Developer: Jellyvision / Publisher: THQ / ESRB: Teen (Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Language, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $39.99
Fuck that. You Don’t Know Jack kicks ass, and is one of the most entertaining and difficult trivia games available. It’s easy to play, loads of fun with real-life friends, and a hell of a bargain to boot. Some online play hitches are annoying, but as a long-time YDKJ fan, I’m proud to say that the game is back and hasn’t lost any of its charm during its eight-year hiatus.
Every game or “episode” of You Don’t Know Jack is dressed as a television quiz show, where up to four players run a ten-question course followed by a game-ending Jack Attack – a lighting round that can flip the leaderboard in the blink of an eye. The show is narrated by unseen host Cookie Masterson, who delivers questions that are a mix of standard multiple-choice and more original constructs. One example is the Dis or Dat — a series of seven items that you must match to one category or another. This sounds simple, but some categories (identify this as a Renoir Painting or a YouTube video with over 250,000 views) are alarmingly difficult.
Other elements add flavor to the typical quiz show template. Every player gets one screw, allowing them to “screw” another player and force them to answer a question. However, if you screw someone and they get it right, you lose the amount equal to their winnings. Specialty questions also pop up occasionally, like “Who’s the Dummy,” where you must answer a question asked by a ventriloquist who hasn’t yet mastered the ability to pronounce Ps, Bs, or Ms. Just understanding the question and answers is as difficult as answering correctly. My favorite addition is the “Wrong Answer of the Game”. You’re given a hint at the beginning of the game, and if you pick a wrong answer that’s related to the clue, you’ll get a cash bonus as well as a ridiculous gift (Romanticlip double-ended nail clippers). On top of all that, the game comes with over seventy episodes on disc, with more available as DLC. Each episode runs around fifteen minutes, so there’s plenty of trivia content here.
That gets the mundane details out of the way. The real appeal of YDKJ is its humor and unpredictability. The game is crude, irreverent, and genuinely hilarious provided you aren’t as puritanical as the introductory commenter. Having been a fan of the game in my teens, I worried that the game’s humor wouldn’t age well. Either the game’s humor is timeless or I haven’t matured since age 12 because I still laughed my ass off.
Little variants in every episode keep the game fresh, and will hook you into playing more and more. There are certain features you can count on: every episode is ten questions, there will be one Dis or Dat somewhere, and every game ends in a Jack Attack. Everything else is mutable, from the jingles that introduce every question to the formats of the questions themselves. Some examples: one question was narrated by a rat exterminator that happened to be in the booth, and another question was set up with an animated dream sequence involving talking cats and a laser-firing ball of yarn. Every game has an unexpected element, keeping you hooked to see what’s next.
Of course, You Don’t Know Jack has a legacy dating back to 1995, so here’s some bits that series followers will want to know: Cookie Masterson is back as the host, Gibberish Questions have been nixed, and you can’t control the number of questions in the game. Oh, and there are new fake commercials after every episode, and they even pull in some classic commercials to use as background white noise in the menus.
If you only know idiots in real life, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions let you match your wits against the Internet (because lord knows there’s only intelligent people there). Playing online is functional but hinges entirely upon playing with non-laggy partners. I played a few games with some heavy lag and it was torturous. I had to mash whatever answer I wanted just to get it to register, and the timers would pause and hitch up constantly. Lag is especially troublesome in the game-ending Jack Attack, in which every missed buzz results in a negative on your score. Because you have to mash to get any buzz to go through reliably, if you’re ever wrong, you’ll rack up five or six incorrect buzzes.
That said, playing with opponents that aren’t using tin cans and string for their Internet connection is a positive experience. At best the game is almost as responsive as playing locally, though there’s no getting around the latency in the Jack Attack. There are a few other annoyances: there’s no way to mute players that have their TVs turned up too goddamn loud during a game, and it’s easy to quick match into an episode you’ve already played, meaning you know all the answers already if your memory serves. If you happen to get ahead of the Internet pack, you’ll only want to host games to ensure you’re playing a new episode (unless you’re a jackass and only play if you know all the answers). As usual, playing with real-life people is the best way to enjoy the game, because if nothing else, you can’t deck someone that screws you over the Internet.
Graphics & Sound
Though YDKJ’s graphics are mostly text on an animated background, it still manages to impress with high-quality videos and charming animations. The jingles that introduce every question are so catchy that I have many of them stuck in my head while I write this. The game’s audio is uniformly excellent, mostly dominated by Cookie Masterson’s voice. Though you’ll hear this man talk for basically the whole game, he varies inflection and delivery to keep each comment fresh.
YDKJ marries difficult trivia with excellent presentation, biting humor, and an unpredictability that will make you look forward to every episode. All that with a reasonable sticker price and DLC that adds additional episodes means that YDKJ is a party game staple. Go buy it.