The Big Con Review
Review Context: I grew up in the 1990s and long for those days again.
Date of Playthrough: August 2021
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided for free.
The Big Con, developed by Mighty Yell, is about a girl named Alison Barlow trying to save her mother’s video store from being shut down by loan sharks, who are owed a significant amount of money. It wasn’t so much the plot that intrigued me, although it IS interesting, it was the setting. As someone who grew up in the 1990s, once I learned this game’s 90s setting filled with nostalgia I wanted to see what the game had to offer. I miss the 90s. It didn’t hurt that a lot of the promotion features Rockapella, the band known for singing the classic 1990s Carmen Sandiego theme song, singing a theme song for the The Big Con in trailers.
The goal and gameplay of The Big Con is Ali going on a mission to pickpocket and use as many underhanded tricks as possible to acquire enough money to pay back the loan sharks to save her mom’s video store. Right at the beginning, what is really well done in the game is setting up the plot with beautiful 90s cartoon visuals and dialogue to set the rest of the game up. There really isn’t any wasting of time, something that other game writers and even screenwriters should take note of. As you explore and travel with Ali you’ll notice the color palette is very eye-friendly, the animations are just what they should be without being overdone, and most importantly, her style is very 90s.
Much of what the game has to offer is quick dialogue with people Ali talks to while roaming around, but the zoomed in portrait dialogue conversations are probably the most interesting. The dialogue choice system to learn more information or make an actual choice is very well done. The game doesn’t feature fully voiced characters, but there is some voiced dialogue in the game that does fit very well. Don’t worry about writing notes down because Ali carries a black and white marble notebook to keep track of people she meets and what they want, as well as her money and locations.
The core mechanic of this experience is pick-pocketing and slowly making cash by tricking people you meet. I’m honestly conflicted about the pick-pocketing mechanic because it’s so easy that it becomes boring. The pick-pocketing mini-game is similar to the classic kicking meter in Madden NFL games, although in this a button has to be held down and then released in a shrinking area that increases in speed in later levels, no double pressing like in Madden. Curiously, there is an option in the menu to turn off the mini-game, something that I think defeats the purpose of the experience. Since the pick- pocketing is something that becomes second nature by the time you reach the latter half of the game, the games ends up feeling like a traditional point-and-click experience. The pick-pocketing is the easy part, but the game shines when you have to use knowledge in conversations to advance or solve puzzles to go further.
As Ali meets new people and walks the streets picking up items she’ll amass an inventory of accessories and other oddities in her fanny pack that she might be able to wear. Just like you can mess up pick-pocketing, you can also make wrong dialogue choices that sour your relationship with a person. Luckily, Ali can use certain items as disguises to overcome mistakes if that happens. I made some mistakes in my playthrough and realized some restart type of mechanism might need to be added in the game for more efficiency. Player’s are expected to refer to their notebook to solve certain puzzles, but unfortunately the scrolling with controller is a bit too sensitive and it might be able to be presented and condensed a little better. I also accidentally left a level and wasn’t given the option to stay, something subsequent levels did better.
I chose to play the game because of the 1990s setting and beautiful visuals. I wasn’t disappointed, Some of the references in the game to the 90s are items and the starting screen, while others are a bit more subtle that you have to spot in the location designs. The soundtrack fits the game very well, but it’s important to note that Rockapella songs are not in the actual game, at least from what I played beginning to end. This is a little disappointing, but not shocking and doesn’t take away from my experience. Another 90s option is a laugh track that can be turned on or off during your playthrough. It’s turned off by default.
I really enjoyed my experience playing The Big Con, but I’m a bit conflicted. I’m torn because my 90s nostalgia heartstrings are pulling me. There are several plot twists in the game, but one of them is very predictable. The game feels slow until the latter half where it really picks up with the mechanics firing on all cylinders. I wish the game was expanded a few more levels to really test the player with the mechanics aside from pick-pocketing. Still, most of the execution in The Big Con is done very well, which is why my main complaint is I want more than just a four to five hour experience.
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