If you yearn for the good old days of steroid-powered baseball, then The BIGS might be the answer to your electronic baseball fix as it muscles its way through a sea of sim-style baseball video games. The good thing is that you don’t have to fear another MLB SlugFest wannabe since The BIGS manages to stay away from being too extreme in its quest of a providing a quality arcade-style ballpark experience.
The BIGS is one of those games that definitely grows on you. It takes a spartan approach to baseball but has the necessary gameplay mechanics to make it a worthwhile play. Baseball purists might scoff at the lack of certain gameplay elements such as the lack of a franchise and season mode but the substitute Rookie Challenge is engaging enough to almost make you forget about the typical baseball season scenarios. On the other hand, there are a few features that 2K Games should have put into the game such as double-switch capabilities (when replacing your pitcher), base-runner lead-off control and adjustable sliders for tweaking gameplay. Other noteworthy but not so major is the lack of customizable controls and alternative batting/pitching camera angles. I know some of you are asking, “What the hell?” but don’t fret since The BIGS makes up for these omissions with its simple but yet addictive gameplay.
The developers, Blue Castle Games captured the basics of baseball and infused enough “juice” into to make it easy to play and very entertaining. The batting and pitching mechanics are excellent and makes playing on either side never a bore. The batting system utilizes the Sixaxis motion where you can influence the direction of the ball by adjusting your batter to either pull the ball or hit it to the opposite field. You can also use motion control to either swing under the ball or hit it into the ground. This is the first time I’ve used the Sixaxis motion control in a worthwhile manner for any PS3 game to date. You can also do the same motions with the left analog stick but I found the twisting of the controller to be more intuitive since fiddling with the left analog stick. My only criticism with the batting experience is the tendency for the pitcher to throw too many strikes. This is a good thing for those who just want to get up to the plate and start swinging away but on the flip side, it takes away from the pressure of waiting for a good pitch to hit.
The pitching function is easy enough to use and it does a good job of balancing the effectiveness of your pitches. It uses a simple bar – select your pitch and try to fill the bar as much as possible. Fill it all the way and you’ll throw a perfect pitch. Come up short on the fill mark and you’ll throw a very hittable pitch or if you miss badly, a ball. For both hitting and pitching, you have the ability to use Power Blast/Big Heat, which gives you the edge to literally blast a ball out of the park when you’re batting or if you’re on the mound, fireball pitches. The Turbo mode does the same but only on a per pitch basis. The scary part is pitching to a batter who has just entered the Power Blast or Turbo mode, since any pitch near the plate will most likely be smoked so you better throw the perfect pitch, otherwise you can kiss it goodbye. The power visual effects are pretty funny to watch whether it’s the fire coming off of the ball or when a homer crashes into a scoreboard or foul pole. Remember the baseball classic, “The Natural?” Well, it’s the same type of special effects. Good stuff.
Yeh! I really am that cool
Now on to the bad stuff with the controls – let’s start with the base running. The base running is controlled with the left analog stick (move either left to advance or right to go back) instead of the D-pad. I eventually got used to this setup but it still felt unintuitive especially when you compared to the tried-and-true D-pad base control. The odd thing is that the D-pad is not used for anything so what gives with this strange setup? Steals work the same way with pulling the left trigger but the inability to vary the base runner’s leadoff a major drag. The other control quirk is fielding where the X-button is used for diving at a ball but if you time it wrong (i.e. too late); your player will throw the ball to home plate. Not good. You supposedly have the ability to make “outstanding plays” in the field such as robbing home runs but your computer opponent makes a hell of a lot more of these fantastic plays (especially in the outfield) than you do. This sucks since the CPU-controlled opponent ends up stealing a lot more round-trippers than you do as well as gaining Big Play points. The throwing is also off both in the visual department and more importantly, with a player’s arm strength. The throwing animation looks like your typical baseball video game throwing animation (i.e. wobbling and weak) but the ironic thing is that the animation looks normal when you engage the turbo mode on throws. The speed of a turbo throw is obviously the arcade-style rocket but all the developers had to do was to tone it down a bit for non-turbo throws and we would finally have a baseball game that doesn’t show players in the Major Leagues throwing like Little Leaguers.
Besides the weak throwing animation, all other animations in the game look great. The graphics fit the overall arcade-style environment perfectly as the player models have a hint of a cell-shade style to them. The player models are detailed enough so you can recognize any given player but with obviously bulkier physiques. It’s obvious the poster children of the steroid era (Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire) were the role models for The BIGS. On the downside, the players’ faces aren’t perfect but there is definitely no need to hide the kids since I didn’t see any scary monster-style faces here. Overall, the visuals are what you would expect in a game like this. There are no surprises in the sound department but I do miss heckling from the stands and while I’m on this topic, when we will start to hear banter from the players themselves in a baseball video game? The play-by-play announcer is pretty generic but he does add enough to give the game a TV-like experience.
Run Forrest, Run!
The gameplay modes are basic with Instant Action and the Exhibition games but the real meat comes in the form of the Rookie Challenge, where you create a player and develop him in the Majors. There is an extensive customization feature and you earn points to build up his ball-playing attributes – power, contact (hitting), arm, glove and speed. The cool thing about the Rookie Challenge is the wide variety of challenges that consist of standard games with specific objectives (hitting a RBI or two homers in a game) or the mini-game challenges (batting, fielding and hitting). It is also fun to steal players from opposing teams when completing certain challenges. There is no need to mess with negotiating trades or fishing for free agents in The BIGS. The Rookie Challenge is a nice alternative to the standard league setting of most baseball games but hardcore fans will definitely miss the structure of a standard league. The other game types include the typical Home Run Derby and a unique Home Run Pinball game, where you take batting practice in Times Square. You earn points by hitting certain structures in the famous New York landmark. I hope the crew at 2K Sports and Blue Castle Games decide to add other world famous locations. It would be sweet to wreak havoc in such famous locations as The Strip in Las Vegas, London’s Piccadilly Circus or maybe even The Mall in Washington D.C., just to name a few famous locations.
Online multiplayer modes consist of the standard quick match and custom matches, which can be tweaked by the level of difficulty and the type of versus mode (one-on-one or co-op). Co-op is actually a cool way to play since on defense, one player controls the pitcher while your teammate controls a default fielder. The pitcher can also control another fielder by hitting L1 when a ball is hit into play. On offense, you both alternate with the batters. The multiplayer component complements the game pretty well but you’ll need some patience when going online to find players since it does take an inordinate amount of time for a successful matchup to occur.
The BIGS does a commendable job of capturing the essence of baseball but with an arcade bent to it. If you have shied away from baseball video games in the past due to them being too boring or difficult to play, then you should step up to the plate with The BIGS. It hits for the cycle in providing an easy-to-jump-in and fun baseball experience.