Review: You Don’t Know Jack (Microsoft Xbox 360)

You Don’t Know Jack
Genre: Quiz Show
Developer: Jellyvision
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: 02/08/11

At the risk of dating myself, I can clearly remember playing the first You Don’t Know Jack some sixteen years ago with my mother on her Performa desktop, answering the sarcastic and weird questions that were presented as the host disinterestedly informed me how much of a moron I was. I knew somehow that this series would be something special. The game combined the need for obscure trivia knowledge that something like Jeopardy would have and combined it with a hilarious presentation and some of the most thought provoking questions I’ve ever seen Despite not being the best player out there, I enjoyed the series immensely. The franchise, after spiking with release after release in the nineties, kind of petered out in the early 2000s. After a couple Playstation games and a failed TV show, the franchise made a small handful of appearances in the following years and has become something of a faded memory in the gaming world. That’s not to say other games aren’t trying to BE You Don’t Know Jack; a little over a year ago I reviewed Buzz Quiz World for PSP, which was basically trying to do what You Don’t Know Jack does, only tamer, more or less, but taking the edge out of the game also took away some of the spark, and left the attempt feeling flat. Well, THQ and Jellyvision have apparently felt the need for a new, immensely sarcastic and witty quiz game in the world, like a mass of people crying out, “Save us!”… and they looked down and said, “Eh, alright.” The result is a budget priced new release in the series, complete with online play and DLC, and the question that comes up as a result is, some sixteen years removed from the debut of the series, is it dated, or as sharp as ever?

Let’s find out.

Well, it’s hard to really grade the game on a Story or Game Modes curve, as the game doesn’t really have much of either. It’s a quiz show game, so the plot is, “You’re answering questions to win bucks,” and the game modes amount to the game show itself and nothing else. That said, the best thing to look at in this case is the monologue and dialogue writing, since it’s the closest thing to “plot” we’re going to get, and let me tell you, it is great. Long time host Cookie Masterson has made his return for this game, and his dialogue is SPOT ON from beginning to end, to the point where you will legitimately laugh at least once per each game session. The game presents all sorts of wacky and imaginative concepts and characters, like Billy O’Brien the ventriloquist dummy who has problems with B’s, P’s and M’s, or “Cookie’s Fortune Cookie Fortunes with Cookie “Fortune Cookie” Masterson,” which is, seriously, Cookie eating a Fortune Cookie, reading the fortune, and then telling you to answer a question based on it, and they are all pretty great. Cookie lays in plenty of awesome one-liners and the other personalities who show up lend plenty of witty banter and obvious set-ups to the proceedings, and the game characters and concepts still feel fresh and interesting some sixteen years after the fact. Now, this is obviously not a game for kids, as profanity is dropped here and there and there are more than a few obvious jokes about dicks and such, but frankly, if you can’t laugh at a good dick joke you’re not anyone I want to be friends with. You can enjoy your Tolstoy in your beautiful castle far away from us proles as we laugh when Cookie makes a joke about how many Earths you can fit in Uranus. For everyone else, you’ll laugh, I can guarantee it.

You Don’t Know Jack has a good visual presentation, given that it’s a game show and, as such it doesn’t really need a lot of assets to make it work. The game uses a very interesting and colorful backdrop to showcase the various questions, and makes good use of video with various introductions to different specialty questions that pop up from time to time. Each numbered question also gets its own intro for that number, so you’ll get this animated bit that introduces question six, for example, and the number will breakdance before jumping into place and, occasionally, saying that it loves you for… some reason. While the game re-uses many of its visual assets for the intros, the number presentations and so on, they’re artistically interesting enough that they don’t get boring or annoying as you go through the game, and you likely won’t tire of them for a while. The game makes use of its own interesting musical bits to introduce questions and gimmicks, all of which are interesting and easy on the ears, and all of which play into the gimmick of the show nicely. The game is also chock full of voice acting, all of which is great, though none of it holds a candle to the returning Tom Gottlieb, AKA Mr. Cookie Masterson himself. Cookie is spot on at all times, both due to his excellent delivery of the lines given to him and the excellent audio mixing that doesn’t make the audio bits sound spliced together, even though some of them certainly are. The various other folks who join Cookie are also on their game, be it Old Man, the unfortunate stage hand who is a victim of many of Cookie’s antics during questions, Donny, the intern who takes your name and constantly screws up the use of big words, or Chad, the dopey intern who constantly ruins Cookie’s attempts to ask you to identify quotes, and all together they add some excellent personality to what would otherwise be, well, a quiz show game.

