Late at night, I look out my window at the stars. Well, I look at where the stars would be if you could see them in this city. My thoughts drift in and out of worldly ambitions and stupid stuff I wished was real, but it was in the latter half of that equation that the thought, “whatever happened to You Don’t Know Jack?” came about. Amidst that, oh, I’d say an hour long inner dialogue, notes like, “It was a very good game” and, “I remember it being very clever” or, “with the only slight exception of Scene It, most party trivia games these days are kind of lame.” Then, as a stray shooting star whipped on by — which I can only assume because I probably wouldn’t have seen it through the light pollution — the whimsical words, “there should probably be a new one or something” slipped out of my tender lips. As it turned out, I didn’t even have to wish, because a quick Google search would have told me that a long overdue entry would actually be released the very next week by THQ and series creators, Jellyvision. Well, alright, that’s done… and awkward. Should have wished for world peace or something. Oh well, it’s out now, is it good?
What always separated YDKJ from Jeopardy on the SNES or Jeopardy on the PC, or whatever other trivia we played in the 90’s, was not just a bald dude on the cover, oh no. It was smug. That cheeky and smug attitude integrated itself into the very fabric of the game, most of the answers lay not in how much information you had stored in your cranium, but in your ability to decipher the wordplay YDKJ so proudly smothered them in. As a kid, I came for the witty banter and stayed for the captivatingly ballsy phrasing. I would usually lose to my parents, sure, but that one time I happened to learn what aqueous humour was in grade school biology the week a question about ‘noticing someone’s humour is showing at a dinner party’ let my heady confidence rise in a way that would rarely ever happen again. Until now… ish.
The snippy phrasing is certainly still there, a little more ‘Twitter Savvy’, but as the title suggests, even the most obvious information about pop culture, history, science and politics can be presented in ways that make you feel like an idiot. Before this was restricted to the living room: Ma, Pa, and whoever else didn’t want to play video games with guns. The obvious addition of making this an online experience opens the gates to see which country has the most adept quizmisters. Which pop musician can’t use their name in a Windows Word document due to punctuation? What kind of Subway sandwich artist would Jackson Pollock be? Which NHL team’s name has a spelling error? Asking ‘What’s going on?’ and then listing a handful of eras was memorably snarky, even better that I got it right in the face of who-know-how-olds internet anonymi. You can now ‘screw’ unsuspecting opponents worldwide, though not having them in the room means seeing how long they wait to answer and gauging their bewilderment.
Old school quiz modes like ‘Jack Attack’ and ‘Dis or Dat’ are still there, and are clever when they want to be, but new trivia styles turn out to be a little more charming. Like the ones where the host Cookie describes a dream to you or practices his new speech impeded ventriloquist act while reciting a question. The ‘Wrong Answer of the Game’ was obnoxious at first, seeing players get rewarded for seemingly stumbling on lucky incorrectness, but once I figured out that the ‘sponsor’ of each prize was actually a clue to which incorrect choice had a secret cash stash, that’s when it really grew on me. However, many of the changes, which surprisingly there are many, did not agree with me.
In the original games, you had the choice between a short round of 11 questions or a longer round of 21. Now all games are 11 questions regardless, there are no game options whatsoever. Without the buffer of built-in points before the cash grabbing final round Jack Attack becomes far more decisive than it should be. More restrictive yet, the original games had randomized question selection, those who got the last question right would get to decide between a choice of three, randomly selected and unusually titled new ones. Not anymore. Now, every set of 11 questions are divided into pre-set ‘episodes’, questions, answers, banter and all. You can even select to replay episodes you’ve done at the start of any round, so if you can manage to do that without anyone noticing, well, then enjoy looking like the smartest-most dishonest person in the room. This, in a way, also puts an expiry date on the game, because there are only 73 episodes in total.
Allow me to also be really snarky for a moment: Let’s say you still have You Don’t Know Jack for the PS1. Sure it comes on two discs and it isn’t HD, but the box does proudly gloat the discs which, let’s assume you bought at a pawn shop for seven dollars, have “Over 1,400 questions!” Now let me drag out my good old calculator and punch some numbers. 73 episodes which you paid about 30 dollars for… Yes, okay, each with 11 questions… Okay… That’s 803, which… Okay give me a second… Alright… Okay… That is… Let me go over the numbers… Alright, as my data suggests, 803 is less than more than 1,400 by, maybe, I don’t know, a dozen at the least. I’m no math-a-magician. This kind of rubs me the wrong way more than all the other things that rub me bad. Every time you play online, that’s another new episode less than you’ll get to crack at with your chums. Every new episode you crack at with your couch chums, that’s one less than you’ll be able to take online. The spot on the menu that promises future downloadable content, which we could have to pay more for all I know, that’s when the tears start to run.
There are certainly some great things done with YDKJ’s return to gamedom. I’m a big fan of the new question types, the presentation is a shiny update and the return of the end credits accompanying Chocky the Squirrel cereal commercials will throw you into a nostalgic fit. But for a new entry of a game last seen a decade ago, creating restrictions, shorter rounds and fewer questions is very hard to defend. I’m definitely going to enjoy what there is until it runs out, be it with my giggling Dad or cold silent online players. What am I going to do once that runs out though? I don’t know, wait for more stars I guess.