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The Jackbox Party Pack 5 Review: New But Not Improved

The party is dying down. Everyone has finished the spectacular feast the host prepared, drinks are running low, and it's getting late. In the past there was always little one could do to keep their friends from leaving. No one wants to start a game of Monopoly at midnight. When Jackbox Games released the first Jackbox Games Party Pack in 2014, it became the savior for celebrations everywhere. Containing five fast-paced games with irreverent humor and entertaining visuals, the pack was ideal for gamers and non-gamers alike. This October sees the release of the newest party-saving pack, Jackbox Party Pack 5

Nowadays the Party Packs are a staple of most small get-togethers, with anywhere from 5-8 people. It's too many to pop in a copy of Mario Kart or Mario Party, but it's the perfect amount for the games from the creative minds behind You Don't Know Jack. Though Jackbox's first game originally appeared on PC's in 1995, the version party planners all know and love was released in 2011. Hosted by the cheery Cookie Masterson, YDKJ combined pop-culture irrelevancies with deep trivia cuts for a version of Jeopardy! that didn't exclude a player's non-Ivy League friends. Jackbox Games continued to build new and exciting party experiences in this model: quick bursts of fun and approachable games, with no board necessary. In fact, no controllers are needed; players simply use their phones!

Related: 15 Best Multiplayer Games to Play at a Party

Since the release of the original Party Pack, Jackbox has impressively released a subsequent one every year. Each pack features brand new games and occasionally revised and updated versions of popular games-past. Jackbox Party Pack 5 is no different. It contains an brand new version of the aforementioned You Don't Know Jack in addition to four new games: Split the Room, Mad Verse City, Patently Stupid, and Zeeple Dome. While each game stands as a shining example of the sharp writing and colorful imagination of Jackbox Games, their inconsistencies in fun gameplay and pacing can't help elevate Jackbox Party Pack 5 to the top of the heap.

You Don't Know Jack: Full Stream

In You Don't Know Jack: Full Stream, 2-8 players compete in a trivia game like no other. The questions generally revolve around very recent pop culture events and simpler bits of trivia like general geography and history. Like the previous entries of the series, the game is less about difficulty, and more about screwing your friends over and laughing along the way. Cookie Masterson's commentary is as delightful as always; he interjects to make fun of those trailing behind which only angers them further. Here, Jackbox has crafted a trivia game that gives everyone an even shot at the gold medal. It's easy to make a comeback when a friend misses a question, and the added ability to "screw" a friend over and prevent them from answering creates drama that can extend way past the end of the game.

What really separates this version of You Don't Know Jack from the older versions is its framing device. As opposed to just being hosted as a trivia game, Full Stream is set on a made-up streaming service called binjpipe. As the virtual hosts of the game, the service features their own programming in the background, sponsors several questions, and provides commentary in addition to Cookie's. It's an interesting choice that gives the whole game a very Black Mirror vibe. This desire for world-building from the writers is a curious issue that occurs in each of the games in Jackbox Party Pack 5. And it raises the question: is less, more?

Jackbox Party Pack 5's Split the Room

Split the Room is a user-created game of "Would You Rather?" Hosted by a strange cat in a Twilight Zone-inspired world, the game asks users to come up with a scenario that would split the decisions of their friends. For example, if the prompt provided to one user is "Crows follow you everywhere you go. If you shoot the biggest one, they will stop following you. But if you shoot any other crow they will ________. They are always grouped together. Do you take the shot?" the user would want to fill in the blank with something terrible enough to get some of their friends to take the shot but not quite terrible enough so that none of their friends take the shot. As evidenced by the amount of time it took to explain the concept, this game is a bit more complicated than other games in the pack. Well, it's not complicated per se, but it is much harder than one would expect to reach a split decision (which is how users get the most points). In fact, in the entire first round this reviewer played, not a single person created a split decision.

The game requires quick thinking and a solid precognition for what a player's friends will choose. Split the Room has nearly limitless replayability, but can be frustrating to players who have just picked it up for the first time. Here though, the framing device of alternate worlds and strange talking cats does not detract in any way from the gameplay. It can be played with anywhere from 3-8 players.

