February 03, 2008
The Bigs (or The BIGS as it is often marketed as) is an arcade-style baseball game developed by newcomer Blue Castle Games (who still do not have a follow-up project) and published by powerhouse 2K Games' 2K Sports division. The game features mostly realistic baseball gameplay with added tweaks to focus more on making the game fun and unique than anything else. While not sinking to the depths of depravity like the MLB Slugfest series (which featured punching other players on the base paths), it also does not stick to the genuine realism of 2K's normal baseball franchise.
The gameplay in The Bigs is focused mostly around the Rookie Challenge mode, which has you creating a player from scratch and throwing him onto your team of choice, substituting out whatever player would normally play that position. As you progress through different cities, you will be tasked with different challenges to complete, which will award you points to spend on upgrading your player. First up is spring training, which is basically a tutorial to teach you all the controls of the game. Moving from there, you will play other teams to simply win, or play challenge events where you need to get a hit, RBI or homerun with your rookie. This makes each at bat with your rookie very important. Aside from playing normal games, you will be able to do field and batting exercises which will also award points to upgrade your rookie.
Unlike most of the newer baseball games, The Bigs uses the classic "press to swing" approach, taking much of the frustration away from gamers who are sick of "swing sticks" and the like. While at bat, a simple press of the A-button at the correct time will give you a "contact" swing, which will focus on hitting a gap in the defense to put the ball in play and simply get on base. Taking the other route, a press of the B-button at the correct time will execute a "power" swing, which will attempt a homerun. While pitching, this is more like the other games in that you have up to four pitches to use from any of the face buttons, while aiming your pitch with the left stick. Whichever pitch you choose, you have to hold that button down to fill a meter as close to the top as possible (with the "perfect" rating given if you fill it completely), before it is able to move back down the meter. The closer you are to the top, the more powerful and accurate the pitch will be. Fielding is likewise much like other baseball games: run toward the ball and it will auto-catch it, press one of the face buttons to throw to that respective base, etc.
The "arcade" part is where the game really differs from any other baseball game. Executing plays will give you "turbo" as well as a number of points, depending on the style and execution of the play. A simple single is worth 1000 points, while a homerun is worth 10000 points. Turbo can be used at any time to speed up your outfielders or base-runners, or to give better concentration to your pitcher or batter. Once you reach 100,000 points and fill your Big Play Meter, you are granted a special ability which can be used while pitching or batting. When used while pitching, it is called Big Heat and your next pitch is pretty much a guaranteed strike, unless the batter also uses his Big Play Meter, which then activates Duel Mode, basically leveling the playing field once again. On the opposite side, a batter who employs their Big Play Meter will be guaranteed a homerun with their Power Blast swing. This is especially helpful to unleash with your rookie, seeing as early on they will be somewhat weak and not able to hit homeruns without it, and the homeruns they are able to get will give valuable points for upgrades.
To go along with the stylized gameplay, the graphics during these segments are pretty cool as well. While in turbo, the screen's color washes out with a grey overlay and makes that sort of "target lock-on" noise if you know what I'm talking about. During the Big Heat and Power Blast segments, the screen looks as if it were an absolutely blistering day, one where you'd see heat mirages on the road and whatnot. If pitching during this part, the ball will be set ablaze with a trail of smoke; if batting, the same will be true once the ball is hit, then it will blast into the scoreboard or knock hard against the foul pole, emphasizing the power behind the hit.
Even during normal gameplay there are excellent stylized portions. When turning a double-play for instance, the game slows down and zooms in on the second baseman as he leaps over the incoming runner and throws toward first base. Sometimes, the second baseman won't quite make it out of the way and be thrown head-over-heels by the sliding player, also slowed down for effect. Wall climbs are very common, slowing down the players as they scramble up the highest walls to rob batters of their hard-earned homeruns. Also present is the classic Home Plate rundown, where the base-runner will attempt to smash into the catcher and make him drop the ball, therefor remaining safe and scoring the run. During this part, you have to repeatedly hit the A Button to get a meter to your side. If you fail, the catcher wins and bowls you over, forcing you out.