You Don’t Know Jack is incredibly simple to play, and you’ll mostly only make use of the four face buttons on your controller and the right trigger, with some mild usage of the stick when choosing things in the menus. The game is broken down into three rounds, which can be played alone or with friends. During the first two rounds you’ll be presented with ten questions, with nine of these questions being normal (or as normal as the game gets) and one being a Dis or Dat. The normal questions are simple enough to work with: a question is asked, four answers are mapped to the face buttons, pick the right one and get money, pick the wrong one and get Cookie’s scorn… and lose money. How much money you earn or lose is tied to how fast you answer the question, so reflexes and good answers count. When playing with multiple players, each player gets to answer before the question ends, as opposed to the prior games where only one player could take a question. You can also press the Right Trigger if you’re playing with multiple players to use a Screw, which forces one player to answer the question in five seconds or lose money (and watch their number get, well, screwed). If the screwed player picks wrong, they get screwed anyway, but if they pick RIGHT, they get extra cash and you get screwed and lose money… so it pays to use the screws wisely. Dis or Dat questions choose the worst loser and let them try to sort different words or phrases by categories, so, say, you’ll have to pick whether Innocent is a pope or a Brittany Spears song. When multiple players are playing, EVERYONE can make a choice, but the other players can only take the money if the main player picked a wrong answer AND the other player picked the right one. The third round is all about the Jack Attack, where a clue is given and seven things are displayed, one at a time, along with various choices that filter in. Whoever picks the correct choice gets money, but anyone who picks a wrong one loses money. In this mode, only one player can get the right answer, so once again, reflexes and good answers count. This is pretty much how the game works at all times, so you’ll have the basics down in about one game, more or less.

Fans of the series will have most of this down pat, though, so some new things have been added here and there to freshen the game up. Gimmick questions pop up here and there that are either overhauled from older games in the series or are brand new. Returning fans, of course, will delight to the “It’s the put the choices into order then buzz in to see if you are right… question,” for example, where, well, you put the choices into order, then buzz in to see if you are right. So there’s truth in advertising there. However, new question gimmicks pop up, such as “Nocturnal Admissions,” where Cookie tells you about a weird dream he had involving his cats and you have to guess what movie he watched before passing out, or “Who’s The Dummy?”, where the aforementioned Billy O’Brien will ask a question in his broken speech and you’ll have to figure out what the answer might be. These change things up a bit from the normal questions and make you think a little harder than you normally would, and they’re a welcome change of pace from answering questions as normal… plus, they’re hilarious more often than not. The game also offers the Wrong Answer of the Game, which is exactly what it sounds like. At the beginning of a game, you’re shown the sponsor, which is usually a maker of some kind of terrible product, like “Roach Butter” or “Blood.” Yes, just blood. You’ll then see an answer pop up that relates to the sponsor, such as “La Cucaracha” or “Dracula”, and by picking it, you fail the question, but earn a wonderful prize, like, uh, blood… as well as double the cash for that question. Aside from being a weird and amusing gimmick, this can be a quick way to turn the tide if you’re behind or to cement a lead if you’re ahead.

The game doesn’t randomize the questions, choosing instead to break them up into ten questions across seventy three episodes overall. Each episode takes around ten minutes or so to complete, so you’ll get, at minimum, seven hundred and thirty minutes, or about twelve to thirteen hours, out of the game at a minimum if you never repeat episodes. There are also seventy three “Wrong Answer of the Game” prizes to unlock, one per episode, which can be collected and viewed with your local player profile for those of you who want to complete your collection of ridiculous complimentary gifts. The game offers online and offline play for up to four players, using the same rules and question sessions for both, so you can slip into multiplayer in both modes with no difficulty, though you can always play by yourself if you’d rather. THQ already has some downloadable content online and intends to make more available, by all indications, so you’ll have all sorts of new question packs available to you should you completely blow out the questions that come on the disc. The game comes packed with Achievements to unlock as well, between the one thousand points of Achievements on the disc and various unrelated Achievements that are already associated to the DLC, so you can still get the full grand from the game if you wish while having other Achievements available should you want to unlock them. In a nice touch, the game also keeps track of your lifetime money earned and average money per game, among other things, so you can see how your performance looks and compare it to others through the Leaderboards. For fans of You Don’t Know Jack, this is a robust, well developed effort, and for the budget price it’s hard to argue strongly against the game.

