Giant Bomb Review

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You Don't Know Jack Review

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  • X360

It’s not built to last, but Jellyvision’s revival of one of video games’ smartest, funniest trivia series is pitch-perfect.


 A chicken.
It has been nearly 11 years since the last proper You Don’t Know Jack game was released. Playing Jellyvision’s new You Don’t Know Jack game, I almost immediately realized that we were all poorer for its absence. Though there have been ample trivia games in the interim, none have delivered the same balance of quick wit and smart questions that, during the mid-to-late '90s, defined the series. Trivia games always need a hook, whether that means really committing to the game-show or board-game conceit, or focusing on particular topics. For You Don’t Know Jack, it’s all about interweaving truly trivial pop culture with high culture and recontextualizing everything for maximum irreverence. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s really funny, a characteristic that continues to be a perennial blind spot in the world of video games.

Speaking broadly, it’s kind of startling how little fiddling Jellyvision seems to have done with the old YDKJ formula here, and if you have fond memories from the 1990s of huddling around a PC, chuckling at fake backstage banter and silly mock commercials, you ought to know what to expect, almost to a vertigo-inducing degree. The basic structure of a game; the simple, colorful look of the motion graphics that dominate the game’s visuals; hell, they even got Cookie Masterson back as the disembodied host voice, who was the most prolific (also, totally the best!) YDKJ host during the series’ original run. But that doesn’t mean this is just a nostalgia trip, and while the text-heavy presentation might feel a little dated, there’s nothing about the game’s structure that feels exclusionary for new players. The group that potentially won’t get as much enjoyment out of YDKJ are those unfamiliar with American pop culture, which the game mines relentlessly for its sense of humor and much of the actual trivia.

 You can get with Dis, or you can get with Dat.
In YDKJ, up to four players compete through ten rounds of questions, with the speed of your response determining how much cash you’ll win or lose in that round. Though most are straightforward (in format, at least) multiple choice questions, you’ll encounter rapid-fire rounds like “DisOrDat” where you’re presented with a series of things that you have to categorize as one of two things, and games culminate in a “Jack Attack” round where pairs of phrases appear on the screen and you have to buzz in whenever they match, based on a clue you’re given before the round starts. In multiplayer--which is really the ideal way to play YDKJ, and there’s something kind of sad about playing a trivia game all by yourself--each player is given a “screw” at the start of the game. When a question comes up that you think another player doesn’t know the answer to, you can trigger the screw, immediately forcing that to make a guess, with raised stakes for both players.  
 
Everything I’ve just described about YDKJ is just as applicable to the very first game in the series as it is to this brand-new 2011 release, and I think that’s a good thing. Trivia games that rely purely on trivia knowledge are dry, but games that rely too heavily on random reversals of fortune are just frustrating. You need a little random chance, and it doesn’t hurt when you build some vindictiveness into the format, because getting ahead is more fun when you’re pushing someone else down in the process.

All that’s not to say the game’s not without its tweaks. There are a few new types of questions to help keep things fresh, as well as a huge bonus for choosing one, very specific wrong answer in a game, but more significant is how the game hems closer to the faux-game-show format that the series has always implied by actually dividing it into discreet, static episodes, which means a couple things for the gameplay. On the upside, since the question ordering isn’t random, you’ll never see a question you’ve already been presented, unless you specifically go back and play an episode you’ve already seen. This, to me, is huge, since there is basically nothing worse in a trivia game than getting repeat questions. This structure also allows the game to build themed series’ of questions, often for contrasting comedic effect. The downside is that any given episode is, essentially, single use, since the same questions are presented in the same order, every time, though this is mitigated by the fact that there is just a huge number of episodes included with the game. A full game of YDKJ can be played in around 10 to 15 minutes, which means that you’re looking at roughly 15 to 20 hours of game time with all of the questions that are included on the disc. Jellyvision and THQ have already released a DLC pack of additional questions, and seem to have plans for more down the road, potentially extending the game’s life even further.

 Test your knowledge of video games! And prison!
Ultimately, though, YDKJ’s biggest asset is the one that’s the most difficult to really describe--its deeply ingrained sense of humor. The writers at Jellyvision understand the delicate art of absurdist juxtaposition and good ol’ fashioned wordplay, mining such disparate sources as Jersey Shore, the periodic table of elements, Britney Spears songs, the seven deadly sins, ventriloquism, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for both questions and comedy, often in the same stroke. The jokes don’t always hit, but they’re generally of a high quality, and they come at you with incredible speed.