The play-by-play is called by a man named Damon Bruce, who apparently hosts a sports talk radio show in the San Francisco area as well as doing the post-game shows for the San Francisco Giants, the 49ers and the Golden State Warriors. He does a pretty good job, giving the game a bit of spice over normal sports games by commenting once in a while how he has repeated himself. The other sounds in the game are also well done; the typical baseball sounds are all how you’d expect, but the extra sounds actually shine quite well. Going into turbo mode at bat give a “target lock-on” noise that is pretty cool. Fast pitches and homeruns have a good “blast-off” type noise behind them. None of the sounds are all that unique, but they make the gameplay that much more fun.
The part of the game that is definitely the most unique is Homerun Pinball. In this mode, you face a pitcher in the middle of Times Square, New York, with the intention of smashing as many cars, windows, signs and billboards as possible to rack up points. Different areas can be hit by aiming the left stick, as well as switching between normal contact hits and big power swings. Each area, when hit a certain number of times, will activate a bonus screen to smash. This could be anything from a score multiplier to an extra ball or even one of two special modes called Pitch Mania and Multi-ball. In Pitch Mania, the pitcher basically throws the next pitch right after you hit, giving you a chance to go right into another bonus. Multi-ball causes the ball to split in three when hit, obviously giving you multiple areas hit with every swing. As the game progresses new pitches are added, increasing the difficulty to time your swings. Toward the end the pitcher will be throwing fireball pitches at you; at this point, you’re about done.
The achievements in The Bigs are a good sliding scale of difficulty. For instance, you get an achievement for a strikeout, then 3, then 5, all the way up to 15 done in a single game. Same thing goes for doubles and triples, up to 5 each, and finally for homeruns up to 10 and runs to 20. None of those are all that difficult in a 9-inning game though. The really tricky part is getting up to 15 perfect pitches in a row, as most of the time a perfect pitch will be a strike, so you’ll only get nine in an inning. Then you have to bat, and usually by the time you get back to pitching you’ve lost whatever groove you might have had. I often messed up around 10-12 before I finally got the achievement. Another very annoying achievement is getting one million points in Homerun Pinball, since as the game progresses the pitches become more varied and difficult to hit, if you don’t get a few multipliers early you’ll begin to have trouble around 600k. I actually found the most annoying achievements to be finishing Rookie Tour mode with both an American and a National League team. The mode is extremely long and tedious, coupled with the game’s extremely low difficulty results in a very boring process.
A good announcer and very accurate sound effects make this a game you won't have to mute. Adding in the extra spice to the announcing where he actually makes fun of normal game announcers who repeat themselves, as well as the cool effects for fast pitches, homeruns and all of that extra stuff definitely makes it a good soundtrack.
The game is a bit stripped in the graphics area. Nothing is very detailed or specific, but the basics are all done very well, and considering the type of game this is, that is perfectly fine. The extra slowmo and turbo modes, as well as the excellent cutscenes make it a very good-looking game.
The difficulty is very low and the controls are extremely simple. You can jump right into a game, head into the Rookie Tour mode or play Homerun Pinball at the drop of a hat. Very basic and fun.
Definitely one of the best "alternate" sports games I've played. Gives the sport of baseball a bit of an edge without sinking so low as to make it thuggish in any way.
Only two of the achievement will really give any trouble, but they will make you tear your hair out (1,000,000 in HR Pinball and 15x Perfect Pitches). Rookie Tour mode is so long and boring, you might not even want to finish it. However, the majority of the achievements can be done in Exhibition games, so they are overall pretty good.
Overall, The BIGS is a very fun alternative to the generic sports games we are used to. This has to be one of the better "alternate" sports games. The Street and Slugfest franchises all seem to take it too far over the top, when just a few extra abilities and some cool graphics and cutscenes is really all it takes. Anyone who enjoys baseball should find this fun, and those not so hot on baseball could use this as an entry point to the sport.