You Don’t Know Jack
In the mid-nineties, the You Don’t Know Jack (YDKJ) franchise shook up the interactive trivia scene with a sharp awareness of its own audience and the context in which they’d experience the game. The source of much entertainment at social gatherings, the series expanded rapidly, while holding onto the emphasis of presentation and puerile humor that made it such a success in the first place. Hundreds of euphemism-filled dick jokes later, it sort of petered out somewhere down the line, leaving an inimitable void in the trivia genre, shaped in the unsightly profile of a bald male scalp.
After an eight year absence, YDKJ’s return commands the same level of careful control over its source material, reintroducing us to fictional personality Cookie Masterson (Tom Gottlieb), whose self-deprecating personality and commentary stands as the highlight. Much of the time spent with YDKJ is in listening to the generally quality voice work, which falters only when other bit characters are introduced. There are occasional overarching sub-story points introduced at the beginning of each round, which are sometimes referenced in Cookie’s monologue, but otherwise this is straight trivia (only it’s a little twisted).
A counterintuitive sort of concept, trivia games imply short bursts of competitive quizzes in social settings, but rarely add any further value to that. The reason YDKJ is still a good trivia game, then, is in its admission that the purpose here is to gather in a social environment and interact with the game. Rather than implying that connection by creating gimmick-based peripherals, developer Jellyvision fills what would have otherwise been a monotonous trivia game with consistent comedy. They have penned lines not only for questions and correct answers, but also for the wrong answers, random asides, fake commercials, jingles, and more. More importantly, the lines are delivered as well as they’re written, with an often self-deprecating kind of sarcasm that allows Cookie to go into lengthy asides while still being entertaining.
The questions are typically multiple-choice and often don’t require all that much knowledge – some are scientific, cinematic, culinary, etc., while a small portion touch on videogames. While this stuff is useful to know in order to place well in multiplayer, the answer is often in the wordplay, or in the way a question’s asked. Variations are added in several new ways of presenting questions accompanied by unique, catchy jingles. For example, ‘Cookie’s Fortune Cookie Fortunes with Cookie “Fortune Cookie” Masterson’ (a personal favorite, if not only for the name) has Cookie read off vaguely worded fortune cookies and the questions revolve around the fortune’s concepts. There are also returning favorites like ‘DisorDat’ and franchise staple ‘Jack Attack’ (a word association round), which help in mixing up the gameplay.
The emphasis is on enjoying the experience of playing, rather than on how you’re playing or what you’re playing. This is where the series has excelled across the board and continues to offer the best experience available in a trivia videogame. There’s enough content and variety here that it serves the purpose of party-oriented multiplayer well. The truth is – in the right setting – YDKJ can be light fun, but it never goes any further than that.