I think it’s interesting that there’s some question as to whether YDKJ would’ve been better served as a purely downloadable title, since the series origins lie in the multimedia heyday of the mid-90s, where the CD-ROM storage medium itself was the lynchpin of the entire experience. Either way, I think this game represents a terrific value, not just in terms of sheer volume, but the level of craft that is so often notably absent from trivia video games.    
57 Comments
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Posted by moelarrycurly

Well done.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

I DONT KNOW JACK.

Edited by Jackhole

I am Jack.
 
Hole.

Posted by tapsoda

Jack is Back.

Posted by MisterDunlap

This game looks great for parties.

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

How the fuck is Jellyvision still around?

Posted by benitobb

Bought it solely due to how awesome it looked in the Quick Look, never having played a previous version before. Me and the girlfriend love it.
Posted by honeycut1

I must buy this now

Edited by SpacePenguin

The presentation from the quick look, seemed to be of a very high quality

Posted by l4wd0g

Great review! I will be picking this game up.

Posted by heatDrive88

 I bought this today, and absolutely love it. I don't quite so agree with the fact that it's "not built to last" however.
 
There's already 1 pack of DLC out there, and I believe there are plans for many more. I don't know just how many episodes are included per pack, but I think it was another 3 or 4. With the addition of DLC support (assuming it is continually updated), new questions and episodes can continue to stay relevant.

Posted by TheYear20XX

I can't wait to get to know Jack again.

Posted by Akeldama

Christ. This was the funniest QL in a long time. Please TNT this game.

Online
Posted by sylveste

awesome

Posted by BabyEternity

penis

Posted by Milkman

The question I have is, can I play this game alone and still have fun?

Posted by nathos
@Milkman: it's fun, but you'll enjoy it far more if you play with other people.
Posted by wh1terav3n

Needs a TNT

Posted by Explosivo

Anyone know if this is coming out in the UK? My friends and I really want to play it

Posted by Mijati
@Explosivo:  Highly doubt it, only way to get it in the UK at the moment is to get a friend to gift it to you on Steam. And the PC version seems to not be the best version (only supports 2 players by the looks of it).
 
No idea if the game is region free on the 360 or not, I'd imagine not but if it is then your best bet would be to import it, or import the PS3 version if you want that is all those are region free.
Posted by BankyEdwards015

I heard it has online multiplayer is that true? and if so what is it like?

Posted by Sil3n7

This is the first trivia game I have seen that looks legitimately interesting.

Posted by The_Hiro_Abides

Yeah I'm totally psyched that You Don't Know Jack is back! 
 
But it was surreal as hell to visit Jelly Vision's website a couple of years ago. They were promoting some experimental things like a more intuitive phone system (to replace menus you go through when you call your cell phone company, etc.). I vaguely recall doing some sort of survey or comment about my interest in jelly vision. I think I wrote something to the effect of "I really like You Don't Know Jack, you should bring it back." 
 
I doubt I was the only one. 
 
Plus my original PS1 copy is pretty messed up now.

Posted by ADeeyore
@FuzzYLemoN:  If you check out their website, you'll see that they've adapted their expertise in "interactive conversations" to an actual B2B service.  Producing interactive tax worksheets for H&R Block for example.  
 
Also, to add to Ryan's review, self contained episodes isn't really anything new to the world of You Don't Know Jack , the original netshow back in the late 90's was distributed using individual episodes.  And YDKJ Volume 4 "The Ride," a personal favorite of many Jack fans, also used individual "theme floor" episodes and had an actual ending when all the floors were exhausted that featured all 5 hosts from the game's history... and Old Man!
Posted by Racian

PC version doesn't have online capabilities sadly...But it is 10 dollars cheaper.

Posted by NathHaw
@Sil3n7 said:
" This is the first trivia game I have seen that looks legitimately interesting. "
They were absolutely great.  I haven't played this one, but I can assure you that with a group of friends the old games were the best trivia games I ever enjoyed.
Posted by Winsord

Definitely going to pick this up soon; makes for many fun times with friends.

