Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Andrew



From a personal point of view I was delighted when I first heard that one of my favorite movies was to be made for the GBA. It's taken some time though as not only was this game scheduled for release last year but the movie itself is well over a decade old now. The film was based on a short Tim Burton poem and some accompanying sketches he produced while still working at Disney. Several shorts and animated features later and Burton teamed up with Director Henry Selick to produce what would become a favorite of stop motion enthusiasts the world over. What's unusual about its sudden release is that it's not trying to push a new roll out of the DVD but there's no doubting that the big screen outing of The Corpse Bride won't hurt sales of this game.


If you've seen the movie you'll be pleased to learn that evil Oogie Boogie, aided by the troublesome Lock, Shock and Barrel are up to their usual tricks and it's up to Jack Skellington to put a stop to them. This all plays out like a mixture between Castlevania and Metroid with each mission being a mixture of puzzle-solving and blasting just about everything which gets in your way with your ever growing weapons collection. The missions themselves generally take place on a portion of a map, but never the whole area, due to sections being inaccessible because you either don't possess the tools or abilities to bypass the obvious obstacles yet. It's then really up to you, but with tasks ranging from collecting ingredients to delivering a bomb (with a countdown timer) you always need to be on your toes. As you gain more abilities and so open up more of the game you'll quickly notice just how ingenious the game's designers have been as a happening in the original movie inspires almost everything you do in the game.

Before you actually complete your task an end of level boss will confront you and, as usual, these are generally far more difficult to defeat than you first assume. It's usually a case of the right weapon, mixed with equal measures of right time/right place so just remember to take advantage of the many save points before you go into battle. Also at your disposal is a handy map and your trust dog, Zero. The map has its obvious uses while Zero is used for traveling down passages too narrow for Jack. The action here turns to a kind of third person, ‘mode-7' affair with you controlling Zero as he avoids the various skulls and cobwebs and collects the bonus items. Finally, as if this isn't enough, there are also a handful of mini-games (both single and multi-player), which can be enjoyed from the main menu once they have been located in the main game. These are really nothing more than fairground pastimes but still a welcome addition to the whole package.


This is not nearly as complicated as it could have been given the huge amount of weapons and moves at Jack's disposal. This is mostly due to the fact that not everything is available at the game's start and instead you are given a variety of enhancements by completing tasks. This also (deliberately) closes off much of Halloween town and its surrounds until you have the required skill, making getting completely lost less of a problem, although the Mayor is generally on hand to point you in the right direction.


Although many of the sprites are very small they are also beautifully animated, with Jack in particular able to convey many emotions to the player. This happens even when you are not controlling him so he may chat with Zero or even break into an impromptu dance routine. The backgrounds are also well designed and rendered, with each of the locations perfectly capturing the original movie's atmosphere. As a bonus, and if you play to the end, you can also unlock concept art from the game which is always worth seeking out if you have any interest at all about game design.


While there's little in the way of sound effects you can almost hear the GBA's inferior sound chip straining under the weight of the original score. It takes a little getting used to but it is clearly better than the usual chopped up sampled loops but the end result is surprisingly pleasing and you'll be humming along in no time at all.

Final comments

This could easily have been just another movie tie-in, but thanks to development team TOSE and the care and effort they've clearly dedicated to this project it's so much more. Obviously this has a great deal to do with Japan's continued love affair with the original movie so that even when everyone else appeared to have forgotten about this stop motion classic the Japanese were still exploiting the franchise in every way possible. For fans of the movie this really has everything: all the characters, all the locations and all the humor. It's a joy to play too and the mixture of ever changing control systems crossed with a variety of different challenges means you'll keep coming back just to see what happens next. On the down side the bits in-between are rather samey and much of the exploration could have been streamlined. Overall though the whole thing is highly recommended whether you're a fan of the movie or are just searching for a challenging platformer.

Pro: Great Animation
Con: Can Become Repetitive
Final score: 8


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Boxart of Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King (Game Boy Advance)
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action / Adventure
Developer: Tose
Publisher: Buena Vista Interactive