Into the Repository of Happy Accidents goes Evil Pumpkin: The Lost Halloween
, a daffy, madcap Casual Adventure game that is more gonzo than general interest. I'm pretty sure it's not going to suit all tastes - be warned - but if you get the flavor of it, you'll find it tasty.
This game is an adventure game with a light dusting of hidden object scenes, rather than vice versa. Right out of the gate, Evil Pumpkin invites you to play in Casual style (with hints and Hidden-Object puzzles), Adventurer style (no Hidden Objects, some hints), or in Epic Adventurer mode (no hints, no Hidden Objects, no active-area display on the map). Thinking this would be the usual paranormal downstream paddle, I went for Epic Adventurer. Surprise! This game is hard! My playthrough in this mode took 19 hours, almost twice what a regular player would put in with Casual mode, and involved some baffled recourse to the few video playthroughs that have been made for this title.
In brief: you are a young boy living with your distant father outside the hamlet of Dern, under the constellation of the Octopus. You are curious about Halloween, because, well, where did it go? There are some strange doings in the house, and then you meet the Talking Owl, and then things start getting really
My expectations for the game were low. I gave away a copy a couple of weeks ago on Steamgifts, and I got curious about how it played. It came to me in a Groupees Casual bundle, and with this modest provenance and a set of mixed-to-poor reviews on Steam, I figured I'd get six hours' mild diversion, give or take.
In fact, the game turns out to have a lot of solid thought under the hood. It's made by Two Desperados, a small studio in Belgrade, which accounts for some hit-or-miss wording - the translations are solid, but the expression a little clunky - and some barking-mad voicing, complete with heavy accents. Like, Outstarwalker sounds like a native speaker in comparison (for those who watch the GOG Twitch channel). Many of the minor parts are voiced, I gather, by one guy, doing gruff and squeaky voices in turns. It's, well, it's kind of awesome.
Some will surely be annoyed at this, but I chose to look at it as intentional hilarity, done in the same ramshackle spirit as a B-movie indie monster picture will do the special effects it can't afford. The game is raggedy and smart, bursting with personality, well put together and full of cheeky puns. Some of the jokes are playful manglings of the titles of books on their bookshelves ("Donkey Hot," for one) and names of wine bottles in their racks - we get Chianti Alighieri, and Marilyn Merlot, and more, and you'll get an achievement for cycling through all of these, so clearly someone
was proud of the funny. Others are snappy quips in the descriptions and comments from the characters. These latter range widely in quality, rather like Dad Jokes, from seriously clever to funny-for-foreigners. There is more and better humor in this game than in anything I've played in ages.
Sometimes this playful approach obfuscates already obscure puzzles. There are some pretty zany challenges here. One or two were so hopelessly lateral in design that I seriously missed my absent Hint button. Most, though, are the clever kind that seem impossible but begin to unfurl as you poke away at them. There's a fair amount of trial and error, but not enough to be generally daunting.
On the downside, the story can be hard to follow, in part because of the game's bad habit of moving documents and backstory into your journal in partial, abbreviated format. In some cases, as with an important newspaper clipping in the early part of the story, the information goes to the journal without ever displaying to the player, and I often found myself catching up with plot that the game already took for granted. Who were these people? I didn't know, but they were funny. (The first guy I was sent to interogate in town was convinced that I was suffering from a severe and debilitating short disease, and could not understand that I was simply a little boy.)
In addition to the oddball main story, there are tiny hard candies to collect in each scene, and you can use these to buy Halloween decorations for your backyard in a cute but unrelated side game.
Overall, Evil Pumpkin is attractive but not posh, and endlessly clever rather than polished. Puzzles are well-designed and only occasionally ludicrous; voicing is terrible, in a really fun way, and the devs have used real wit and brass to patch over the gaps in their indie budget. I had a blast playing it, complete with frustrations. My guess is that you'll like or loathe this game based on how much you can appreciate a smart punster, rather than whether the type of game is your usual pudding. My gaming year to date