Which is not to say that the game is without flaw. Since each chapter is set in a specific fashion, that means the questions always appear in the same order all the time. While this is not a problem when you’re first playing the game, this means that you’ll eventually have to put the game down or stomp anyone who plays against you because you’ll have seen all the questions and know their order, though the sheer volume of questions and DLC options alleviate this a small amount. This doubly becomes a problem over Xbox Live when playing against people who know EVERY ANSWER already and stomp the hell out of you because they’ve seen all the answers you’re being prompted for, making this really a game to play with friends over anything else. The episode format is great, certainly, but an option to shuffle the questions around and present random questions with the answers in random positions would help improve the replay immensely. Further, at the end of the day, it’s really more of a party game than a solo affair, and while it’s a lot of fun solo, it’s not a lot of fun for long. You’ll really find the game does its best when players are in a group laughing at the game and joking around. Finally, the Jack Attack sections that close out the shows are pretty much capable of turning an entire game around; you can generally earn, if you answer every question the exact second it’s asked, get a Wrong Answer of the Game in the second round, and get the Dis or Dat done super fast, at most, about $45,000 before Jack Attack, but the Jack Attack, for a perfect score, pays out nearly $30,000… which can seriously bring you from last place to first place if you have fast reflexes. Not that it shouldn’t be a good place to make up points, but it’s a real game changer and can be frustrating if you ace the questions but still lose because you’re slow on the button presses.

Frankly, though, You Don’t Know Jack is a budget priced game that’s funny and fun, alone or with friends, and unless you hate quiz show games in general it’s easily worth the price. The writing for the questions and jokes is absolutely stellar, the visual presentation does a lot with a little and the audio is high quality all around. The game is simple enough that you can play the game one handed (not that you’d want to… ewwww) and the questions are challenging enough to pick up the difficulty slack. Further, between the massive amount of questions, the Wrong Answer of the Day gifts, the support for four players on and offline, the persistent winnings and results tracking, the existing and promised DLC, and the ton of achievements, there is a LOT of content both immediately available to unlock and coming down the pipe that easily makes the game worth the price on volume alone. The fact that the questions always show up as part of the same episodes in the same order all the time is disappointing given that there’s no randomization option, the game is really a party game overall, and the Jack Attack can make or break a game, unfortunately, but these complaints don’t take away from the experience enough to be severe. As a full-priced game, You Don’t Know Jack would probably stand as a fun game for quiz show fans and party gamers, but as a half priced budget title the game is easy to recommend to almost everyone, unless you’re offended by the occasional toilet humor or don’t like quiz show games for some odd reason.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: GREAT
Graphics: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: CLASSIC
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary:
You Don’t Know Jack is a successful reinvention of a classic franchise that takes all of the great things about the old games and sticks them into a brand new game that’s affordable, well designed, not too different from its predecessors, and generally a lot of fun. The writing is absolutely stellar and full of laugh out loud moments, the visuals are aesthetically pleasing and do a lot with a little, the audio is expertly arranged and presented, and Cookie Masterson carries the experience almost entirely on his back. The game is simple enough for anyone to play but offers plenty of challenging and amusing questions to plow through, and thanks to interesting question types, all sorts of unlockable knick knacks and achievements, four player support online and off, a ton of questions on-disc and the promise of even more in DLC, the game is content heavy and well worth the price based on that. The game doesn’t present questions randomly, however, so once you’ve played an episode you’re likely done with it unless you want to stomp someone, the game works better as a group experience than a solo one, and the Jack Attack can make or break a session, but these complaints don’t detract from what is a welcome revival of a worthwhile series. You Don’t Know Jack is easy to recommend unless you hate quiz shows or you’re too urbane for dick jokes, but if you’re not a sufferer of rectalcolonitis, you’ll get your money’s worth out of the game, I can guarantee it.



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