Technically, it’s only been a few years since You Don’t Know Jack staged a dramatic comeback. Around 2007, they started web-based games that were perfect on paper: new, topical content; online leaderboards; about 5-10 minutes’ worth of questions you could jump into each week.
But it ended up proving the hidden downside to episodic games: it doesn’t matter how good your content is; if you have too much, your audience won’t be able to keep up. The writing in the web version was every bit as good as the original. Still, I got overwhelmed after just a couple of weeks. And surprisingly, the venue wasn’t the best, either. There’s a reason they call it web browsing: it’s supposed to be casual, without taking up all of your attention, and cutting everything else out to play a trivia game for 10 minutes before work just never seemed practical. Even if you work at a videogame company.
That’s all in the past, though. You Don’t Know Jack is back where it belongs: dedicated, full-game retail releases on every platform imaginable. These have always been, hands down, the best-written videogames in the entire industry, and the new game completely lives up to the standard.
Presentation is as well-done as usual, too. You get the sense that everyone involved gets why this stuff is funny. Jellyvision has always paid more attention to UI and game design than is immediately obvious, and it’s still in effect: the You Don’t Know Jack games always feel as if everything from voice to writing to animation are all working in sync as part of the overall presentation. I’ve already heard it dismissed as “just motion graphics” but that underestimates how much goes into it.
I’d be happy if it were just the same, but they’ve made some subtle changes that work great. Every player can answer each question; you don’t have just one player buzzing in. Other players can also steal correct answers during Dis or Dat questions. And they’ve paid a lot of attention to multiplayer — those of us who’re used to having a game making fun of us for playing solo on a weekend night will appreciate how easy it is to set up local and online multiplayer matches. (On Xbox Live, in any case). Even separating the questions into episodes was a subtle but welcome touch: you can guarantee you aren’t randomly given a question that one of the players has already seen.
I’d forgotten just how much I love these games until the new one came out. There’s already one expansion pack of questions out, with two more promised in the achievements. I’m hoping this turns into a series that runs as long as it did the first go-round, if not longer.