Ahhhh, You Don’t Know Jack, oh how I’ve missed you. YDKJ was that PC game of the 90′s everybody had yet rarely ever played (much like the Wii is today). It mixed actual trivia with odd cultural references and brought a satirical interactive game show to your desktop. It was known for its laugh out loud question structure that was as confusing as it was clever. There was a flood of Jack games in the late 90′s with the last proper volume (#6) being released as late as 2003. Hell, I would say its popularity peeked in 2001 with an actual TV game show starring Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman) on ABC. An online browser based version of the title was up and running until 2008, but for the past 5 years or so the world of YDKJ has been pretty quiet.
Developer Jellyvision announced last year the YDKJ would make it triumphant return in 2011, and boy has it. Moments after the install and boot its almost like Jack was never gone. There have been some small changes to the formula since the early games, but the Jack style of trivia is still alive and kicking. Jellyvision has gone out of their way to pack as much funny as humanly possible into each minute of playtime and their efforts really payoff.
From a fake commercial for “The Shield” a protective absorption shield for you pants when washing your after using the restroom (obviously to shield your pants from sink splash that would make it look like you peed yourself) to the rapid-fire misuse of words in the intro phase of the game, like “Here’s what going to happenstance” or “Please informitate me how many players please” YDKJ has humor you may not catch the first time if ever. That’s kind of a shame because Jellyvision has gone out of their way to make sure you don’t play the game again.
The layout of the 730 questions is in episode form. The game contains 73 episodes of 10 questions each. Once you play the first episode you move on to the second and so on. I know reviewers often complain about games being too linear, but I think this maybe the first time that has ever been done to trivia game. Sure 73 episodes is alot and it would probably take a really long time to get through them, but being able to see the finality of the game creates an illusion that you will run out of content quicker than you’ll get tired of the game. In other trivia games where the questions are random (like the old YDKJ games) the player never knows if they are reaching the end of the questions they haven’t answered yet. This creates the opposite illusion of an infinite amount of gameplay available to the user. Either way is ok, but in its current format, YDKJ wants you to play what is available and when you run out, Jellyvision is prepared to give you more. Its honest and straightforward and prevents that gamebreaking feeling of repeated questions.
The least publicized version of the game, PC, is curiously lacking some of the best features of its console counterparts. Any purist will tell you that YDKJ is a PC game but as it stands it is clearly inferior to its console counterparts. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of the different platforms. PC supports 2 players local only, Wii, 360 and PS3 support 4 (PS3 and 360 via Live and PSN). The 360 and PS3 versions already have downloadable question packs and the PC shows no sign of having anything yet. The PC has no gamepad support which maybe asking alot of it, but with millions of wii-motes in the hands of casual gamers, its almost seems retro to have more than one person huddled around a computer playing a game.
In short, the version I played on PC almost seemed a bit handicapped in comparison to the console copies, and that may be more of a general statement about the state of PC gaming in general, but we’ll have that conversation at a later time. As a product, You Don’t Know is as strong as ever. The updated graphical delivery of a game that by itself didn’t need much updating in the first place, is enough to make it feel relevant. Say what you will about the new question format, but if you don’t like You Don’t Know Jack, there is a black place in your soul that sun will never touch.
Verdict: A comfortably delivered classic franchise that is as fun as it ever was.