It wasn’t until after I’d sat down to compose this review of You Don’t Know Jack for the Sony PlayStation that I noticed something peculiar about the title in question: it comprises two discs. Now, this may not seem strange (or even interesting) to the RPG fan, who regularly plays games that span more discs than the new Xbox has names, but it’s not something you oft see in trivia titles.
And it’s a shame that you don’t—trivia games are notorious for having little replay value due to questions repeating after only a handful of plays. With two discs, you’ve got twice the number of expected questions, so you’ll be able to play You Don’t Know Jack at least a dozen times before doing so becomes pointless. I’d still like to see more questions than Jellyvision has provided here, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
You Don’t Know Jack is a no-frills comical take on the trivia genre. The title plays like a game of Jeopardy!, in that one to three players compete against each other to answer various questions and gain various points. Each question is crafted carefully to combine both an element of “high culture” (read: boring stuff) and “pop culture” (read: fun stuff). This means you could see a question that, say, involves spiders and ’80s music, or the perennial favorite of physics and The Brady Bunch. Most of the questions are straight Q&A trivia, but each playthrough also provides two or three special sorts of questions. I’ll omit long-winded descriptions of these questions and simply note that they’re peachy keen.
Besides the wacky questions, YDKJ offers you the chance to screw your friends. Unfortunately, this is not meant in the same vein as your impure thoughts; rather, if you think your friend doesn’t know the answer to a question, you can buzz in and “screw” him, forcing your friend to answer the question. If he gets it wrong, he loses points, but if he gets it right, you lose points and he gains ’em.
The controls of YDKJ share two sides of a double-edged sword. On the one edge, they take a page from the playbook of Nintendo’s Jeopardy! and allow two players to use one controller, which is great for gamers without a multitap. On the other edge, the actual in-game controls take you out of the game. Selecting question categories requires a geographic knowledge of the controller—and really, who among us knows exactly where the Circle and Triangle buttons are without any thinking? Even you seasoned gamers have to look down at the Dual Shock from time-to-time to remember where the Square button is; and in doing so, you’re always mindful that the controller is a hard, cold, plastic bit of machinery, and not an extension of yourself that you can intuitively manipulate as easily as any other part of your body.
YDKJ takes a minimalist’s approach to graphics—all you can see are questions, answers, menus, and screws. However, this game features an astounding amount of spoken words in the form of questions, answers, and playful banter, so it’s no wonder that visuals had to take a hit. There’s no way Jellyvision could have fit hundreds of spoken sentences AND fantastic cinematic graphics into the 32 bits of a PlayStation disc.
At only six years old, YDKJ already features numerous dated references that might not hold up at all in a few years. There are questions requiring intimate knowledge of Seinfeld, ’90s advertising slogans, and other subjects that few will be so familiar with ten years from now. As such, YDKJ may not hold up well against the sands of time, so play it while it’s still well-nigh topical.
You Don’t Know Jack for the computer is something of a cult hit among tech-savvy trivia buffs, but who’s ever heard of the PlayStation version? In all honesty, the PC version outclasses the PS1 version in every way—the controls are more intuitive, and the questions are more plentiful and diverse. But much of that is due to the limitations of consoles in comparison to computers. If you think of this title as Diet You Don’t Know Jack, or You Don’t Know Jack Lite, you should have a blast.