Pumpkin Jack arrived at Gamecell HQ a tad late for a Halloween review but it's of little matter, PJ is a good enough platform adventure to play any time of the year, and Jack really gets into the Christmas spirit too!
Playing as the Pumpkin-headed Jack, the Mythical Pumpkin Lord, the game is set in otherworldly landscapes and you're tasked by the devil himself to annihilate everything that's good. You're advised and guided by two winged companions; an owl who tells you where to go and what to do when there, and a crow who sits on your head but turns out to be a very useful ally as he can be used as a ranged, lock-on attack.
Pumpkin Jack is a dark yet light-hearted game that plays like a lot of favourites of yesteryear that we just don't seem to have enough of anymore, such as Banjo Kazooie, Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Rayman, Psychonauts, Conker–they're all clearly inspirations for Jack's adventure. What we get is a polished mixture of platforming and exploration on the main levels, which are of the linear 'big old corridor'-type, but quite cleverly designed so the twisty over-and-under paths through them can be quite a challenge. You're gonna need a decent sense of direction at times because there's no map, and finding all the collectible skulls and gramophones is a serious challenge.
As interludes, there are spectacular mine cart runs,( in which you have to lean into corners, shoot down wooden barriers and time your jumps carefully), there's a section where Jack removes his pumpkin head and toddles around like a spider-thing, a game of "Simon" with mushrooms, a Whack-a-Mole style mini-game with Jack's head, a game of pairs with gravestones, some Destruction Derby-style go-kart races with 3 suicidal knights in armour, boat trips on a very dodgy boat and even a ghost horse race...
Control over Jack is very precise, and while I feel it could be a little bit less sensitive, once you realise that the smallest movements of the Xbox controller equal Jack's smallest movements, all the fiddly jumps and narrow ledges are easily passable as the overall level of control is so good. I've also fallen a number of times and rescued things by double-jumping from thin air back to safety–something that all the best platform adventures let you do.
Jack is completely and utterly hydrophobic, so any contact with water is insta-death, which may be a convenient way of defining the path and boundaries of a level but really limits the gameplay too.
Pumpkin Jack is a polished game with barely a glitch for us to report–although we're not convinced that Jack floating around most of the time isn't a quick bug fix... Regardless of that the game is even more impressive when you consider that the original game was made solo by Nicolas Meyssonnier, whose future projects are clearly worth looking out for.
Not quite a classic, Pumpkin Jack is a wonderfully playable game that most seasoned platform fans will find completing very achievable, although it's definitely not easy or recommended for novices. A few tricky levels and tough but samey boss battles will extend the challenge, but it's not a big game although at a price of £11.24 on the Xbox Store it's a bargain for fans of the genre.