall appeal. Oddly enough, this mini game (and others like it) are not difficult to play (let alone master) the first time through. Despite this, it’s another welcoming diversion to the Hack ‘n Slash pedigree. 

As a game, Pumpkin’ Jack is an entertaining hack ‘n slashing platformer that can be played anytime (and not just during Halloween or during the chilly months of Fall). The jumping physics could use a little work, but everything else translates into a cohesive gaming experience on Microsoft’s next gen console(s), the Series X/S. Pumpkin’ Jack is definitely worthy of attention and the price of admission (which is $29.99USD at the time of writing this review).

Mike Pittaro
Platform: Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Publisher: Headup
ESRB: T (Teen)
Price: $29.99

Official Website: Click Here

Review Score
Bright, colorful graphics comprise the ghoulish world of Pumpkin Jack.
The soundtrack works, but it doesn't provide anything memorable. It does a good job of setting the mood, though.
If the jumping mechanics were more solid, Pumpkin' Jack would be perfect.
Pumpkin' Jack is a bold effort that delivers on its promise - fast action and frantic combat.
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