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Heads Up! Phones Down Edition Review

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Heads Up! Phones Down Edition confuses the hell out of me. I’m not confused because it’s complicated – this is about as simple as an Xbox game gets – but I’m confused about why it’s here, and why it’s arrived in the way that it has. It’s the product of a series of odd, slightly bewildering decisions, and I don’t have any satisfying answers to the questions that I have. 

heads up phones down edition review 1
Brings more questions than it answers

Here’s the pitch. Heads Up! is actually a rather successful game on mobile – for the price of £1.99, we should add. You might have played something similar to it at parties. You hold your phone to your forehead so that you can’t see it, and a famous name or word is displayed on the phone. People give you clues about the word written on your head, but can’t outright say the name. You might be used to playing it with a post-it note, rather than a phone. Your job is to guess the word based on the clues you’re given, and you keep cycling through those words until the timer runs out. 

Heads Up! Phones Down Edition is an attempt to bring that experience to console. Instead of holding your 40” TV screen up to your forehead, you’re simply facing away from the screen. Your mates sit on the sofa, looking over your shoulder, giving you clues about the person, item, film, song etc that you can’t see. Time ticks down, and your score is determined by how many of these names you guess within sixty seconds. 

Fine. That all makes sense. We’re there. But it’s everything else that makes zero sense. 

We try not to criticise the price of a game within a review, as sales mean that the price can be reasonably fluid. Do we mark a game down for its price, when it’s likely to be £3.49 in three month’s time? Probably not. But in Heads Up! Phones Down’s case it’s impossible to ignore that price. Marvel at the cost of Heads Up! Phones Down for a moment: this game is… drum roll… £33.49. Remember the price on the Itunes Store? £1.99. We honestly can’t fathom why the gap is so huge. This is, after all, a game that projects a single word onto the screen at a time. That’s all it does.

There is an argument that Heads Up! Phones Down comes laden with DLC. There are ninety decks here, spanning a wide range of topics. We were honestly quite excited to dive into the Indie Games category, for example, to find bucketloads of games that we genuinely hadn’t heard of. Someone’s done their research, and undoubtedly there is a category that will feel equally tailored to you. 

heads up phones down edition review 2
You’ll find some categories you like

But when you break them down, the decks are just words on a spreadsheet. Each deck is one-hundred or so words related to ‘2023’, ‘Horror Movies’ or ‘Adult Night Out’, and, in this day and age, they could have been created by ChatGPT. The DLC argument holds less water when the writers could have popped to Buzzfeed and jotted answers from all their Top 100 lists. 

So, where is that £33.49 spent? It’s certainly not spent on features. There aren’t any options to keep a rolling scorecard going, with you and your team’s points tallying up in a league or tournament. You can’t choose an avatar or write funny messages to each other. There’s no record of the decks you’ve played or local highscore tables. Heads Up! Phones Down Edition is less a toy than a tool, where all the scoring and team-selection is done by the humans in the real world, with pen and paper. It defeats the purpose in investing in a digital version, since you’re left with the admin. 

Then there’s the elephant in the room. We are blessed on Xbox with the Jackbox Party Packs. Any comparison with them starts to get a tad one-sided. The Jackbox Party Packs are similarly priced, but come with several games, not just one. Those games are innovative and a little doolally. They’re so fully featured that you can play them however you want: in person or even across a zoom call. They keep track of points. They let you choose avatars. They let you draw penises. 

We’re being slightly unkind, but it has to be asked: would Heads Up! Phones Down have made it onto a Jackbox Party Pack, as even one of its games? We’d suggest not. It’s overly familiar; it  can be achieved with some pens and post-it notes; and it just isn’t capable of having you rolling in the aisles. It’s certainly possible to have fun with it, but that’s reliant on whether the participants bring some goodwill with them.

heads up phones down edition review 3
It’s nothing more than words on a screen…

Which is why we’re so confused. Heads Up! Phones Down feels like it’s been created in a bubble where the Jackbox Party Packs don’t exist. Similarly, the price tag feels like it’s been made up on the spot. There’s no way that someone can look at this perfectly fine, slimline little game and think ‘yep, sell it for thirty-five smackaroons!’. Even as a board game, it would be lingering around the £15 price-point. And then you’d have something in your hands to show for it.

I’m not disappointed, I’m confused. Who would buy Heads Up! Phones Down Edition? I genuinely shrug and look around with a bemused look on my face, Travolta style. Even in a sale, I’d be reasonably reticent: the lack of features, particularly the ability to keep score, means that it’s more clumsy than it has rights to be. The games we played in our house were fine, but they weren’t exactly raucous and fun-filled. They were echoes of Twenty Questions, Charades and the Post-It Note Game – things we’d played to death before. 

Heads Up! Phones Down Edition is not a bad game: it’s just an unnecessary one. Slap £33.49 on that unnecessary game and, well, we creep slowly out of the room to play The Jackbox Party Pack games.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Ninety decks to work through is significant
  • Presentation is pretty snappy
Cons:
  • £33.49 is such a bemusing price tag
  • The Jackbox Party Packs have it beaten in every category
  • Lacks features like score-tracking
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Aspyr
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 9 November 2023 | £33.49
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Ninety decks to work through is significant</li> <li>Presentation is pretty snappy</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>£33.49 is such a bemusing price tag</li> <li>The Jackbox Party Packs have it beaten in every category</li> <li>Lacks features like score-tracking</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Aspyr</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 9 November 2023 | £33.49</li> </ul>Heads Up! Phones Down Edition Review
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