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You Don't Know Jack review: A not-so-trivial success

Justin McElroy

Many of you probably do not, in fact, know Jack.

Though the "irreverent quiz show party game" was once overwhelming in presence, You Don't Know Jack has been the recipient of precisely one retail release (2003's YDKJ: The Lost Gold) in the past 11 years.

Now, the cult classic has finally made its debut on modern consoles, and though it may have learned a few new tricks along the way, it's the sadistic, hilarious comeback fans have been waiting for.

Gallery: You Don't Know Jack | 39 Photos

The briefest of recaps for those new to the Jack fold: one to four players (one more than the traditional series limit) race to answer a series of silly questions that blend useful knowledge with the ... not so useful. (e.g. "Which of these hairy Harry Potter characters has the least melanin in his hair?") In a welcome change, every player can now register an answer, rather than just the one who buzzes in the quickest.

If you think one of your competitors doesn't have a clue, you can "screw" them once per game and force them to answer a given question. If they whiff it, you get the dough they lose. If they get lucky and nail it, you're the one who loses cash. All the questions are presented by returning favorite Cookie Masterson, a snide but never grating host that hilariously vacillates between disgust with the players and for the game itself.

The biggest gameplay addition (aside from synchronous answers) is the Wrong Answer of the Game, which rewards a big cash prize for making an incorrect guess tied in some way to the sponsor of each episode. Since every episode has a unique sponsor, you'll be on the lookout for one answer that, though incorrect for the question at hand, does pair with the sponsor. For example: Incorrectly guessing "Dracula" in one question about monster organs rewards the player with a bucket of Blood Co.-brand blood ... and a tidy profit of $8,000. It's not just a goof -- this smart addition forces you to really analyze all answers, meaning you can be scooped on a question you know cold if you spend too long looking for the right wrong answer.

Each sponsor is tied to one of over 70 three-round games -- two five-question rounds and the Jack Attack, a tense lightning round -- each of which take between 15 and 20 minutes to play. At least three DLC packs of 10 games apiece are either available or coming soon. Though you can play through each episode online with up to three strangers or friends, Jack is really at its best when you're with a group of friends who can snicker at another's misfortune live and in person. If you don't have trivia-savvy friends some online buddies will do, but a Jack purchase should give you pause if you're only going to be playing with online strangers. It just doesn't work.

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This is really the only problem I find with this version of YDKJ. While it's a wonderful, well-crafted Jack experience, it's not one that's been optimized in any meaningful way for this day of widespread online connectivity, persistent leaderboards, etc. Maybe that's asking a bit much for $30, but I guess I was hoping for a more ... connected experience that took some plays from the beloved, abandoned 1 vs. 100 book.

If you're a Jack virgin, you'll likely be surprised at how well the game succeeds even without nostalgia. This is a formula that just works and, with the addition of a modern presentation and some online options (thanks, Jellyvision and THQ!), it's been updated for a new audience.

Now, to vets, I can only sum up my recommendation with one word ... UBERNOSTRUM.

This review is based on the 360 retail and early version of You Don't Know Jack provided by THQ.

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