Capcom might have missed the mark when they decided to turn Tim Burton’s dark animated fairy tale into a sort of Jack Skellington May Cry, but handheld fans are in for a surprise treat with The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King. The portable effort’s been handled by TOSE, the people behind the cute Japanese platforming series Starfi, which has surprisingly never found its way over. Thankfully, the fruits of their labor finally arrive in the good ol’ US of A courtesy of their ability to buck the licensing stigma and create an entertaining platformer that not only treats its license with respect, but also manages to work well strictly as a game.
Whereas Oogie’s Revenge crafted a tale set after the events of The Nightmare Before Christmas, TOSE plays it safe here and sticks to a prequel, introducing the first meeting between Jack Skellington and arch villain of Halloweentown’s residents, Oogie Boogie. TOSE didn’t have to worry about messing around with the same elements Capcom did — replacing Danny Elfman’s unforgettable lyrics with brand-new material must have been a daunting task for the Oogie Boogie’s Revenge development team. Being restricted to GBA technology probably had something to do with this, but nonetheless, it means The Pumpkin King’s additional remixed music and inspired visuals act as a compliment to everything fans love about the film, rather than trying (and failing) to one up what was accomplished in the movie.
You find that most companies entrusted with creating a licensed video game couldn’t care less about the end product; the name is supposed to sell itself. Japan’s love for The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to have paid off, though; while The Pumpkin King appears to be your standard platformer on the surface, it’s actually a surprising, fantastic hybrid of the gameplay found in the recent Metroid and Castlevania games.
Jack starts off with a limited number of abilities, slowly earning them as he progresses further and meets more of Halloweentown’s colorful cast. There are dozens of areas he won’t be able to initially access until he returns with more abilities, and what makes The Pumpkin King different from, say Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, is that none of these areas are required to complete the game. TOSE has designed the perfect licensed game for children and adults alike; the younger folk can blow straight through the game from start to finish, while experienced gamers can use the accessible map to navigate towards all the game’s secrets. On the other hand, there’s not much to the secrets (only concept art and the like), but not only is it more than you’d expect from your typical licensed fare, it’s actually fun.