When you think of videogame trivia titles, chances are you think of Buzz! Quiz World or Scene It? . However, back in 1995 a bold new computer game emerged called You Don’t Know Jack. It pushed trivia in your face with sarcastic wit and often sexual innuendos courtesy of the unseen (below his ears at least) emcee Cookie Masterson. It was the best TV game show that was never on TV. Well… except for that one time that it was… but we shan't be talking about that disaster.
The concept of You Don’t Know Jack is an easy one to wrap your brain around. One to four players answer a series of questions and end the match with a lightning round of sorts (called Jack Attack in game). The gameplay doesn’t differ much from your standard trivia game. You get a question and have to select the right answer from a possible set of four. Questions are typically multiple choice and those answers correlate to one of the buttons on the controller you are using. However, YDKJ takes these simple building blocks and runs with it as far into the realm of entertaining as anybody probably can.
Each question has an amount of money you can win, but the clock is ticking. The faster you answer the more money you will win, or if you are wrong, the more you will lose. The driving force of what sets the gameplay apart from other trivia games is in balancing the reward/punishment of answering quickly. One thought will probably hit you soon into your first round, the humor and wit is way beyond your standard trivia quiz. For example, one question asks you which childhood toy the artist Georges Seurat would have most likely loved. Of course, being an art & design major I immediately knew that Georges Seurat is most famous for painting with the technique called pointillism so I selected the answer that said, “Lite-Brite”. To get the question right you not only had to know what pointillism was but also know your childhood toys well enough. Practically every question has this expert level of pop culture melded with trivia. Whether you are asked to pick out which state has a football mascot that isn’t a mammal or which of the list of cartoon characters doesn’t represent a profession you can find in the Village People, you will always be amazed at the care that went into crafting the most entertaining questions possible.
Now, each of the game's “episodes” are made up of two rounds of five questions and the final “Jack Attack”. The last question of the first round sees the return of the Dis or Dat, which will ask you to sort a list of seven items into two categories that are seemingly very unrelated. But let me tell you, having to figure out if a word is supposed to be from one of those “Successories” posters or a brand of adult diapers is a lot tougher than you’d think. The second round will throw in a random oddball question at you which can range from having to decipher a badly done ventriloquism act to placing the items in the correct order. This keeps each episode fresh and, before you know it, it's Jack Attack time. This is the final round which will have a clue on the screen while possible answers appear, forcing you to really work out your twitch reflex as only one player can get the points for that clue.
While many fans of the series will miss the Gibberish Question, obviously taken out because of the lack of a guaranteed keyboard on consoles, there is one new addition that really shines called the “wrong answer of the game”. At the start of an episode you will get a fake commercial for a fictional sponsor. Somewhere in the episode is an answer that relates to this sponsor somehow and selecting it will earn you much more than normal. The trick is that this answer will be a wrong one, so if you are getting too focused on selecting correct answers you might miss out on the more rewarding wrong one.
As far as presentation goes, You Don’t Know Jack is the best there is at what it does, being a trivia game. If you want amazing menus, tons of alternate modes, and other such bells and whistles, you are barking up the wrong Ent leg. Call it barebones if you want, but I like to call it free of fluff. You can play a local match or an online match. There are leaderboards and a place to see the stats of your in-game profile. There is support for what the game calls “Big Button Controllers” in the Xbox version, which are those controllers that came with Scene It? that can be purchased separately for as little as $15 for four of them. Unfortunately, there is currently no support for the controllers from Buzz! in the PS3 version. Also, a big sadface for the inability to mix local and online multiplayer. Though, this is probably for the best as there is currently a lag problem when and only when playing the Jack Attack online. Local multiplayer goes off without a hitch though, so no worries there.
You can’t talk about presentation without mentioning the heart and soul of the You Don’t Know Jack experience, the host Cookie Masterson. Voiced by the most well-known voice actor of the franchise, Tom Gottlieb, he returns to praise and berate you with style. See, in YDKJ, when you get an answer wrong, Cookie will let you know in a clever but harsh way that is unique to that answer. The host will yell at you if you are taking too long to answer. The way the responses are crafted makes you feel as if the host really is watching you play and rating your abilities. The game’s title may talk of getting to know Jack, but who you will really get to know is Cookie.
This game is currently only $30, no matter which platform you get it on. It is quite a fair price for what you get. 73 episodes are on disk with four (for now) planned DLC packs that each add another 10 episodes for $5 a pack, the first of which is already out. This is definitely an excellent game to have on your shelf for whenever you have a group of people over. That said, there can be fun had in just playing the game single player and trying to get your score as high as possible. Never mind that the achievements/trophies are both challenging and creative, giving this game a whole extra level if that’s your bag.
This is the trivia game that all the others have been striving to be. It has questions that ooze wit and brains. It has a host that keeps everything lively. It has a scoring system that will challenge you even if you know the answers already. It has ways of balancing the game for people who are not trivia masters that don’t make said masters feel cheated. You Don’t Know Jack came out of retirement and reminded everybody why it's the king, and doesn’t even overcharge you for the privilege.