[PAX East 2020] Pumpkin Jack Hands-On First Look – This is Halloween This is Halloween Pumpkins Scream in the Dead of Night

Pumpkin Jack, a solo project by Nicolas Meyssonnier and published by Headup Studios, is without a doubt the most Halloween game, maybe ever. From what I understand, the game takes place in a kingdom befallen with a curse. The only hope lies with a magical being capable of stopping this catastrophe. You play as Pumpkin Jack, the curse. Your goal is to defeat the forces of good and usher in an age of spooky because that’s what Halloween is all about, baby.  

Pumpkin Jack gets its look from your classic PS2 game. The graphics, while certainly not anything new, are sharp. The foggy effects, emphasis on lighting, and the mix of cool and vibrant colors make the world come to life. Stylistically, Pumpkin Jack is the spiritual successor to MediEvil. Everything is exaggerated and caricaturish in the same comedic manner as a Rare studios game. And of course, the theme is obviously Halloween. Everything from the environment to the enemies to the weapons are Halloween themed. Spooky mines, fields of pumpkins (that, in an extremely disturbing way, Jack can smash to bits), and graveyards are some of the environments you can hope to see. 

The gameplay of Pumpkin Jack is much like that of other 3D platformers, taking heavy influence from titles such as Sly Cooper or MediEvil. The standard playstyle is simple. You run around, hack and slash, and collect various collectibles throughout the level. It’s the same as any classic 3D platformer, and it’s still great. Don’t change something that doesn’t need fixing.  

Much like MediEvil, the core of the gameplay comes from the weapons. While I was playing the Pumpkin Jack demo, the two main weapons I had access to was a large bone scythe, and a homing bat (animal, not baseball). Though from some screenshots I saw, it looks like there’s a lot more, including a glowing magic sword and some kind of firearm. Each weapon had its own little combo, i.e. you could pirouette with the spade and hit enemies in a spinning 360. 

The combat was fluid and fun and felt a bit like Darksiders. Most enemies, also inspired by your seasonal Spirit of Halloween pop-up store, consisted of skeletons, zombies, vampire bats and presumably, little plastic witches that play a recording of a cackle when you reach for some candy in the bowl. Not super difficult, but the demo I saw was early in the game. 

Frequently, however, the standard gameplay is cast aside. As the devs described, Pumpkin Jack likes to mix gameplay up, sort of like Uncharted. You may be platforming one minute, and the next you’re running through the collapsing remains of a burning barn (the barn, however, is something like a two miles long, and made entirely out of gasoline infused wood, making for quite an intense jog). Or you might ride on the classic minecart rollercoaster, and really who doesn’t love that. But for me the most interesting part was when Jack knocked off his own head and sprouted tentacles from the bottom, leading to a purely platforming level where all you can do is jump and bang your head into stuff to interact with it. 

As you can probably guess, the game is scheduled for around October. For a solo project, Pumpkin Jack is incredible. I only played about 30 minutes, but from what I saw, it’s an extremely polished and fun game. Pumpkin Jack is not only a great homage to MediEvil, it also adds some modern improvements (like a dodge roll). It’s only March but I’m already ready for Halloween. I’m also looking forward to a wave of costumes where people put an entire slimy pumpkin on their head. 

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