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Review: You Don't Know Jack

Combines high culture, pop culture and hatred for Trivial Pursuit, stirs until hilarious

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This time-honored cliché is the guiding principle behind THQ and Jellyvision’s “You Don’t Know Jack” (YDKJ), an irreverent and often hilarious trivia party game. In fact, YDKJ’s classic gameplay hasn’t changed much since 1995. Is the game’s strict adherence to its roots just lazy development, or is the zany and humorous format future-proof?

Don’t Mess With Success:
Sixteen years is an eternity in the game industry. When the first “You Don’t Know Jack” hit the PC scene in 1995, we were drooling over the shiny newness of the Sega Saturn and Playstation One, still in love with our SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). Concepts like DLC (Downloadable content) and online multiplayer were laughable fairy tales. Along came a trivia video game that extended a hearty middle finger to Jeopardy and seduced Trivial Pursuit haters nationwide. “You Don’t Know Jack” made mindless trivia fun, primarily because Jellyvision – itself a trivia game hater – realized “it was possible to ask about both Shakespeare and Scooby Doo in the same question.” Still, the series’ last retail appearance was in 2003, leaving the developers more than seven years to innovate, or at least iterate.

Of course, Jellyvision hasn’t skipped a beat in all these years, primarily because their magic formula and sharp quiz show presentation is the game’s key to success. In a generation where we count pixels and dedicate entire websites to frame-by-frame comparisons of shooters on competing consoles, “You Don’t Know Jack” is nearly devoid of graphics, relying mainly on text and an endless supply of “fauxmercials”, witty quips and imaginative trivia questions to stake its claim.

“Innocent:” Britney Spears song or Catholic Pope?
“You Don’t Know Jack” allows one to four players (both online and offline) to compete in 73 different episodes of the virtual quiz show, each comprising 10 questions plus the lightning-round “Jack Attack” closer, which dramatically rewards quick thinking and twitch reactions. The game’s staple mixture of pop culture and high culture results in brain-scratching questions about Jackson Pollock becoming a sandwich artist at Subway, or quickly determining whether a title is the name of a Britney Spears song or of a catholic pope.

The heat of competition is also catered to perfectly. When a contestant buzzes in, they can quietly click a button on the controller matching the correct answer. Instead of locking out opponents, the clock continues running, allowing each player to venture a guess. Rather than strictly basing winnings on right and wrong answers, the amount of cash you win or lose also corresponds to how long it takes to answer each question.

Screw Your Neighbor:
The iconic hardware also returns in the form of a screw. See a totally clueless expression on your opponent’s face? Once per game you can humiliate them by using the screw mechanic, which forces them to answer the question in five seconds or less. Be warned, however, that if they surprise you and answer correctly, you’ll say goodbye to the same amount of cash they win. With gameplay twists like this and the “Wrong Answer of the Day,” which will have you scooping out 73 valuable incorrect answers, “You Don’t Know Jack” is anything but predictable.

Contrary to popular belief, the star of “You Don’t Know Jack” isn’t you, but rather Cookie Masterson, the game’s longtime fictional host. Rather than quickly advancing to the next question, Cookie takes the time to sarcastically berate you for each wrong answer. These aren’t generic throwaway quips. They’re genuinely entertaining and Cookie’s vocal presence only adds to the immersion. With 730 questions and an average of 2,150 wrong answers, that’s an immense amount of dialogue and is certainly not representative of lazy development. Still, each episode moves along so briskly you can’t wait to either trounce your opponents again or avenge your victory.

But don’t be so quick to mash that continue button; the game’s closing credits are unskippable. “Fauxmercials” – on par with the best of offerings by “Saturday Night Live” – will leave you laughing out loud, covering everything from “Master Baiters” to desserts gone horribly wrong. The fictional production team is also constantly jabbering between rounds, and the overall audio presentation is pure hilarity.

The Bottom Line:
Price isn’t something we normally factor into a review, but the value proposition of “You Don’t Know Jack” is irresistible. It retails for only $29.99 for the Wii, PS3 and 360 versions, making this a guilt-free impulse purchase that is likely to replace Rock Band as your next party game of choice. THQ should be applauded for not gouging consumers’ wallets, and Jellyvision deserves praise for staying faithful to a formula that has stayed addictive and entertaining for over 15 years. This isn’t a reboot, a remake or a re-imagining. This is simply another stellar “You Don’t Know Jack” game.

Contributor’s Note: A review copy of “You Don’t Know Jack” was provided for College News by THQ.

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