Video Game Review: Trivia Goes Mobile with ‘You Don’t Know Jack’

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CHICAGO – In this world, there are very few places for the creatively minded B-type personality to massage their fragile egos. Sure, you can write a 13,000 word diatribe defending the “Star Wars” Prequels, get a PHD, get a writing gig, kick-start that graphic novel you’ve been kicking around, etc., but the ability to have an honest-to-goodness pissing contest is sadly privilege of the proverbially macho. We can’t arm wrestle, we might as well have mittens for hands when it comes to catching any sort of ball, and we want people to like us. So we play trivia.

But the problem with trivia is that, once people know you’re good at it, they don’t want to play with you any more, especially if you’re like me and celebrate a correct Trivial Pursuit question like you scored the game winning touchdown in Super Bowl. Why? Because we take this stuff *seriously* and playing against a computer opponent simply doesn’t cut it. We want the thrill of victory, to thrust our dominating will upon the weak and pop-culture illiterate. We want, no, need to win.

So, many moons ago I purchased the Xbox 360 version of “You Don’t Know Jack” and promptly found that everyone hated it. “It took too long to answer questions,” they said. “The guy isn’t funny,” they said. “It’s the worst party game ever,” they said. In the end, I was out 30 bucks, a man defeated by my own lust for common-knowledge glory.

Then I met a pretty girl. Well, pretty is a disservice. She was bad-ass, exotic, laid back, sharp as a tack, and cute as a button - Imagine if you took Rolf the Muppet’s personality (and hair) and put it into a sexy possibly Latina chick. I wooed her with a trip to the giant Dave & Buster’s trivia machine, the sly maneuver of giving my prize tickets away to a kid (after getting her an adorable stuffed penguin - Gerald), and not much else. The second date was sort of a dud, opting to show off my comedy stylings at an open-mic, and we were both immediately bored after several excruciating minutes of lame Louis C.K styled jokes. Trivia came up again, and I mentioned owning “You Don’t Know Jack”. Her eyes lit up, and I was suddenly inviting a girl back to my place to play video games. And she was serious about this too. That competitive spirit that had eluded all my friends and most of my acquaintances, was present in this angel of a woman. I needed to win, and she did too and that was freaking sexy.

While the not-quite-relationship didn’t work out in the long run, she was a “Rock Band” kind of gal and I was a “Madden Football” kind of guy. Yet, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for “You Don’t Know Jack”, which I fondly refer to as the game that got me laid. It was also the first game I downloaded off the internet, ever, way back in the AOL 6.0 days, for what it’s worth.

You Don't Know Jack
You Don’t Know Jack
Photo credit: Jellyvision Games

So when I saw that very same girl’s FB page light up with stats and updates about her “You Don’t Know Jack” scores, I was instantly curious. Little did I know a mini phenomenon had swept the nation without me. “You Don’t Know Jack” was mobile! There were people, all across the country, playing this game? And they wanted to win? And they liked the jokes? And I can play DIRECTLY against people on FB whom I base my entire life worth upon my sense of superiority over them? At this rate, seriously, “You Don’t Know Jack” is going to be the best man at my wedding.

So I downloaded the game (while at work) to my newly aquired iPhone 3GS, and immediately had trouble doing much of anything because the game doesn’t play nice with 3G connections. After getting myself a more stable connection, I found myself enthralled. “You Don’t Know Jack” gives you an asynchronous gaming experience that actually manages to feel simultaneous thanks to some ingenious voodoo.

It works like this: “You Don’t Know Jack” is broken down into a series of episodes. Your FB friends play the game, and their score for each question is calculated, and pushed to your phone or iPad while you play that episode on your own time - so it looks like you’re playing against four other friends. So while your buddy Joe may have played his episode against completely different people, for your experience, it’s as if you’re playing Joe in real time. It works splendidly. Many a delight comes from watching a friend you know get a particularly easy question wrong, or shooting your way to the top of the standings after answering a hard question the fastest. This is totally addicting stuff.

“You Don’t Know Jack” presents itself as a ribald, irreverent trivia show. There are fake sponsors like “The Warehouse Supply Warehouse” (with all your warehouse supply, supply needs), and Nacho-pedic Beds (and pillows). The writing of the questions and associated jokes is fairly strong, and while there are a few groaners, the quality of writing is incredibly strong considering the bone crushing amount of content Jellyvision has pumped out in such a short time.

You Don't Know Jack
You Don’t Know Jack
Photo credit: Jellyvision Games

Annddd if you want to play a lot of that content, you’re going to have to pony up some dough. While the app is free, and you get one ‘free’ episode per day, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to play more than one a day, heck, you may want to play five, or six, or seven games in a day. Which is cool. “You Don’t Know Jack” has successfully brought the arcade to the iPhone, asking you to pony up about 2 bucks for a thousand coins, which equates to five or six additional episodes or so (depending on how many coins you’ve previously won, earned bonuses, etc). I’m a big fan of this sort of structure in my mobile games. If I want to play more, or feel like I should support the developer, I can drop a buck or two and feel like I’ve done my good deed for the day. Similarly, it’s also entirely possible to never pay a dime for “You Don’t Know Jack” and have a daily dose of irreverent trivia.

The trivia itself is mostly a mixed bag depending on your tastes. Hosted by the tastily named Cookie Masterson, each game is broken down into 5 questions (and five associated wisecracks by Cookie). The topics range in variety from pop culture to movies, to sports, to science, to english and grammar, and a variety of others. The faster you answer the question, the more money you earn, and you lose more money for a wrong answer if you buzz in quickly, too. The final round consists of a “Jack Attack” which has you doing some quick-fire word-association, and there are a few other trivia formats that occur occasionally through a game, as well, such as a “Dis or Dat” which has you associating a phrase with one thing or another, and the accurately titled “put the choices into order and buzz in and see if you are right….Question”. The person with the most money at the end of the game wins coins (used for purchasing more “episodes”) and bragging rights. Yes, you can *actually* brag on your friends Facebook walls if you enjoy the taste of victory with a side of petulance.

On the subject of petulance, it’s entirely possible you’ll hate this game for the reasons I like it. The so-bad-they’re-good jokes tickle my fancy, while it may grind yours like sandpaper. The graphic heavy A/V presentation could tax older devices and lead to lower scores, and it’s entirely possible for folks to buy ‘Point Boosters’ for a round that allow them to get 3x, 5x, or 10x the points for a correct answer.

Look, if have ever fancied yourself a trivia hound, you owe it to yourself to at least give “You Don’t Know Jack” a try. It’s completely free and playing your first few games will cost you absolutely zero dollars, and barely 10 minutes of your time. It’s engaging, it’s funny (to me), and hell, you may even get laid (or learn something!).

“You Don’t Know Jack” is available for iOS. video game critic Paul Meekin

Video Game Critic

Anonymous3586's picture

I remember this game..

I remember when this game first came out. I didn’t end up buying it but it looked pretty cool from what I saw. Maybe I’ll try it out this weekend.

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