Jackbox Party Pack 5's Mad Verse City

It's a shame that the Party Pack's strongest new addition also suffered from game-breaking bugs. Mad Verse City is a hilarious mad-lib rhyming game that might ask a lot from the players, but definitely delivers on their end. Users are given a line that they must complete with the given prompt (a noun, verb, body part, etc.). Then they write an entire line to rhyme with the previous one. Repeat that one more time, and they have a short rap and are ready to battle. Each player is give a different giant robot that stands in the city streets and faces off against one of their friends. The other players vote on whose rhymes were the "illest," and points are awarded. This happens a few times against different opponents before a winner is declared.

Mad Verse City is made up of the best stuff that Jackbox Games has to offer: it's fast-paced, requires a little bit of creativity to be good, and brings the laughs in spades. Actually getting to hear the robots say the lines players wrote is just an added bonus to the wanton destruction of lyricism. Unfortunately, while playing this game (and only this one), this reviewer's PS4 crashed several times. The bug is unknown, but it makes the game nearly unplayable in its current state. It will hopefully be patched post-launch. Mad Verse City can be played with 3-8 players, with an AI being added if only 3 players are available. The AI is terrible at the game, giving a distinct advantage to the player that faces them.

Jackbox Party Pack 5's Patently Stupid

If Mad Verse City is an example of the best that Jackbox Games has made, Patently Stupid may just represent the lowest common denominator. The idea is convoluted: players first fill in a prompt to flesh out a problem that they face every day. Then another player picks between two different prompts, selecting just one for which to create an invention. First they must draw what it looks like, then create a name, and finally a slogan. The game is generous in the amount of time it gives players, but that doesn't help the already slow pace the game operates at. Because once players have finished, they must then pitch the invention to their friends, a short "powerpoint" presentation. While players do have the option to let the hosts (a divorced couple) present, it is much simpler to do it oneself. Once all players have pitched, they invest money in the inventions they want to succeed. The second round sees all players given the same prompt, which creates some uniquely similar responses.

Patently Stupid is another step forward in the wrong direction for Jackbox's drawing-based games. The original, Drawful, was simple: just Pictionary with a twist. Each subsequent drawing game has gotten more complicated, from the bidding-war game Bidiots, to this newest foray. And while on paper, or used cocktail napkins, the concept is fun, it only makes players long for a simpler day. Patently Stupid can be played with 3-8 players.

Jackbox Party Pack 5's Zeeple Dome

Zeeple Dome is unlike any Jackbox Game made before in that it's much more of a video game. Players fling an adorable alien around an arena shown on the screen using the touchscreen slingshot on their device. It doesn't require a ridiculous amount of precision, but a basic knowledge of video game mechanics and physics is helpful. The goal of the game is to destroy the evil aliens around the dome and work your way through several different stages. It's a fast-paced, multiplayer version of Angry Birds and it makes for a surprisingly good time. Zeeple Dome can also be played single-player, but it's hard to imagine anyone continuing to play a party game after the party has departed.

While the game is a marketable change of pace for Jackbox Games, Zeeple Dome doesn't really mesh with the core audience or nongamers. It's fun and fast-paced, but if a player is throwing a party with people that can play Zeeple Dome, they might as well throw in Super Smash Bros instead. Zeeple Dome can be played by 1-6 players.

The newest Party Pack is a mixed bag. While Mad Verse City epitomizes the best of their offerings, Patently Stupid and Split the Room fail to capitalize on the humor of Jackbox's best. For players that have already exhausted the content of last year's Jackbox Party Pack 4, there's enough new stuff to keep them satisfied. But for those new to the Party Pack world, it's worth more to invest in one of the classic editions.

More: Super Mario Party Review is The Best Mario Party in Years

Jackbox Party Pack 5 is available now for $29.99 on PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac. Screen Rant was provided a PS4 copy for review.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5 (Good)
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