Every question is voiced by the show's host, Nate Shapiro (played by Harry Gottlieb), but unlike so many other quiz games the delivery sounds natural. A slick delivery is accompanied by plenty of sarcastic remarks, sneers at taking too long, and very often unique jokes written for each of the three wrong answers.
That's the emblem of the dedication that defines this series. Even bothering to write lines for wrong answers is huge, but they don't stop at just spoken. Sometimes they're accompanied by sketches, sound effects, even songs sung to mock you. All for one wrong answer to one of hundreds and hundreds of questions that a player may never click on.
This extends throughout. Start the game and you'll hear the behind-the-scenes banter with the show's imagined crew, including future host for further games, Cookie Masterson (Tom Gottlieb). In the background you can hear the spoofed adverts that would be playing on television before the episode begins. And each time you load the game this is all different. A really lovely moment comes when the director's voice instructs the windowed menu screen to "okay, go to fullscreen", and it takes over the desktop.
It's not family friendly, either, which is another blessed relief. A question about Onan (that is itself wrong, as it happens - Onan spilt his seed when withdrawing from his ladyfriend's ladygarden too soon, not because he was playing the solitaire version) concludes with Shapiro adding, "But Onan wasn't the first to spill his seed. I've got to think that Adam did a lot of jerking off before Eve came along. It's just there was no one there to catch him."
Yes, it's often puerile. But here's some important information: puerile can be very funny. As is proven if you choose to abuse your ability to type in answers to what it calls "Gibberish Questions" (or indeed "FLICKERPISS NOSECUM"). Here you're supposed to work out what a nonsense phrase rhymes with, and type it in. If you're old enough to remember the parser-based Sierra adventures of the 80s, you'll know what you have to do next. So of course I typed in "f*** you".
The game stopped for a beat. Then Shapiro speaks, mimicking De Niro. "You talkin' to me?" Then he adds, "F*** me? No. F*** you!" and my score drops to -$64,000. I laugh, thinking what an excellent punishment. But he's not done. "Did I say f*** you? I meant, F*** YOU!" and my score drops to $-164,000. My second laugh is again interrupted. "Oh, and another thing," he barks. "I don't think I like your name." And I'm called "Dork" for the rest of the game.
Because the games have never been about graphics, the simplicity of this 16-year-old version makes no odds. The only loss by going back is the lack of variety in rounds. This is before they invented Dis Or Dat, or questions based on angry letters developers Jellyvision may have received.
But it does have songs that go,
- Flush your head down the latrine,
- Ease your way with sour cream,
Which makes it okay.
It's when you get to the credits that the secret behind its success is revealed. In an industry where many major studios don't even have in-house writers, let alone writing staffs, Jellyvision knew that good, fast-paced, prolific comedy comes from having a big team of talented people contributing. By my count, You Don't Know Jack Vol. 1 featured an incredible 23 writers on the staff.
It's odd that attempts to televise it haven't worked. But then the 2001 US attempt, starring Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens as the host, did look like something made for MTV in 1991, which might be where they went wrong. It lasted six episodes.
But the game series is with us forever, and with so many incarnations over the years, and one out this year (if you can get it from abroad) that's every bit as brilliant as it's ever been, this is a triumph of videogames that we all too rarely celebrate. So let's do that. Find a friend and ask them, "Suppose I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! comes out with a 'Five Stages Of Grief' line of products. After I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!, which product would come NEXT in the line?
- I'm Very Angry That It's Not Butter
- I've Lost All Hope Because It's Not Butter
- I've Come To Terms With It Not Being Butter
- I'll Do Anything To Turn It Into Butter