Play the role of the mythical Stingy Jack O’Lantern and help our anti-hero find his place in the Afterlife
Halloween is upon us, and what better indie title than Pumpkin Jack to get us in the right mood for this creepy annual celebration?
Not only is the title itself appropriate, but so is everything that inspired it. But we’ll get into more detail later.
Pumpkin Jack is the product of an excellent one man band, which was able to bring about the total creation of this little gem, and I’m talking about Nicolas Meyssonnier. Together with him is Adrien Lucas, that is, the “man who does the menus” and ports the game to consoles (and carries the solo dev guy).
It’s a classic 3D Platformer published by Headup Games and Beep Japan, and released on October 23rd, 2020 for both PC (Microsoft Windows) and Console (Play Station 4 and 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Series X/S ).
STINGY JACK AND THE DEVIL
I’d like to say a few words about Stingy Jack, the man who gave birth to the Halloween legend.
Stingy Jack was an Irish blacksmith (in fact, as is well known, the legend originated in Europe rather than America), a regular drinker, and a frequenter of pubs. He ran into the Devil one day while going to a bar to drink beer as usual, and they decided to go and drink together.
No surprise that the devil tried to steal man’s soul even on this occasion, but man outwitted him with cunning. Stingy Jack persuaded the devil to transform himself into a coin to pay for a last drink, in exchange for his soul, and once the transformation was complete, he managed to close the coin in the purse, next to a silver cross, preventing the devil from returning to its original form.
This is only the first time the blacksmith deceived and blackmailed the devil, who eventually promised never to redeem his soul. Stingy Jack, once dead, could not enter Heaven because of his misdeeds in life, nor could he go to hell because the devil kept his promise not to take his soul.
As a result, armed with a burning ember (which will then be placed inside a turnip) given to him as a gift by the devil to illuminate Jack’s path in the dark and cold of nowhere, the blacksmith’s soul began to wander in search of a place to rest.
And now we find ourselves in the midst of a new collaboration, pact, or blackmail between Stingy Jack and the Devil. Our story begins from here.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Just like in a fairy tale, the game begins with the first pages of an illustrated book and talks about the Great Arc en Ciel Kingdom. There is peace, coexistence, and prosperity in this magical land. Humans, animals, birds, and even little bunnies coexist so peacefully that nothing ever goes wrong. And everything is so perfect that it’s so damn boring.
Life in the Arc En Ciel Kingdom is so boring that even the Devil has had enough. So he begins to dream about catastrophes, plagues, war and suffering.
To spice things up, he summons The Curse of Eternal Night.
The world is immediately invaded by terrible mindless, soulless, and heartless monsters that devastate the lands, homes, and spirits of the inhabitants, who wish to return to their old and boring lives.
To accomplish this, they summon their “champion,” a mighty Wizard who intends to break the devil’s curse.
The latter, happy to accept the challenge, sends out his champion to take on the mighty Wizard: history’s greatest con artist and trickster. Stingy Jack, that’s him.
In exchange for access to the Afterlife, the Devil sends Jack in the form of a pumpkin to counter and stop the Wizard’s actions.
Will this pact succeed this time?
FIGHT LIKE A BLACKSMITH
Pumpkin Jack is set in a “cartoonish” environment and has the air of a fairytale, if a bit creepy, making it ideal for Halloween. The bright tones, deliberate use of lighting, and meticulous attention to detail all contribute to the creation of a captivating atmosphere that pays homage to the classic style of the PS2.
From the start of the game, Jack benefits from the assistance of two key allies: the Owl (Devil’s servant) and the Crow.
The Owl will lead our Jack down the right path, while the grumpy Crow will assist him in combat because it’s skilled at ranged attacks.
But, as it should be, the dirty work is up to our Jack, who will face the creatures that populate the levels, each of which always has new tests to overcome in a themed challenge.
The first weapon available to Jack is a large shovel, but as you progress, new and more powerful ones will become available, and you will have to select the most appropriate one based on the enemy to defeat.
The art of the attack combo is essential for defeating opponents. The main skills are dodging, timing and movement, but it doesn’t stop there.
Jack will have to use all of the light he has inside his empty pumpkin to solve a series of physics, gravity, and reflection puzzles, or even use specific strategies to reveal secrets, create paths, and much more.
THE HALLOWEEN’S ATMOSPHERE
Pumpkin Jack is inspired not only by the legend we discussed earlier, but also by recent works from the gaming industry and beyond.
The games that influenced the style and gameplay of this title are primarily MediEvil and Jak and Daxter.
MediEvil is the game that most influenced Pumpkin Jack’s style, both in terms of atmosphere and gameplay. SCE Cambridge Studio produced it in 1998, and it was later re-proposed in a very effective remake released in 2019.
Jak and Daxter, on the other hand, is a video game series created by Naughty Dog, with “The Precursor Legacy” being one of the first video games released for the PlayStation 2.
Another declared source of inspiration is Billy & Mandy’s special episode: Billy & Mandy’s Jacked-up Halloween.
Do you remember Maxwell Atoms’ The Grim Adventure of Billy & Mandy? If so, I’m guessing you’ve picked up on the obvious reference, namely the Scythe, which was stolen from Grim by Stingy Jack in the aforementioned episode and which appears in the game as one of the unlockable weapons. But not only that. Even the environment in general, but particularly some types of pumpkin with small legs that resemble an octopus.
To round out the list of references, we have Tim Burton, whose The Nightmare Before Christmas inspired the style of the North Level.
Pumpkin Jack is a perfect title to play on the slightly gloomy and foggy weekends of autumn. It’s adventurous, colorful, engaging, satisfying, and capable of creating that typical atmosphere of the slightly teen imaginary of the party most awaited by the youngest. Highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy nostalgia.