At Ars Technica, we’re fans of the Jackbox Party Pack series, which gathers friends around a TV to play social, joke-filled minigames that revolve around cracking jokes and voting on the group’s favorite gags. Really, any game that turns the trading of jokes into a group contest is up our alley.
For my money, at least, I am fine with cutting out the filler in these games and getting to the heart of what they often remind me of: creating my own Mystery Science Theater 3000 experience, where my friends and I mine humor out of the mundane. Turns out, there are already a few games that drill down to this exact premise, though the most recent one includes a substantial branding edge.
This week’s Rifftrax: The Game is pretty much what it sounds like, and it’s as close as you’ll get to playing along with that series’ founders (who themselves have deep ties to MST3K‘s legacy). While this $10 game on PC and all major console families isn’t the first of its kind, it clearly understands what’s fun about the concept—and errs on the side of simplicity, which mostly pays off.
*squeak* *a-hooooga* *baby crying*
If this game looks a lot like What The Dub?!, which launched on the same platforms last year, that’s because Rifftrax: The Game is made by the same developers at Wide Right Interactive. Just like most Jackbox games, load RTG on a bigger screen with a PC or console, at which point a URL and “room code” appear on the screen. Up to six players can load an instance on their phones’ web browsers, which is where they’ll type and vote throughout a single game. Hence, you don’t really have to be in the same room; join on Zoom or Discord, use the same URL and room code, and you’re in. (If you have more than six people watching, either in person or via streaming platforms like Twitch, overflow viewers can join the “audience” and participate via votes.)
With everyone assembled, a brief video clip plays, and this content errs on the side of low production values and awful acting. These clips are long enough for music and dialogue to emerge, and they end with a “RIFF HERE” blank, usually implying that you’ll be typing on behalf of the on-screen character who is about to speak (though comedic narration moments are easy to decipher). Players are urged to type their own riffs at this point, which can also include sound-effect triggers, discoverable via a handy drop-down menu. (Fart sounds, springy boi-oi-oings, and terrified screams: Yep, the classics are here.) Once all players have turned in their ideas, a text-to-speech robo-voice will read the group’s inventions, one at a time. Then vote on your favorites and repeat for as many clips as you want.
The built-in clip selection is RTG‘s biggest selling point. In addition to the usual suspects like public service announcements, public domain films, and low-budget sci-fi (yes, Plan 9 From Outer Space is here), the game mines a few other wacky sources for its “riffable” content, because it can splice 5- to 15-second clips out of shorter videos that might not otherwise make sense for a longer format like MST3K or traditional Rifftrax episodes. Thus, an average game’s clips can alternate between a Goldilocks-themed film starring actual bears and a cringe-worthy late-’90s explainer about how the World Wide Web works.