The old adage, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is a perfect way to describe the interval without the You Don’t Know Jack series. Since the franchise took an extended hiatus following 2003’s Volume 6: The Lost Gold, players have endured a collection of decidedly repressed trivia titles. Although games like Scene It, Jeopardy, Smarty Pants, and the Buzz series have tested the intellectual prowess of participants, each title’s presentation has seemed woefully humdrum in Jack’s wake.
Forgoing a subtitle, recent multiplatform release, You Don’t Know Jack effortlessly recaptures the puckish charm of the lapsed franchise. Much of the title’s success can be attributed to the game’s consistently giggle-inducing writing, which demands both academic knowledge as well as a familiarity with pop culture. From ranking bumper pool, Skee-Ball and Quidditch by the number of balls used to identifying the link between Claude Monet and Frank Caliendo, Jack requires players to connect two often, widely disparate fields. Being able to make the link is consistently satisfying, elevating Jack above its peers. The title’s other triumph is returning host Cookie Masterson, who delivers a blend of sarcasm, innuendo, and irrelevance recalling Talk Soup‘s best moments.
For Jack veterans a number of skillful changes have been made. Whereas the previous games have only supported three participants, this new iteration allows a quartet to compete. Gone is the constraint requiring gamers to buzz in before answering each question. Now, each round supports simultaneous play- with a point reward calculated on how fast a correct answer is given. At the beginning of each match a ‘Wrong Answer of the Day’ clue is given; players who carefully scour each selection of choices (instead of instinctively trying to beat their rivals to the right answer) receive a reward capable of altering the game’s standings. Returning variants like “Dis or Dat” and “Jack Attack” require contestants to categorize or match pairs, providing a rapid-fire change of pace from the standard Q&A. Of course, the ability to force another player to answer the question via the “Screw Your Opponent” function is back as well, creating a lively catalyst for heated competition.
Although most trivia games randomly select their brainteasers from a general pool of queries, You Don’t Know Jack employs episodes to avoid recurrent questions. With 73 episodes on the 360, PS3, and Wii (DS owners receive 37) console owners receive nearly twenty hours of gaming for the game’s reasonable $30 price tag. While developer Jellyvision assures buyers that four additional, ten-episode packs will be available for DLC, it would be gratifying to see even more additional updates. While a trivia game can be a lackluster experience for a solitary gamer, the ability to play online in a definite bonus. While Jack‘s internet community has its share of quitters and question memorizers, I found a majority of the game’s current constituency to be well-behaved.
Visually, the title’s animated intros which proceed each question are lively- with animated text and distinctive musical refrains. Regrettably, these sequences tend to lose their appeal with repetition- a bit more variety would have been welcome. Yet, the game’s largest blemish is found within the title’s balancing. With each Jack Attack question adding or subtracting 4,000 points, the final segment persistently determines the outcome of each match, making the early rounds of each game a mere warm-up.
Despite a disproportional final round, You Don’t Know Jack‘s writing and delivery raises the game above other trivia titles. With the exception of slightly lewder innuendo, all the elements which made the game a success during the late 90’s have been recreated, ensuring approval from series fans. Those who haven’t had the opportunity to know Jack, are highly encouraged to do so; the game is a near-idyllic diversion for the next time a group of friends visit.