Game Picks: ‘You Don’t Know Jack’

CorrespondentFebruary 21, 2013 

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty excellent at trivia games. It was a tradition in my house, growing up, to watch “Jeopardy” every night after dinner. In high school, I even won a regional “Trivial Pursuit” tournament. Strangely, my obsessive trivia prowess didn’t seem to impress the girls. Weird.

In the 1990s, the trivia game was reinvented for the multimedia age with “You Don’t Know Jack,” a PC and Mac title that crossed Trivial Pursuit with an abrasive but funny game-show vibe. It was a huge success, back in the days when you bought your video games on CD at Office Max.

The latest incarnation of the now-classic game, “You Don’t Know Jack” (iOS, Android; free; rated 12+) is actually the second version for mobile platforms, and is designed to integrate closely with Facebook. It’s a great fit for mobile gaming. The new version preserves the wit and weirdness of the franchise while breaking the game into bite-size chunks and introducing new social media and multiplayer options.

“YDKJ” is a trivia game, essentially, but it riffs on the concept in creative ways. Questions are phrased in a manner that encourages lateral thinking and are often couched in pop culture terms. For instance, a question regarding the law of inertia might incorporate pop sensation One Direction.

Each game of “YDKJ” – you get one free game per day, but can earn more with victories and in-game purchases – pits you against five other online players. “YDKJ” uses an asynchronous multiplayer system, which means you’re competing against the scores of randomly selected real-world opponents who have played previously in the day. (You can play against selected friends as well, via Facebook.)

Each game consists of five rounds in a combination of multiple-choice and specialty formats. Each round lasts less than 30 seconds – the game is designed to be played in quick bursts. You earn points for answering correctly, and also for answering quickly.

The “Dis or Dat” game is an example of a specially formatted question round. Players must sort a quick succession of words or phrases into two given two categories, which are usually humorous and/or slightly naughty.

For instance, you might get two onscreen buttons tagged “Types of Rice” and “Brands of Condom.” As the phrases flash onscreen (Jasmine! Nymph! Wild! Fiesta!), you must quickly tap the appropriate button. It can get tricky, especially when you’re making lightning-fast decisions.

Speaking of which, each game ends with the game’s trademark “Jack Attack” lightning round. This is basically a themed word association game with a countdown timer. For instance, you might be issued the theme “Don’t Get Even, Get Mad.” Then you have to match a description to the correct term as it flashes by. “Mel Gibson movie” = “Mad Max.” “Lewis Carroll character” = “Mad Hatter.” “Bovine disease” = “Mad Cow.”

All of this is accompanied by incessant banter from the host, swirling graphic elements and an assortment of strange sound effects. The result is a mobile app that plays like a bonkers 1970s game show.

And that’s the admirable thing about “YDKJ,” from a game design point of view. It takes the basic template of a trivia game and twists it into something that feels entirely different.

New This Week: The sci-fi shooter “Crysis 3,” (PC, PS3, X360), the retro compilation “Capcom Arcade Cabinet” (X360) and the grammatically progressive “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance” (PS3, X360).

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