There’s a chance that modern players may not remember a game called You Don’t Know Jack from the mid to late 90s. It was a trivia game that shook things up by having some unusual formatting, a sarcastic host with blue humor, and the ability to screw your opponent when you were certain they didn’t know the answer. It spawned a huge host of iterations, had some subject specific titles and was one of the few games that I bought on CD with my part time job money from the supermarket. I loved those game dearly, and was very sad when the CDs broke and left me with nothing for several years. Thankfully, two wonderful things happened in the past couple of years. One, the studio decided to publish a ton of them on Steam and then Bundlestars packed them together so I didn’t have to spend a fortune (thanks Bundlestars!). Secondly, they decided to try their hands at making some different kinds of party games that also embraced the new technology of everyone and their goddamn mother having a smartphone. Now a third wonderful thing has happened, and the Jackbox Party Packs have come to the Nintendo Switch. Although Party Pack 3 launched several months ago on the Switch, it was only recently that Jackbox decided the original two needed to be with Nintendo, and I’m glad that they did.
The first Party Pack consists of five games, and I’ll be using this review to take a look at all of them individually before levying a collective score. It’s a weird situation, because, despite being on the Switch, there’s almost no use for the Nintendo input whatsoever except for as a base front-end to launch the titles. I’ve got a larger commentary about this, but I’d like to save it until we reach the end of the review for the second Party Pack, which will go up later.
Firstly, the original You Don’t Know Jack appears here, and possibly the only Party Pack to feature the game. You have to rush to answer questions that are oddly phrased and usually set around either a.) classic history and sciences or b.) North American pop culture, both modern and retro. This is, hands down, my favorite game to play in the Party Pack due to the nostalgia factor that comes along with it. It’s fun and frantic, and the only single player game you can enjoy on the Switch alone. You can even use the Joycons as controllers for your solo trivia, which is a breath of relief in comparison to the others. If you don’t know the answer and are confident your friend/wife/child doesn’t know either, you have a limited number of times you can force them to answer, regardless of outcome (though if they get it right, you’ll suffer a penalty).
There is a certain amount of replay value baked into the game due to some hidden factors. For one, there is a difference in reaction by the host if you get a wrong answer, and his snide attitude always gives me the giggles. Secondly, there is a bonus in most of the trivia sets for getting a particular wrong answer that’s hinted at when the game is setting up. The bonus is just for fun and won’t guarantee your victory, but it’s still fun to hunt for. I suppose that the trivia does get stale after a while (roughly 20 questions per set), and the DLC has ceased to update new questions (it is the 2015 edition, after all). Much like the rest of the games, You Don’t Know Jack won’t have much staying power by itself, but it at least gives you the option, unlike the others.
Secondly, the wildly popular Fibbage XL, which has spawned some sequels and even solo release on Steam. A trivia question is missing a word or words, and you have to craft a lie answer and hope your opponent is fooled. You then each try and guess the real answer, and you get points if you are correct of if an opponent guesses wrong. Fibbage XL is an almost direct successor to You Don’t Know Jack, even having the same host to announce the questions and answers. Something that you’ll see throughout all these reviews is the necessity to have a good pool of players in conjuction to the game, but that isn’t as needed here. Fibbage XL worked really well with only two players, and honestly didn’t improve that greatly, mechanically, with four (it maxes out at eight). Of course it was more fun to have additional friends joining in, but these games get limited by who’s available and what’s around. Fibbage XL also benefits from having a player factor to distract from the distinctly USA-centric questions, since lying is a universal tongue.
Drawful is phenomenal fun with a couple of small caveats. Each player (minimum of three) draws something based on a prompt, the other two (or more) players see the drawing and give it a title of their own interpretation, and then everyone tries to guess what the correct prompt was. Get points for figuring out the right prompt and also if someone guesses your fake prompt. This is another super successful part of the Jackbox line, and rightfully so. Drawing on your smarphone or tablet is hard, no matter what anyone says, and having the social pressure from friends to hurry the hell up and finish drawing “the dog is watching us” is kind of hard. Drawful uses a lot more user interaction that the other games, which makes replay value for this one completely solid. I actually played this for two or three hours before I reluctantly had to bring my guests home because they had missed last train and “we have work tomorrow.” Squares, right?
Drawful, as a result, does suffer from the element that the game cannot control but is essential: the quality of your smart device. Jackbox, for those who don’t know, uses a pretty clever universal server that acts as a hub for the game machine and the smart devices to interact on a local network. Since most of the input is pretty simple (typing or pushing a button) there’s not usually a delay issue. However, older devices, just due to weaker network adapters or slower SoCs, will lose out on fastest finger type answers (You Don’t Know Jack, especially). With Drawful, trying to get something detailed and complex onto the screen, like “Please Pick Up My Pants!” is a damn nightmare without a good amount of real estate. If you’re having fun, it just adds to the hilarity. If you’re a competitive asshole, then you’ll fly into a rage at how bad your hamburger works. I do wish Jackbox had allowed for JoyCon interaction here, because some of the artwork I’ve seen people do for Splatoon2 is pretty amazing, so that could have translated well here.
The next two titles, I argue, are the weakest of the bunch. Lie Swatter boasts being able to have a MASSIVE amount of connections (game says 99 players but others have reported more) but it has such a simple premise it doesn’t seem worthwhile. You have a sentence that appears, and you decide if it’s truth or a lie. If you guess right, you get points. Fastest gets more points. Keep going till someone has the most points at the end. That’s it. Some of the lies and truths are interesting, but so are Snapple caps. It’s hard convincing a lot of people to sit down and then all get points to argue if something is real or not, especially if you’ve played this a lot before. The well of facts and fibs isn’t infinite, and you start to see repeats after just a few rounds. I can see where this would have its appeal though, if you had a large group of people, everyone had been drinking and you wanted to prove that your router could handle that many connections.
Lastly, and worst, Word Spud. One player is given a word, and that player has to think of a word or words to add onto it. Then everyone else votes if it’s good or not. If it is, the last word is passed onto the next player and the process continues. If the negative votes outweigh the positive, then a new word is chosen and the process continues. You have a limited number of words and, at the end, you’re presented with the monstrous sentence you made and someone who got the most number of likes wins. This is the only game in the Party Pack that seems like it could be used to intentionally break someone down if they weren’t liked at a party. Like, just imagine the same person constantly getting their words voted down while everyone else goes up. I understand that it requires people being mean to each other, but it could honestly be unintentional and people will take it personally. If you aren’t in line with your partner that you’re playing with, you might get put off by their vibe and when the word “time” comes up and you write “time to move out I’m sick of you,” the game takes on a new meaning. Seriously, it was just kind of flat and pointless.
All negativity aside, this Party Pack is well worth the experience. You Don’t Know Jack and Fibbage XL are fantastic trivia experiences, and Drawful is worth the price of admission alone. Lie Swatter isn’t terrible, and Word Spud might be better with the right kind of momentum behind it. The Switch is heavily touted as multiplayer magic, so it only makes sense that Jackbox turns its sights on this wonderful little machine. Now if only I could find a way to get the older Jack games on the go…
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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