The Jackbox Party Pack 5 Review

October 29, 2018
Also on: PC, Xbox One, Switch

It’s time for the yearly appraisal of your friendship circle as The Jackbox Party Pack 5 hits every format and asks one biting question: do you have enough mates to make it worth a purchase?

As with the four packs before it, your enjoyment of each of the five included games will generally depend on what you put in. Even so, the series has historically chucked in a clunker of a title alongside more enjoyable fare (we’re looking at you Bidiots and Word Spud). The good news is that this is one of the strongest packs that’s been released to date, and this time around there’s a new version of a classic alongside four brand new games. As with all of the Party Pack series the controller is your smartphone or tablet, so charge up a device, grab a seat on the couch and strap in. 

You Don’t Know Jack: Full Stream

Cookie Masterson makes his snarky return to the trivia game which propelled Jackbox to fame. You Don’t Know Jack is part pub quiz, part pop culture lesson, all couched in anarchic round types reminiscent of Shooting Stars. Alongside a brand new set of questions, a few welcome changes have been made to the format since its appearance in the first Party Pack. Firstly, the number of main players has been increased to eight, while additional audience members can jump in too. The “Dis or Dat” round returns but is no longer restricted to just the losing player, unlike screws which are handed out to players in need of a points boost. The screws are even screwier now, forcing everyone to play (rather than just a single victim), while the answers themselves are messed around with by being flipped upside down on your phone, or having ridiculous hashtags appended to them, among other annoyances. The bonus for answering quickly has been removed which levels the playing field for those participants who need time to get their head around questions with a more lateral bent. Better still, the final Jack Attack now has multiple correct answers, so it feels like a genuine trivia question rather than the haphazard reaction round in the first pack.

All of these additions hone a great format into an essential — and importantly, a more balanced — experience. While some of the questions may be a little US-heavy, the whole game is wrapped in a hilarious spoof Netflix interface which will see you reaching to start another game as soon you finish the first.  

Mad Verse City

Ever wanted to take part in a robot rap battle? The answer, of course, is yes. After being asked to provide a word (normally a noun or an adjective), the game uses it to provide you with the first line of a rap. You then have to come up with a second line which rhymes with the first, while making sure it is entertaining – and ideally, makes sense. Players are then paired off while the computer robotically spits out their sick bars, before the remaining participants vote on the person they felt handed out the best zingers. The text-to-speech dictation of each line is often as funny as the rhyme itself, but the AI-generated lines which are picked when there are an odd number of players can sometimes fall flat, especially if they don’t rhyme. It’s also odd — and somewhat unfair — that the AI player can vote on the quality of human player rhymes.

Of all of the word games in Party Pack 5, Mad Verse City is the one that relies most on gamers being able to engage with its premise. If you have a player who isn’t interested in rhyming or simply can’t function under the pressure to be both creative and funny, the end result may suffer. Conversely, it’s also the game that provides the most laughs if you’re with a bunch of rhyme-savvy folk. And if not, screwing things up can often prove even more hysterical than a well-crafted burn, so whether or not you fancy yourself as the next Eminem, it’s worth giving it a go. Just make sure you don’t accidentally shoot yourself in the foot by choosing a tough initial word to rhyme with. There is no place for “orange” or “silver” here.

Split the Room

Three of the four new games in this Party Pack require a bit more creativity and, somewhat ironically, Split the Room will likely be the most divisive of the bunch. The idea is to respond to hypothetical scenarios with an answer which will literally divide your friends’ opinion. A perfect split will bank you the most points, while having everyone universally agree on your answer will net you nothing. Additionally, the more time the other players take pondering over their decision, the better your bonus will be. As an example, one scenario might state that you will get $2000 a week for the rest of your life, but only if you get a face tattoo which reads “something”. Your job is to think of “something” that will split the room; the concept is straightforward enough, but the game will benefit from having a big enough group of people to make it less likely that you’ll choose a unifying answer.

Compared with the other games in the pack, Split the Room is more thoughtful and less overtly funny, which can feel a little jarring if you’ve just come into it from something like Mad Verse City. It’s also dependent on players not deciding to write random or nonsense answers to try and fudge the system in their favour. Much like Bracketeering from Party Pack 4, it’s a fun but lightweight addition which improves exponentially with a bigger audience.

Zeeple Dome

Jackbox’s first foray into an arcade physics game is something of a frantic mess. The idea is to catapult your character into one of the numerous creatures which appears on screen. Some of them can only be hit by the player whose colour they match while others require numerous bashes to destroy. The arenas start off simple but are soon populated with bumpers and barriers which impede your aim, as do the other players.

The power with which your character is fired is dependent on how far back you pull your catapult, and as Zeeple Dome is a co-operative game for up to six people, the on-screen action can often prove to be almost too chaotic. Power-ups are unlocked as you progress which extends the game’s life somewhat, but all in all this is more of an experiment for the series rather than a truly fun game. Kids may enjoy the family-friendly carnage; adults are likely to get bored after the first run-through and opt for something with a bit more refinement.

Patently Stupid

Without a doubt, this combination of Drawful and Dragon’s Den provides the most laughs for your buck of all the games in Party Pack 5. You’re given a problem to complete (such as “XXX makes me cry”), which is given to another player. Each person is then asked to draw a prototype of the device or concept they think will solve that problem. Once done, you need to provide a product name and a tagline to help sell it.

When it comes to pitching your concept to the other players you can either choose to let the game run through a presentation on your behalf or – and this may appeal to the more theatrical among you – perform the hard sell yourself. This second option will undoubtedly appeal to those players whose silver tongue is far more dexterous than their drawing fingers. After all of the pitches are complete, each person must allocate a different number of funding dollars to the ideas they like best. If the idea gets fully funded, the person wins bonus money along with the savvy investors who spotted how amazing it was in the first place.

Like the best Jackbox games, the concept is simple but powerful, providing two creative canvases on which players can express themselves. It isn’t perfect — the pen and highlighter are a little too thick for the drawing space, while the AI presentation can get repetitive if you choose to let the computer do the work for you. However, these are small niggles in what is the undoubted highlight of the pack.

Overall — A Strong Selection of Party Games

The Jackbox Party Pack 5 is the most consistently high quality collection to be released since the first came out in 2014. Even Zeeple Dome, arguably the weakest game in the set, may end up gaining something of a cult following. It’s also the one that kids will be entertained most by, which may prove to be a boon for parents looking for family gaming opportunities. An eclectic mix of drawing, rhyming and word games combined with an excellent trivia title means that parties will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy here. Your favourites may differ to ours, but then that’s half the fun of these compilations. It seems there are still plenty of inventive ideas left to mine, so if a sixth bundle is released next year and it’s as good as this, we won’t complain at all.

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Varied and entertaining, The Jackbox Party Pack 5 provides a lot of laughs and surprising depth — you’ll return to many of these games over and over again.
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.