Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Blue Castle Games
N Amer - 06/25/2007
The BIGS Review
Football has Street and Blitz. Basketball has Street and Ballers. Hockey has Hitz, and golf and tennis have Hot Shots. These are the extreme, arcade-style versions of our favorite sports. All have been attempted at least once, and many are still around today. The exception is baseball, a genre whose only hard-hitting games belong on the simulation shelf next to Madden. SlugFest, the only arcade baseball release, came and went almost as fast NFL Xtreme and NHL Rock the Rink.
But if 2K Sports has its way, Midway (SlugFest’s publisher) will wish it had tried a little harder. Roughly two years ago, 2K Sports and Blue Castle teamed up for a game that would revitalize America’s favorite pastime. Intended for the next generation but made for multiple platforms (PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, and PSP), the game developed into The BIGS, an over-the-top take on baseball.
Major League Neo
Morpheus wasn’t kidding when he said Neo was the one – he has single-handedly influenced more movies and video games than any other character. His faster-than-Superman moves and slow motion effects have been the source of material in games from every genre, including The BIGS. When you catch, throw, or plow through a catcher to steal a base, the game occasionally adjusts for a cool, in-your-face slow-mo move that brings you closer to the game.
Hit a home run and a light glow trails behind the ball; hit a Power Up home run and fire trails behind. The ball flies through the air at speeds far greater than what reality would have ever allowed, pushing it toward an object (such as the giant screen at Comerica Park) that will be smashed immediately on impact. Lights, fixtures, windows – if your ball can reach it, expect a destruction sequence to follow. The commentators will be all praise as the crowd goes wild.
That’s inside the stadium. Outside at Times Square, in a game called Home Run Pinball, you’ll trash cars, thrash buildings, and destroy more LCD screens than a wrecking ball at Best Buy. Nearly every visible object is destructible, and every destroyed object will rebuild itself after a short period of time. Three balls are pitched, but like real pinball, more are rewarded for skillful playing. Knock out each letter of the glowing sign that reads CASTLE (a nod to The BIGS’ developer) for a chance at an extra ball, a ball multiplier (where every hit splits into three balls), or at 25,000 points from hitting screens and buildings that typically only reward 5 to 10K.
Points are worth more than a high score – they also fill your Power Up Meter, The BIGS’ version of a GameBreaker. One hundred thousand points are needed to fill the meter, and you’ll earn those much easier in this mode than you will in the others. When playing an actual game against a team, 10,000 – 30,000 points are awarded for running bases and scoring home runs. Twenty five thousand are given to the fielder who prevents a home run by performing a wall jump, a move that takes little effort to execute. Run up to the wall with the white circle, press the X button, and enter the three-button code that appears on screen. When it’s time to Power Up, pitchers will throw with increased power while batters hit home runs automatically (if the ball makes contact). One word sums up the experience: exhilarating.
Home Run Pinball
I Did It All For The Rookie
Back inside the stadium, players are faced with the challenge of controlling a low-class, high-promise rookie. The start of this mode (known as Rookie Challenge) is typical for sports games, though not as expansive. Create a player by combining several pre-made aesthetics (face, bat, player number, etc.) and allocate the introductory attribute points however you see fit. The fun stuff comes after your player has been formed: compete in the big leagues, train hard in one-shot mini-games, and face off against the sport’s best athletes for a chance to steal an opposing team’s player.
It’s a season mode from a different perspective. The setup is very sequential. There is usually more than one game, challenge, or training session to compete in, but you won’t be given complete access to every stage. Similar to how levels are regulated via item collection and world completion in action/adventure games, The BIGS has a somewhat linear path that can’t be avoided.
Regardless, it’s hard not to get hooked on Rookie Challenge. Many of the challenges come with a simple-sounding goal: win. If you’re good, that won’t be a problem. If you’re not…you haven’t been playing enough. Just as the Blitz and Street games required an hour or so of practice before the fundamentals clicked, The BIGS is not a pick-up-and-play experience until you know how to play. Batting is an action that’s based entirely on time – the time it takes for the ball to arrive and the time it takes for you to react. Your reactions must vary with different pitchers, pitch types, and the different game settings. The most significant difference between the easy, medium, and hard settings is the level of batting difficulty.
