Critique: Pumpkin

be nimble, be a dick

Holloween. Ichabod Blade. Pumpkin Spice Blahtte.

These are all sub-headers that I was eager to use in case Pumpkin turned out bad. Unhappy for my production of anticipated puns, Pumpkin is not bad. It's not great, but it's definitely more treats than tricks.

Pumpkin (PC, PS4, commutateur, Xbox One [reviewed])
Developer: Nicolas Meyssonnier
Publisher: Headup
Sortie: 23 octobre 2022 (PC, Switch, Xbox One), TBD (PS4)
MSRP: $ 29,99

Pumpkin immediately passes the sniff test. It's a seasonal mascot platformer, the kind of thing you both watch and know you want to play. It's dripping in style, each of the six Halloween-themed levels in its own aesthetic way. Well, except one level isn't really Halloween themed, but it's probably a spoiler, so I digress.

Mechanically, Pumpkin feels like it's evenly split between platforming and action combat. The first is surprisingly fluid as the eponymous Pumpkin has a double jump that gives the protagonist a lot of aerial control. In a game with a ton of chasms where missed jumps mean instant death, Pumpkin won't leave you feeling like too many failures were cheap and out of your hands. That's about all you can ask of a 3D platformer.

The fights are not as high. Pumpkin's combat wants to be a combo-based Darksiders thrill, but it's much shallower than that. Enemies absorb a bunch of damage, but you're able to withstand more. A good number of baddies are on screen at once, but their tendency to crowd together (apart from a few range-based types) means your wide-radius hits take them all out equally. With each new stage comes a new type of weapon, an obvious attempt to liven things up. That doesn't help much. Combat is mostly just an exercise in spam attacking until it's all dead.

That's why Pumpkin excels when it wants you to solve puzzles, platform and explore. There are 21 collectibles in each level and you know I've found every one of them. It is a joy to comb every square inch of this world. However, when these fight sequences appear, you are usually eager to overcome them.

In a way, that's not all there is to Pumpkin. Each level also includes at least one on-rails centerpiece, boss fight, and sidequest diversions. Pumpkin can rip its head off and make it crawl like a spider. These sections are for mini-games that don't necessarily fit into the context of the larger game. For example, sometimes the head has to play whack-a-mole to clear the way forward. Other times he has to match the names on the tombstones in a concentration clone. It really is more than you expect.

All this is in the service of an uninviting narrative. Pumpkin is tasked by the devil to eliminate a wizard who is trying to do good by humanity. What follows is a continuation of that goal throughout the game. There are a few twists, but this eight-hour game doesn't have a really up-and-flowing story. It remains fairly static and that makes it largely forgettable - even when it's actually played.

It's to Pumpkin's credit that something keeps pulling me in. I didn't care so much that the story didn't feel substantial to me or that the fight was a slog. I was more interested in jumping through this fantastic Halloween world and seeing what secrets it hid. I wanted to know what weird minigames were around the corner.

When you make sweets or treats, you don't come back 100% with sweets you like. There's some amazing stuff mixed in, stuff you put up with to get to sweets you can't wait to eat. It is a perfect analogue for Pumpkin. You will exceed some parts of it because this mascot platformer has very high qualities. And, seen as a whole, a bucket full of candy isn't so bad.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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