Review – Rifftrax: The Game
We’re heading into dangerous territory again as a gaming nation. I grew up in a time where every IP on the planet thought that publishing a video game was the path to untold riches, as the logic was “kids are stupid and they will play anything.” Now, I’m not saying that M.C. Kids isn’t one of the truly golden games of the NES era, but I am saying it wasn’t created by someone who had an artistic vision of mc-platforming. Shovelware, by and by, is the omnipresent saturated fat of the video game world. Filling, sometimes tastes good, ultimately bad for you overall.
I don’t believe that Rifftrax: The Game came from a position of trying to make a quick buck. I think Wide Right Interactive stumbled upon a fairly interesting party game concept when they made What the Dub?! a year or so ago, and it just made sense to lash it to something bigger. Rifftrax, for those who don’t know, is the hilarious art of adding jokes and quippy dialogue over a movie, usually one that’s terrible.
You’ve probably heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000: these are the original members, now doing their own thing. As it’s been successful for years, the team of Rifftrax continues to try and expand in different areas. They acquired the rights to the original MST3K episodes and sold those directly. They do a Kickstarter with live shows every year to varied success. They have a streaming app and subscription service, and that’s a thing, I guess. It only made sense to try something else, and a party game seems like the perfect avenue, right?
As you might intuit from the subject matter, Rifftrax: The Game asks you to look at a small clip from a movie, get setup for where the riff should be inserted, and either write your own or choose one from a selected pool. This is, at its core, a party game that should be played with people you know or at least people you think will find this funny. After a bit of time has passed, players each see the different quotes up on the screen against the clip, and you vote on which is the funniest. Players get points depending on how many votes they get, and, after a set number of rounds, there’s a winner. Oh, unless you’re playing single player mode, which is a bit too meta for my taste. Writing jokes that no one will see, with no ranking, and no winner. I guess I can see it as an exercise in writing practice, but that just feels too isolated for anyone to enjoy.
This is where it gets sticky in terms of enjoyment and also audience appeal. Straight up, there’s no way to play this on your Nintendo Switch if you don’t have a smart device, a move that makes sense and I absolutely hate. Sure, nearly every person of an adultish age has a phone of some kind (or tablet, or fridge, or whatever), and the theory that you’ll be able to navigate to the game portal website (rifftrax.games) is pretty straightforward. With that said, where’s the fun in that? Seriously, I want to be able to do something with my video game playing machine, not just use it as a frontend for my phone to talk to. I have a Switch Lite, how the hell am I going to enjoy this in any way if I’m not playing it at home? With friends crowded around my tiny screen to watch B movie clips?
In execution, Rifftrax: The Game works and is exactly as enjoyable as what you’d put into it. The movie clips are varied and fun, mostly involving films that are quite schlocky and sometimes classic MST3K fodder, but the clips are usually just long enough to set up a joke portal. Longtime fans will recognize some classic and even recent films to riff from the Rifftrax catalog (Attack of the Supermonsters is a blast). If you want to make things go a bit quicker (or you’re just not feeling creative), the prefabricated riffs are a mixed bag of total non sequiturs that may or may not make sense/be funny when it comes to the clips in question.
You’ll sometimes see some good ones: playing against a computer player will reveal to you that there was a lot of thought put into specific riffs. In fact, if you’re a fan of the movies, be sure to include one bot when it comes time to write your own riffs, and you’ll recognize some of the clever and classic quips that’ve made the franchise so popular over the years.
The longevity of Rifftrax: The Game entirely depends on your circle of friends and who you’ll be able to pull into a game, because I’ve described the entire gameplay in about a paragraph and a half. Playing against my wife and children was fun, and it worked well when we did the Pick a Riff instead of writing one because they’re not great at creating jokes under a time crunch (a lot of “I’m a cat”). But, even putting a game at the maximum rounds, the whole thing was done in under fifteen minutes.
On the one hand, that’s great because you can bang out a party game in the spanse it takes to wait for a pizza to arrive or for your Tortinos to finish baking or whatever. On the other, people load up Jackbox Party Packs with the expectation that they’ll be doing this for the next few hours, hyper fixating on the games they like and skipping the ones they don’t. Arguably it’s not a fair comparison because Jackbox gives you about five games but this one contains one, yet I think you can see the overlap of audience that makes it a decent contrast at least.
Also, unfortunately, this is another crux of a licensed game: the audience. Most of the time, I enjoy watching Rifftrax so I can enjoy the jokes and laugh at whatever running gags we’ve thrown into the Harry Potter or Twilight franchises and just relax. I don’t throw out my own jokes because that’s not why I’m there. I’ve noticed a lot of the people who think they’re funny and want to emulate comedians are either not very funny, have one joke style that’s sort of funny but gets old quickly, or think being offensive is funny. Do you really want to find out which of your friends thinks throwing the N word into a clip from Sherlock Holmes is top tier comedy? I mean, I guess there’s worse ways to discover who you need to quietly cut out of your life, but don’t put that pressure on Rifftrax: The Game! They never asked for this life!
There are enough movie clips to get a few solid, unrepeated runs from Rifftrax: The Game, but that’s really the long and short of it. Streaming works well, connectivity isn’t an issue, and the web portal is very stable (though it won’t connect with some older smart devices, so don’t think dusting off an old iPod Touch makes for a fourth player).
Basically, if you have a handful of friends who also love Rifftrax, this is a home run, no question about it. It plays to the audience it wants to attract, and that’s all we can ask. If, though, you are less familiar with the branding and the concept, then it can get flat pretty quickly, so keep that in mind before purchasing. Still, I’ll be running this a bit more to see how deep the references go. I wonder if Torgo will make an appearance…
Movie clips are great and clean, graphics are cute but nothing is demanding or amazing.
Good execution, choosing jokes or writing on a smart device is as difficult as you make it.
Sound effects added to riffs are funny… for the first time.
As long as you are a fan, you’ll get your money’s worth in replays, guaranteed.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Rifftrax: The Game is available now on PC, Playstation 4/5, XBox Series X/S and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Rifftrax: The Game was provided by the publisher.