On one of our earlier podcasts, which at this point I suppose would be all of our podcasts, I remember mentioningYou Don’t Know Jack as a franchise I would love to see make its triumphant return. I don’t think I ever believed it would really happen, and yet here I am, staring at a physical copy of 2011’s relaunch of You Don’t Know Jack. It’s a glorious time to be sure.
But is it the triumphant return I had been hoping for? God these cliffhangers are cheesy.
For the unfamiliar, You Don’t Know Jack was a series of PC trivia games (although it also had two installments on the PS1) that started in 1995. The hook was the game’s sense of humour and their mix of traditional trivia with pop culture references. The same question could contain references to both Mozart and Yogi Bear. It was unique, witty and a whole lot of fun. The games were released pretty consistently until around 2000. After that only a handful of titles were released. In the midst of all that, there was a very short-lived TV series starring Paul Reubens that I don’t remember all that fondly. Clips can be found on Youtube if you are curious, but dear god don’t let them influence you, the games are way better I swear!
If you are familiar with You Don’t Know Jack, then my friend you are in for a treat. The 2011 version takes everything you loved about YDKJ and well, gives you more of it. I can’t say they’ve improved it or expanded on it all that much, aside from adding some new question types. More or less, they have made a new You Don’t Know Jack game. And you know what? That is fucking awesome.
The core Jack experience is that you and up to three friends (either local or online, however you unfortunately can’t bring local friends online with you) play through an episode featuring 10 questions. The questions are primarily all multiple choice, although each episode features a Dis or Dat (where you are given two categories and a series of things to sort into one or the other) and a Jack Attack round (you are given an overall category and need to match the relevant phrases). The questions themselves are often brilliantly constructed. For example, one of the early episodes features a question that sets-up I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter as one of the five stages of grief. The question is which stage would follow, with choices presented such as “I’ve come to terms with it not being butter”, “I’m angry that it’s not butter”, and so forth. So not only do you need to know which stage is next, but it takes a moment to relate it to the proper option. This is common across You Don’t Know Jack, with many questions forcing you to work a little harder to decipher the choices before you can even give your final answer.
A personal favourite element of mine is the wrong answer of the game that is featured in each episode. Every episode is titled after a made-up company and somewhere in the game a question has a wrong answer that connects back to the company. This adds a whole new layer to the game since on top of searching for the correct answer, you’re scanning the wrong ones to see if any of them fit. As much fun as it is to correctly select it, it’s just as fun to find it accidently and throw it back in the face of a gloating friend who got the actual right answer and yet earned far less money than you. You Don’t Know Jack, bringing people together.
What’s great about these questions is that the episodic format guarantees you won’t see any repeats. Each episode is self-contained and features its own unique questions. Not only does this mean no recurring questions, but it allows there to be a solid flow with questions connecting to each other with their themes or jokes. This does mean that once you have completed an episode, you are likely never to return to it again. The jokes and questions don’t change. The episode will play out the exact same way each time. The upside? You get 73 episodes on the disc! Just those alone will keep you entertained for hours but when you factor in the DLC, some of which is already out, I don’t think you’ll be suffering from lack of content.
One key element of YDKJ that I haven’t touched on yet is the humour. Trivia games that try to be funny are a rare breed. Much rarer are the ones that actually pull it off. You Don’t Know Jack has it down to a science. Every ounce of this game oozes the funny. From the banter occurring before the game starts, to the musical introductions before each question (I won’t spoil it but what they eventually do with the one for ‘4’ is nothing short of magical), to of course the questions themselves, an episode won’t go by where you don’t at least smile.
You Don’t Know Jack is everything I want from the franchise. It’s great with friends, it’s fun solo, and it’s loaded with charm, humour and solid trivia. Even better, all of that is packaged up with a $30 price tag. Unless trivia killed your parents, there is seriously no logical reason not to own this game.