You Don’t Know Jack’s return and a game about pitching dumb inventions headline this year’s Jackbox Party Pack.
Long before the Jackbox Party Packs started coming to Switch, the annual release of the Jackbox Party Pack was appointment gaming for me and my friends. The design of these games has always been very Nintendo-like to me; it’s very much lateral thinking of withered technology, making use of phones, tablets, or really anything that can connect to WiFi and a web browser to let as many people as possible play a game. This year’s entry keeps the run of quality, innovation, and fun going, with four brand new games and a welcome revision to an old favorite with You Don’t Know Jack. However, despite being filled with clever variety, it doesn’t quite have the brilliant recurring staples that are usually included with these packages. Every game is good, but a lack of immediacy is felt when introducing newcomers to the games. Regardless, if you have a crew ready to dive deeper into some silly nonsense, Jackbox Party Pack 5 is excellent.
First off, You Don’t Know Jack makes its long-awaited return here and the results are great. I always had issues with You Don’t Know Jack in the mobile phone-controller era of Jackbox, and this new take optimizes it to be a better, stronger experience for the phone controllers and streaming audiences. The pace is a lot snappier and things like the final Jack Attack are now quicker and more engaging. This is the closest to a fast-moving staple that Jackbox Party Pack 5 has, but the fact that it’s a trivia game doesn’t make it as immediately silly as Fibbage or Quiplash. It’s more reliant on the writing than the player choice. Series host Cookie Masterson is still as sharp and funny as ever, and I especially recommend listening during the credits after each game.
While You Don’t Know Jack’s long-awaited return is excellent, the best new game in Jackbox Party Pack 5 is by far Patently Stupid. This game takes a big, ambitious swing that is best with a crew of players with a zest for improv and a willingness to be stupid. It’s set up in the style of past games like Tee K.O., where it is split into multiple segments that build on each other. To start, each player completes a few prompts for problems that could be solved by an invention. Then, everyone is given a problem to create an invention for. First, they draw their invention, then give it a name and a tagline. The next part is where Patently Stupid absolutely shines. Each player pitches their product, complete with deploying the drawing, name, and tagline whenever they want to punctuate their monologue. When I played this, the pitches got deliriously funny, primarily because they draw attention to everyone’s miserable drawings or nonsensical responses during this time-sensitive game.
Split the Room’s weird Twilight-Zone-with-a-cat vibe is weird and awesome, but it’s a game at its best with a larger room. The goal is, as the title says, to split the room. You have to come up with an answer to a problem that will make people labor over their answer and ideally get people to disagree. While it can be played with as few as three people, the more people you have, the better the game is. It’s fun for what it is, but not quite as memorable.
Mad Verse City is likely the most novel addition here. It’s a robot rapping game where players face off against one another in rap battles. To start, everyone comes up with a word using a Mad Libs-style prompt. Then, they’re given a diss track ending in that word that they must then come up with a full, complementary couplet for. Rinse and repeat, and then everyone has a four-line rap. The battles then commence, where the lines are said using robotic speech generation, so whatever chicanery you typed out is spoken by a robot (obscenities included). You need to absolutely have the right group of friends that are game to commit to writing out robotic rap lyrics for this to be fun, but if you have that gang together, this is incredible.
Zeeple Dome builds off of Mad Verse City’s unique hook with one of its own: it’s an action game. After years of drawing and word input, Jackbox dives into what is essentially a single-screen co-op Angry Birds. Each player flings their colored alien around the screen using a circle on their touch screen, trying to defeat enemies and work together. While each player is rewarded for defeating the most enemies, dying the least, and more, this is primarily a cooperative experience. It’s fun and frantic at times but exposes the weaknesses of Jackbox’s design, since using your phone or tablet as a controller in an action game is suboptimal. Zeeple Dome isn’t what I come to Jackbox games for. The Switch already has a slew of games in this style that control better and have more depth.
The theme for Jackbox Party Pack 5 is, in a way, commitment. Each of these games seem to demand a higher level of commitment from the players. If you have friends and family who are down to write out robot raps or pitch silly fake products, this is a fantastic entry in the Jackbox line. If you’re looking for something better for lighter concentration, Jackbox 5 doesn’t have the variety of some of the earlier bundles. I came away impressed by the five games here; I don’t think any of them are even close to being a dud. You just need to make sure everyone’s up for the long haul with these games.