You Don’t Know Jack

February 16, 2011

It’s been eight years since gamers last saw You Don’t Know Jack, Jellyvision’s “Irreverent Trivia Party Game” series. What began on PCs in the early ’90s has now arrived on home consoles, with some slight gameplay tweaks to make the experience more competitive. Most of the series’s classic features remain intact, and there are some new additions to keep things interesting. 

For those unfamiliar with YDKJ, the series is known for its off-the wall humor and unusual approach to traditional game show-style pop culture trivia games. Rather than simply ask, say, “What is the second stage in the Kubler-Ross model of grief?”, YDKJ asks you “If the creators of ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ decided to come out with an entire line of products, what would the next product be called?” and offer you the choices of “I’m Angry It’s Not Butter”, “I Accept the Fact That It’s Not Butter,” “I’ll Do Anything to Make It Be Butter”, and “I’m So Bummed That It’s Not Butter”. In an upgrade to previous versions, now each player gets a chance to answer each question but hitting the corresponding direction on the remote’s D-pad (older editions had more traditional a buzz-in system); how quickly you select your answer determined how much money you win if correct — or lose if wrong. There are special versions of the normal multiple choice questions hidden along the way, as well as the YDKJ-trademarked DisOrDat questions; DisOrDats present you with a list of seven terms and/or phrases that you need to sort into one of two seemingly unrelated (yet disturbingly similar) categories, like “Name of a Pope” vs. “Britney Spears Song” (sometimes “both” is a valid option, and the host will tell you so ahead of time). Only the player in last place gets to participate in a DisOrDat, although other players are encouraged to enter their responses anyway; if they lock in the correct answer before the active player and the active player is incorrect, they can steal that cash.

Another YDKJ trademark is the ability to “screw” an opponent. Each player receives a single screw; if at some point during the game you believe that one of your opponents has absolutely no clue, you can force them to answer by hitting the B button and then selecting them. The screwed player then has five seconds to submit an answer. If they are wrong (or fail to answer), they lose cash and you gain that much, then the question is reopened to all remaining players; if they’re right, on the other hand, they gain cash and you lose it. Screwing can pay off in a big way, but is obviously not without its risks.

The game contains 73 episodes, each with ten questions broken up into two rounds of five each. Scores in the second round are doubled, so it’s really easy to make up lost ground — or to lose it. Naturally, the end of each episode is the infamous Jack Attack, which has players participating in some word association according to a specific clue; for example, if the clue is “The Hair Up There” and the current word is “Ghost Rider”, you’ll want to buzz in when the word “Fire” appears on the screen. Correct guesses in the Jack Attack are worth $4,000 each, and only the first to buzz in correctly can earn that huge bonus; the $4,000 penalty for an incorrect buzz-in is not so restricted, so be careful. Often the entire game can be determined by the Jack Attack, so you’re never truly out of contention until the game is officially over.

There’s one final twist that is new to this edition: The Wrong Answer of the Game. Each episode has its own guest sponsor, like “Granny’s Roach Butter”. Each host has placed a specific wrong answer somewhere in their episode. Determining which one that is can be both easy and tricky; it will usually be a reference to the sponsor’s name, but some references are more direct than others. If you correctly identify and select the sponsor’s answer you are awarded $4,000 (or $8,000 in the second round) and earn a special prize… which is why I am the proud owner of a year’s supply of Granny’s Roach Butter, for instance. Joy. I really like the way this feature rewards players for not just diving on the correct answer as soon as they recognize it, which subtly pulls scores down over time. It takes some adjusting to get used to looking for a specific incorrect answer, but you can certainly play without doing so at all.

What is also new to this edition is online play, downloadable content, and achievements… as long as you’re not playing the Wii version (or the PC version, which is unbelievably even more limited). Despite the Wii being perfectly capable of playing online (Super Smash Bros Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, Monster Hunter Tri) and implementing DLC (some editions of Rock Band offer it, as do both WiiWare Mega Man games), for some reason somebody decided that it wasn’t worth the effort to put those features into the Wii version. Wii owners are stuck having to actually have real friends come over to their homes to play — which is undoubtedly a lot more fun, but having the option to play online with non-local friends and family would have been nice.

YDKJ supports up to four players (previous PC versions capped at three; the current PC version only allows two, so Wii owners can’t complain too loudly) and retails at a crazy bargain $30. At that price the only reason to not own this game is because you actually don’t have at least one other human being to play with — and the off-the-wall humor and zany presentation is so well done that even solo play isn’t that terrible. If you have past YDKJ experience picking this up is almost a no-brainer. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, then You Don’t Know Jack.


Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.