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PlayStation 3 Review: You Don’t Know Jack

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Once upon a time there was a quiz videogame that, rather than being based on a television show made itself appear as though it actually was a television show, and a rather crass one at that.  From sexual innuendoes to slamming the competitors to asking just plain weird questions, You Don’t Know Jack became a massive franchise, spawning an incredible number of iterations on the same basic premise – you’re playing a game show.  Now we’re getting an all-new You Don’t Know Jack for 2011 and it’s the first Jack title for the current generation of consoles.

First off, let’s be very clear, while the graphics are sharp, this is still a quiz game and it doesn’t rely on graphics, it relies on the quality of questions involved.  Is it great to be able to play Jack on a current system?  Yes, but there’s not really a whole lot of new here requiring a current system (outside of the disc format).

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about how a game actually works.  The title is playable with one to four players, either local or online.  There are multiple choice questions given and right answers earn you cash while wrong answers cost you.  Each game is divided into three rounds, with the first five questions being in round one, the second five making up round two are worth twice as much, and the final round is known as the “Jack Attack” and right answers there earn $4,000 a piece (which is certainly more per question than you’ll pick up in the other two rounds).

Jack features a host, Cookie Masterson (who has appeared in previous Jack titles), who really is just a disturbed disembodied voice.  Except for the upper portion of a bald head, Jack doesn’t provide visual characters, just audio ones and Cookie is a great character – he’s not afraid to share his disturbing secrets nor to mock you should you get the question wrong.  There are also a whole bunch of minor audio characters in the background who help run the television show you’re allegedly on.

 As for the questions—because it really is all about the questions—they’re harder to describe.  The vast majority of them are multiple choices and attempt to get at your knowledge in odd ways.  For instance, one question in the title asks you which classic toy Georges Seurat would most enjoy.  Among the four choices is the right one, Lite Brite.  The question is actually asking if you know that Seurat developed pointillism (and what pointillism is).  In the non-multiple choice questions area you get what are known as “DisorDat” questions which ask you to do things like identify whether a word appearing on screen belongs to group A or group B (sadly no gibberish questions this time out for the franchise).  For instance, one DisorDat we saw asked whether words were the name of a Pope or a Britney Spears song (boy, I can’t wait for there to be a Pope Toxic III).  Finally, there’s the last round, the Jack Attack, where you’re given a one-sentence clue to help you match a series of upcoming words (like characters to the type of hair they have).

With 73 episodes included (and 40 more downloadable on 360 and PS3), there is a whole lot of trivia present.  However, as each game only takes about 10 or 12 minutes, you may go through them all relatively quickly.  Of course, you may not, because one of the things Jack lacks is computer players – you’re absolutely allowed to play a one player game, but it really will be a one-player game, there will be no computer opponents to defeat and as a one-player title the game runs out of steam relatively quickly.

The other thing I’d quibble with about the game is the setup – that Jack Attack at the end is worth way too many points and too easily alters the outcome.  In other versions of You Don’t Know Jack there are, sometimes, more questions before the Jack Attack and that can provide a little more separation before that final round starts. Beyond that, more questions before the end of a game makes the title as a whole more enjoyable — as it is here, the entire affair feels quite rushed; by the time you feel comfortable with the question style the game is over.

It should also certainly be noted that there are in fact a number of subsets in the multiple choice question arena and that two player games allow you to “screw your neighbor” where you force them into answering a question without their needing to buzz in.  There is some other fun stuff too, but part of the enjoyment of the game is figuring out exactly what’s going on.

As has been the case since its inception, this latest You Don’t know Jack title is filled with an incredibly wide array of questions.  One question will ask you about Shakespeare, the next about Avogadro’s Number, and the next about Avatar.  There is no question out of bounds, and no lewd comment that Cookie won’t make.  If you’re a parent playing with a teen or vice versa, it’s virtually guaranteed that at least one of you will end up blushing over the course of a game.

Retailing for approximately $20 less than a full-priced title, 2011’s You Don’t Know Jack manages to retain all the fun of the original title from 1995, but really fails to add anything new or different.  As stated above, what the game is, is playable on today’s systems and in the end, what good is game software if you don’t have a system it’ll work on (but I do miss those gibberish questions).

You Don’t Know Jack is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Language, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, Wii,and Xbox 360.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.