Anthony's Film Review
You Don't Know Jack
(Video Game, 1995)
It's time for the computer game show where high culture and pop culture collide in hilarious ways...
I love You Don't Know Jack for the same reason I love the shooter game Half-Life. It is a game that takes a genre to a whole new level. You Don't Know Jack is a trivia game, but it is so whacked out in terms of silliness that I would play the game mainly for the humor, not for testing my knowledge.
I remember back in 1995 when I went to a computer software store and saw this game installed on a demo computer. I tried the game out. I was so taken back by how this trivia game asks questions in the most unusual ways. When I mean unusual, I mean the kind that would lose its audience if Jeopardy adopted this style. Well, maybe not everyone, but it's something totally new.
Consider the following questions. If Wile E. Coyote were part of the union called COYOTE, what profession would he have? Out of five answer choices, pick the one that Hamlet and Scooby-Doo do not have in common. With what you know about suffixes in medical terms, pick the one that would best describe a procedure involving the penis. Then there's a math problem involving Maxwell Smart getting his fingers and toes removed by a KAOS agent and how many digits would remain given a rate of digit removal and a length of time. Other questions may involve dirty-sounding bird names, Scooby-Doo in relation to vitamin deficiencies, and the Brady Bunch (which the game apparently loves to pick on). If a guy with the IQ of Swiss cheese were to play this game against an MIT student who knows nothing other than science, there would still be a chance that the two contenders would have a tie.
This first game in the You Don't Know Jack series has three types of questions. There's the regular multiple-choice question. There's the Gibberish question where you have to type in a famous phrase that rhymes with a gibberish phrase, syllable for syllable. Then there's the Jack Attack, where you buzz in when the correct word or phrase has the correct association with the word or phrase in the center of the screen. Basically, it's a really cool speed round at the end of the game. Through the game's sequels, many more question types have been made. I'll briefly touch on those later.
The game is also fun because of the characters. Yes, this game has characters. When you start the game, you're in the green room where you type in the players' names. Unless you're playing with yourself. I mean, BY yourself. And get assigned a letter on the keyboard that corresponds to your buzzer, which will be Q, B, or P. You hear voices of various people as they're scrambling to get things ready before the show starts in 60 seconds. Many of them have names with the voices, and you may see them (correction: hear them) later in other YDKJ games. And of course, the major character in the game is the host. In this game, your host is Nate Shapiro, voiced by Harry Gottlieb, the game's creator and founder of Jellyvision, which developed the game. He has the voice of a cool host, not simply a clone of Alex Trebek or Ben Stein.
I mentioned that I mainly play the game for its humor. Well, it's true. The questions themselves are so hilariously written that I could care less about what my score is at the end. You will also find humor in the host's responses when you're wrong. Yes, this is perhaps the first game show where the host will insult the players for wrong answers. There is also humor in the Screw Your Neighbor feature. In a multiple-choice question, you can buzz in and screw one of the other players, forcing that player to answer. But if he or she happens to get it right, you lose money. And the end credits after the game are funny, because there are funny made-up commercials.
Although this review should just focus on this one game, I am inclined to give you a preview of the rest of the You Don't Know Jack series. There's YDKJ Volume 2 through 6 and some specialty titles, including YDKJ Sports, Movies, Television, Offline, and Louder! Faster! Funnier!. There are other new question types, include the Impossible Question in Volume 3 where the question is worth $20,000 but is so damn hard to answer. There is also Dis or Dat, where you match each item to one of two categories that are totally different form each other (e.g., Identify whether each set of letters is a battery size, a bra size, or both). The Roadkill in YDKJ: The Ride involves buzzing in when the item that matches two given phrases comes up. So far, there have been four other hosts besides Nate: Guy Towers, Buzz, Cookie (my favorite), and Josh "Schmitty" Schmitstinstein.
You Don't Know Jack is a classic. It is no surprise that it was won several computer game awards for creativity and originality, and the series has continued to be a hit among fans. It'll make you laugh so much you'll cry before you stop and repeat the process. It's the kind of game where they could keep the format for the games in the series and it won't get old too quickly. The people behind Jack really are funny. In fact, go to the official web site for Jellyvision and see if you can surf their site without laughing at least once.
So the next time you see a copy of You Don't Know Jack or any other game in the series, all featuring a bald head with the game's title stamped on it, you'll know the game inside is side-splittingly hilarious. If you think there's a computer trivia game that's better, then you don't know jack.
For more information about You Don't Know Jack, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.