For the past decade, trivia gamers have gotten by with perfectly decent quiz-show games like Buzz! and Scene It?—earnest titles that tried hard to please us, as evidenced by their can-do punctuation. They were just so darn eager to fill the void left by that titan of the late-’90s CD-ROM era, Jellyvision’s quizzer series You Don’t Know Jack. Now the prodigal son has returned.
Jack is an astonishingly good game. Astonishing because it was away for years, and creative teams rarely regain their swing after an extended absence. The last full-fledged Jack title—not counting 2003’s table scraps, The Lost Gold—was The Ride in 1998. Jellyvision then wandered through a few unsatisfying variations, including online editions and an ill-conceived TV show.
The You Don’t Know Jack reboot carries itself as if those disappointments never happened. The disc offers 73 new “episodes” of the game show, each one comprising 10 trivia questions and a decisive “Jack Attack” round. That sounds like a series of discrete events, but it’s really a rushing stream of wit and surprise. Voice actor Tom Gottlieb returns as host Cookie, the best of the series’ emcees. His sneering delivery lends an edge to questions that, in Jack tradition, begin with pop-culture premises, but often end up elsewhere. The game is just as likely to ask about Emmanuel Lewis as Immanuel Kant—or, even more likely, both at once.
Many familiar features return, like fake commercials and the once-per-game option to “screw” opponents by forcing them to answer a question. There’s also the iconic Dis or Dat questions, which has players file items from a rapid-fire list into two hilariously disparate categories, like “Britney Spears Song Title or Pope?” New wrinkles include “Who’s The Dummy,” an occasional sidetrack that filters a question through the consonant-averse lips of a terrible ventriloquist.
One downside of a console-based Jack is the lack of a keyboard, which restricts the variety by forcing multiple-choice questions. Other changes are for the better. Instead of lockout buzzers, the game now allows all players to choose an answer, awarding or subtracting money on the basis of speed. This tweak minimizes blowouts and keeps the pace brisk. Jellyvision’s developers haven’t just lived up to the legacy of the greatest quiz-show game ever made, they’ve extended it.