At some point in the last decade, the folks at Jackbox Games got together and decided to craft together a wondrous combination of fun and value. Rather than release their games piecemeal, games were released in a full package called the Jackbox Party Pack. The games have been fun more often than not, leading to a greater sense of anticipation for each new entry in the series.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is the latest bundle and is arguably the most eagerly awaited of the Party Packs to date, thanks to the revival of irreverent quiz game You Don't Know Jack. But the latest Jackbox Party Pack has plenty more to offer, giving it plenty of bang for the player's buck.
The first thing to note is that the presentation across all platforms appears to be universal. As has increasingly been the case for years, the Jackbox Party Pack 5 has fully embraced the idea of PCs and smart devices as controllers/buzzers. Controllers are not used at all, other than to navigate menus. The interface and the process for entering games is incredibly user-friendly and works the same way, whether it's jumping into a local eight-player game or jumping into a Twitch streamer's game and being a part of their audience. The Twitch tools are arguably the Jackbox Party Pack's greatest asset, making it easy for hundreds of people to jump into the same session and all have fun together.
You Don't Know Jack: Full Stream
The presentation for You Don't Know Jack is a little bit different this time around. The folks behind You Don't Know Jack, including faux game show host Cookie Masterson, have been bought out by fictional content company Binjpipe. The soothing Binjpipe voice makes her presence known throughout the game, whether it's bantering with Cookie, granting Screws, or polling players on what Question #8 should be. The Binjpipe presentation also allows for phony YouTube-style thumbnails to offer up quick laughs in-between questions, which helps keep games feeling fresh.
The You Don't Know Jack format is largely the same, with a few changes from previous versions. One thing to note is that players are now allowed to take as much time with questions as they want. Whereas more recent YDKJ efforts granted more points for quicker answers, things are on a more even playing field this time around. Only the final Jack Attack round rewards or penalizes additional points depending on how quick the player can punch in their answers. The trivia questions feel just as clever as they have in the past and the Screw mechanic feels like it's gone a step beyond, using the smartphone element in hilarious ways. One example saw my display get flipped upside-down, while another instance saw my choices bounce around the screen in a "screensaver" mode.
If there's a downside to YDKJ, it's that the question layout can get a little predictable. Question #3 will always be a "Dis or Dat," while the aforementioned Question #8 will always be the player's choice. I did see a few surprises, like the Data Mining question that utilizes the Binjpipe "service," but I would have liked to see a little more variety in how questions are ordered.
Split the Room
The Jackbox Party Pack 5's standout game of the bunch is Split the Room. This comes across as a wild game of Mad Libs designed to garner as close to a 50/50 reaction as possible. The idea is for players to take a detailed "either/or" scenario and fill in the one blank with an answer designed to divide the participants.
This is not as easy as it looks. If there's an answer that's too simple, the answers will veer too far in one direction. Likewise, if you come up with a response that's too funny or clever, it'll entice everyone to select it. The same principles remain in place for the final "Decisive Dimension" rounds, where one answer is provided and the players must come up with their own alternatives. Split the Room is truly more of a challenging game than it looks on the surface and it's one of the most thought-provoking games to come out of the Jackbox Party Packs in quite some time.
What makes Split the Room such a hoot is the game's host. It's basically a cartoon cat doing a Rod Serling impression, in a giant homage to The Twilight Zone. His delivery is so spot-on that it becomes downright hypnotic. And while there can be a lot of downtime in waiting for all of the game's players to make their choices, the cat keeps players entertained by morphing into different shapes during the waiting period. He even knows how to make players feel truly rewarded for winning the game: by licking the victor!
Mad Verse City
Mad Verse City feels like the most imaginative of the Jackbox Party Pack games, with the premise being one-on-one rap battles delivered by giant robots. The idea is delightfully simple. Players are asked to provide a word and are then given an opening line with that word. They're then tasked with writing the next line. It doesn't have to rhyme, but then you wouldn't be much of a rapper, would you? After repeating the process for a third and fourth line, a giant robot uses a text-to-speech function to deliver a full rap verse. The idea is to spit hot rhymes to get the game's other participants to vote for your rap over your opponent's. Victorious robots will celebrate with exuberant animations, like using tape deck or VHS recorder effects. The entire game feels like it's being played by Transformers G1 robots trying to find a second career as street artists.
