Friday, February 11, 2011

You Don't Know Jack (2011)

by Jellyvision & THQ
for Playstation 3
, Wii, DS, Xbox 360 & PC
PS3 version reviewed

The Jack is FINALLY back, baby. You've been gone too long! And the time off didn't go to waste - Jack is thoroughly updated with a slicker look and a new format.

In case you need to play catch-up: "You Don't Know Jack" was a best-selling computer game in the mid-1990s. The concept? A sarcastic, adult trivia game. The smarmy voiceover artist asked wacky multiple choice questions for various amounts of fake dough. Copies flew off the shelves, and there were a million sequels and special editions. After a weekly internet version, primetime TV show, book series, console version, and tabletop game, the companies behind "You Don't Know Jack" drifted away.

But now they're back, and the spirit of the game is exactly the same. Sample question: "Suppose Jackson Pollock had become a sandwich artist at Subway. What would his supervisor have noted about his performance?" and "What do a Victoria's Secret model and the mineral feldspar have in common?"

Tom Gottlieb returns as host Cookie Masterson
. Tom's recognizable voice can be heard on the syndicated "Whacked Out Sports." Up to four players can join at one console, and there's an option to go online.

The game takes place over three rounds. In round 1, you're presented with a category, and a four-choice multiple choice question. All players participate at once, using buttons on their controller to secretly lock in. The faster you are, the more you can score. A wrong answer deducts the amount. So if you stop the clock with 15.62 seconds left, your answer could be worth $1,562 in score money.

Each player is also equipped with a screw. By hitting their screw button, one player can force another player to answer in just 5 seconds. If they're right, the screw karma turns around, and the screwer loses the cash. But if the screw was successful, the player who launched it automatically scores that amount, before the remaining three choices go up for grabs to the player(s) left standing.

One of the first five questions is a Dis or Dat. The player in last gets a chance at this mini-game featuring seven statements. They have to decide whether the statement applies to choice A, choice B, or (sometimes) both. For example: name of a Pope, or a Britney Spears song? Added for this version is the ability to steal. The other players in the game choose alongside the player in the hot seat. If the stealer chose right when the hot seat player was wrong, the stealers split the money with anyone else who was successful.

A second round is played with five more questions and double the stakes. Adding further intrigue is the "Wrong Answer of the Game," sponsored by a fictitious company. Once during the first two rounds, a secret wrong answer associated with that "company" is displayed. If chosen, the player or players involved claim $4,000 or $8,000 each, depending on the round. Yowza. Off the top of my head, if the "company" were Dr. Wristdeep Proctology, the choice worth $8,000 might be "Cigarette Butt."

The third and final round is the Jack Attack, a staple of the series from day one. A central subject floats in the middle of the screen, and clues fly by around it. Buzzing in first when the clue matches the subject earns $4,000. Buzzing in any time on a wrong clue deducts $4,000 for each infraction. If the category were "Auntie Up" and the subject Lisa Simpson, you're looking to buzz on "Aunt Patty and Selma."

As I said, "You Don't Know Jack" has been updated for the next generation, playing in full HD with dazzling new graphics. There are several question themes that get their own cool animation. The question number jokes and jingles we knew and loved from the past are as catchy and fun as before. All the other trappings of being a fake game show are there, such as the crew milling in the beginning, and the hilarious voiceovers during the credits.

As for the new format? Again, to catch-up, the "old" games used a typical buzz-in format, where the first player to buzz got first crack at the choices. With dominant players who could read ahead, this made things boring for some people. This new version involves everybody every time, making this game an easier choice for your next party.

Where does it fail? The Wrong Answer of the Game concept, while clever, is perhaps a little broken. On the surface, it looks like it could redeem a lagging player who lucks in to the $8,000 and finds themselves competitive again. In practice, the players with the most gamesmanship keep their eyes out for it, and usually add the money to an already impressive total.

The Jack Attack is far out of balance with the scoring elsewhere. At $4,000 a pop, if one player is quick on the trigger, they're locking out the competition, rendering the first 90% of the game useless. Perhaps adjusting this to $2,500 or so would make it more palatable; or, adding more questions to the earlier rounds. In my experience, there was virtually no screwing in the first round, because the questions were vastly more straightforward than in round 2.


The game comes with 73 "episodes," and the ability to download more in the future. The questions are as clever - if not moreso - than they ever have been. Our room laughed out loud several times, owing to the talented Mr. Gottlieb, and the team of writers behind him. I only hope the issues are cleared up for a sequel, which is bound to happen given how well this new version knocks it out of the park. And let's see some more question types! "Jack" for the console retails at $30, with the upcoming download packs (as of now) at $5. The PC game is $20.

Added note: The PC version only supports two live players at a time - there's no online multiplayer and no downloadable content. This could have been a perfect opportunity to pack in "Buzz!"-like controllers to disperse people from the keyboard and make it compatible for four. However, with the scales tilting in favor of consoles these days, I can see why they didn't go out of their way. Just a small shame to see the one-time bread & butter for the series get ignored.

Also, the Wii version doesn't go online, and doesn't appear to support downloadable content either. But you can still crowd around with 4 players and taunt them accordingly.


Top Arguments said...

Can 2 players on the same console go online and play multiplayer with others? My girlfriend and I (both have live gold profiles) would love to play with some friends of ours who no longer live in town.

JasonA1 said...

Yes, according to my own reading of others' reviews, if you each have a Gold profile, two locals going online together is doable.