Posted by Nerdboxer
@BankyEdwards015: Online Multiplayer seems to be full of people running up scores. Kind of what I was afraid of. Its sad that some people have to ruin things.
Posted by TerraDelu

Goddamnit I love this game. When I was younger, I owned them all and to be able to come back to this format is super exciting to me. Great Review Ryan! 
 
P.S. Next week's TNT!!!

Edited by TheMathlete
@BankyEdwards015:
The online is full of people replaying the same episode over and over in order to run up scores.  I don't think it's really worth it to play online. 
EDIT: oops someone already posted.  Sorry.
Posted by cximran

I bought it on the PC...love it!  

Posted by Truitt

With DLC packs already guaranteed to add 40 more episodes, there is plenty of fun to be had here. And I would not doubt them to add more if interest was high enough. As they did a few years ago, making topical episodes is certainly doable.

Posted by scarycrayons

I wish I could play this game, but not only have they not released it overseas on consoles (fair enough), they have also blocked it on Steam for Europe.  360/Wii versions are region-locked, and the PS3 version has a region-locked online service (no DLC or online).  Couple that with only 2 players and no online play (for a party game!) for the PC version, then as much as I love YDKJ, I'll have to give it a special honorary rating of 0/5. 
 
It is, after all, a game that is literally unplayable to a large portion of the word.

Posted by spazmaster666

Love the Quicklook. I would definitely pick this up if I had more people around who play console games . . . :P

Posted by gla55jAw

  

Posted by nbaer

I played you don't know jack for hours back in elementary school. Glad to see it revitalized.

Posted by IshimuraD

Played this so much with my brothers back when I was still in elementary school, I loved it so much. It's the first trivia game that's interested me since...well the old YDKJ games. I think I'm actually going to get it. Loved the QL.

Posted by SlashDance
@wh1terav3n said:
" Needs a TNT "
THIS !
Posted by AngriGhandi

I think a TNT that spoils the number one selling point of the game it features might be a bad idea.
Now, if it were one of the older games...

Posted by fozzyozzy

Watched the Quick Look, then went out to buy the game.  Played online for the first game: same episode as the Quick Look.  Rocked some super fast achievements and score :)

Edited by AngriGhandi

I can't help but think a TNT that gradually spoils the number one selling point of the game it features might be a bad idea. 
Now, if it were one of the older games... 
Seeing a member of the WM family get annihilated by one of YDKJ3's infamous Impossible Questions would be a pretty great Thursday

Posted by TonicBH

Cookie was the best host? No way, Schmitty was the best. Ryan's crazy.

Edited by 234r2we232

Srsly, Ryan? Perfect is only deserved of 4 stars? :P

Posted by MattBodega

Ryan's review is spot on. YDKJ is the rare trivia game with exhilarating pacing and savage wit. A total joy to play. 
 
It's worth pointing out, however, that if you're thinking about grabbing YDKJ, you should probably get the console versions. The PC version is currently on Steam, and it's only $20, but it features zero online interactivity (no online play, no leaderboards, nothing beyond Steam achievements) and it oily seems to support two players locally. Pay the extra $10 and play this game the way it was intended.

Posted by ADeeyore
@TonicBH:   I like Schmitty too,  I like to think it's him reading the news stories in the game lobby of this latest version.  It's the same voice for sure.  My favorite is still the OG host Nate Shapiro.  Isn't he still running Jellyvision?  Let's get a Nate or Schmitty cameo in future DLC!
Posted by PokeIkzai

Been loving this game so far. Not as good as the Ride but nothing really is. >_> I wish they would have like randomized the online mode but that's really my only complaint.

Posted by PokeIkzai
@SlashDance:  A TNT with some of the classic Jack games + the new one would be amazing.
Posted by radar5

I am Jack's irreverent trivia video game.

Posted by themartyr

  "All that’s not to say the game’s not without its tweaks."
 
@Ryan Yikes, that's got to be the clunkiest sentence I've seen on the site, I think.
 
Gutted that this isn't available in the UK. It looks like really good fun in the Quick Look. You yanks get all the grapes.

Posted by zityz

The console versions of this game are vastly better than the PC version. Which is a shame. 
 
The PC version only supports 2 ( the older ones support 3 or 4) and there's zero online connectivity. So just a heads up to anyone thinking about a PC version.

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