Mad Verse City works best in large groups of personal friends, especially with diss tracks and slam poetry heavily encouraged. The verses themselves can be entertaining, but the laughs are increased tenfold when these rhymes are delivered by giant, monotone robots. This can also be enjoyable when jumping in via Twitch as an audience member, but some of the fun is lost without the context behind some of these lines. Mad Verse City works best as an intimate roast between multiple friends.
If there's an odd number of players, Gene the dummy robot will step in for one of the battles. Unfortunately, the AI isn't the most sophisticated here, as Gene's raps will prove to be lackluster more often than not. I feel like this could have been handled better, whether it was by simply giving the odd person out a bye or by setting up a three-way dance.
Patently Stupid is much more performance-based and comes across as the most active of this particular batch of Jackbox games. The idea is to fill in a few prompts that present a distinct problem. These problems are then passed along to a different player, who must then select their problem and respond to it by crafting an invention. That player must also draw that invention out on their napkin canvas and give it an accompanying name and tagline.
All of this sounds like quite the process in itself, but Patently Stupid stands out when it comes time for the players to show off their results. The final piece of the puzzle has players present their invention to the room, making sure to reveal their drawing, name, and tagline where appropriate. This incorporates an element of improv, tasking players with dynamically presenting their product and impressing their friends. For the shyer types, the option is there for the game's hosts to present the product, but this doesn't come across nearly as effective.
There are three rounds, with the final round tasking players with solving the exact same problem. Patently Stupid is another game that works best in larger groups and can prove to be a great icebreaker for parties. The game can run a bit long in larger groups, but if everyone's engaged, it's a lot of fun. There are a lot of laughs to be had, particularly with the improv scenarios and the amateur hour drawings.
Zeeple Dome is a game that feels like a fun idea on paper, but doesn't quite work out so well in practice. This is Jackbox's foray into smartphone-style action games, with players controlling Zeeples and slingshotting them into enemies. It's a novelty, but doesn't grow into anything beyond that.
For one thing, the action quickly becomes repetitive, with the same enemy types popping up over several waves. While the idea is to rack up high scores in solo mode or higher scores than your partners in multiplayer, any sense of fun starts to wane after repeated playthroughs. But then there's the whole thing about slingshotting the Zeeples with the player's smartphone. While this can help add a whimsically chaotic nature to the game, it just doesn't feel as intuitive as a traditional analog stick.
Points for effort on Zeeple Dome, but given the Jackbox's wheelhouse over the years, this game just felt out of place.
The Party Continues
The Jackbox Party Pack 5 offers a tremendous variety of games, all of which carry their own distinct charms. None of the two games are alike and fill a different kind of party need. Even the ill-suited Zeeple Dome feels like Jackbox Games trying to fill a particular interest.
It's a wildly entertaining package, with clever premises that can consume entire parties for hours at a time. And even if there isn't much for a solo partier to do here, it's easier than ever to fire up a Twitch stream and engage through the audience feature. There's something for every type of partygoer and there's enough to keep the party going all through the night.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 digital code provided by the developer. The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, Nintendo eShop, and the various app stores for Apple TV/iPad, Amazon Fire TV, and Mac for $29.99. The game is rated T.
The Jackbox Party Pack 5
- You Don't Know Jack is as entertaining as ever
- Split the Room is a creative idea and a true standout
- Mad Verse City is good for laughs between friends
- Patently Stupid can lead to hilarious improv moments
- Twitch integration is brilliantly implemented
- Smart device controls are easy to utilize
- Zeeple Dome is a nice idea, but doesn't quite fit in this package
- Mad Verse City doesn't work as well in a room full of strangers
- Patently Stupid games can run long with max players