Friday, November 13, 2020

A Quick Run - Pumpkin Jack

It is often lamented that the state of the game industry at large tends to crowd out the kind of low-budget, mid-tier platformers that were commonplace in the PlayStation 1 era. For every Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon, there was a Jersey Devil or some other such game that, while not the pinnacle of its genre, was entertaining enough to hold its own in the annals of gaming history.

As it so happens, I was in the mood for one such game when my good friend Chris, of the Marvelous/Dark Duo fame, gave me a copy of Pumpkin Jack. I was intrigued enough by it that I wanted to show it off for a bit on my Wednesday stream.

It's exactly what I was hoping for. Not perfect, but good enough to satisfy the itching I had for a mid-tier platforming game.

From what I gather, Pumpkin Jack was mostly the pet project of a single man: Nicolas Meyssonnier, with some aid in the OST and UI departments. And as a product of a small team, I must say I'm impressed with what I've seen.

All of the bones of a solid platformer are here. Movement is fluid and the controller are smooth enough that I never feel like the game is fighting me. Even the gimmick sections have very responsive controls that do exactly what I want them to do. Part of that may be due to the simplicity of said controls, but I can hardly complain if the game doesn't feel the need to bog itself down in overly complex mechanics.

The art style is charming and in way that harkens back to my beloved Medievil. It plays in the classic tropes of horror and Halloween while being delightfully approachable for players of all ages. And it's back by an OST that doesn't exactly what it needs to do in setting the tone without standing out. That might sound like a complaint, but sometimes the best soundtracks are the ones that fade in into the background to compliment the work that they're being used in. There's also enough personality in the characters that they get to play off of each other in lovably affable ways.

Most of the complaints I could level at Pumpkin Jack feel petty. The game feels easy, even for a platformer meant for kids. As you can see in the VOD, I came close to being defeated in combat a number of times, but that's mostly because I wasn't focusing on it and taking more hits than I realistically should have if I was more seriously playing it. Even the platforming feels like it could stand to be less forgiving than it is in order to impose more challenge. There's some escalation later on, but I have died significantly less than I have in most other games in the genre.

Additionally, it feels like the different weapons are mostly cosmetic, not adding a whole lot of meaningful change to the gameplay structure. It would have been nice to see new mechanics added to the kit as our inventory expands. I am largely doing the same thing at the point of the game I'm playing now that I did when I was streaming this as of the time of writing, and while level design can certainly alleviate a lot of that (which it has in fairness), there could be a Metroid-esque accumulation of abilities.

But overall, this is a fun game that I'm hope gets a few more eyeballs on it as a result of I and other people spreading the word. There's solid work put into this game that I would like to be rewarded.

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