Pitch strength and accuracy are determined by the charge meter, a feature your opponents will be in full control of long before you’re getting “perfect” ratings. As the pitcher, you have that infamous transparent box to throw in and around, plus two cool additions you won’t find in any other baseball game: batter attack and turbo for balls. You can intentionally throw the ball at your opponent to knock him off the plate. Fallen batters are replaced by the next guy in line. His team receives 7,500 points for the trouble, which go toward their Power Up Meter. Outside of the comedic factor, this makes batter attacks sound pointless. But if there’s a great batter you can’t stand to go up against, The BIGS gives you a way out.
Screw up a pitch and it’s an automatic ball. Your opponent knows this instantly by the red circle that appears outside the strike area. Assuming he sits back and lets the ball pass, a small amount of energy will be added to his turbo meter. Turbo is the energy teams use to achieve and sustain the lead in between Power Up executions. Its functionality is the same as in any sports game: increased running speed, stronger batting, harder throwing, etc. But this turbo won’t replenish itself – you have to earn the right to use this energy, which is done by taking balls and by striking out opponents. Giving balls and allowing your team to be struck out does the opposite.
While movies are over-saturated with product placement, video games occasionally
miss the chance to sneak in a relevant advertisement.
Who here thinks that bottle should’ve said “Coke” or “Pepsi”?
The BIGS is a fantastic sports game that runs the bases with ease but has a hard time coming home. It contains some of the same flaws that plagued the first Blitz and Street games. Most are minor issues – I can ignore (but will still laugh at) the lack of ball contact. If you see a player get knocked over by a hard return, pull up the replay feature for a closer look. Though it doesn’t happen every time, there’s a good chance the ball won’t actually touch the player it supposedly knocked down.
I can also ignore the graphic engine, which allowed the developers to create a gorgeous game that doesn’t look next-gen. You could assume it’s because there were other, less potent versions (PS2, PSP and Wii) involved in the development process. But either way, the lighting, player faces, textures, animations, stadium detail, etc. – while all very, very impressive, they do not give me that jaw-dropping, “I can’t believe this” reaction I look for in a next-gen game.
Though it doesn’t bothersome enough to put down the controller, there is one thing about The BIGS that I wish I could change: it’s not surreal. At times it’s too real, as in 2K Sports real. Yeah, that’s who it came from. But it was meant to be an arcade game. I know the developers were dedicated to bending (not breaking) the rules of baseball. They have to get the support of the MLB, so there are certain things that can’t be done. At the same time I – an action-seeking consumer – want more out-of-this-world gameplay. Something more than a ball that catches on fire and flies out of the park – an effect that was done 10 years ago with a football in NFL Blitz, and before that in NBA Jam. Wall jumps are cool, but that was done in the second and third NFL Street.
The funny thing is that I remember having similar thoughts about the first and second NFL Street games. They’re great but flawed, I said. At the end of the year, which disc do you think had stayed in my console the longest? Incredibly, it was not the games that were deemed near-perfect – it was NFL Street. I see the same thing happening here. It’ll never be a game that wows in every respect, but it could very well be the one with the most replay value.
Review Scoring Details for The BIGS
After hearing about its concept, most gamers conjure up images of NFL Street, NBA Jam and other arcade favorites. Blue Castle wants the world to know that The BIGS is nothing like SlugFest. But make no mistake: if the EA BIG Sports style of gaming is what you’ve been craving, this is your game. In truth, it could’ve been titled MLB Street.
Excellent, gorgeous, beautiful – all the words you could use to describe an attractive game. But it doesn’t feel like a next-gen experience. The effects and gameplay mechanics are not so far past the previous generation that it makes me believe this game couldn’t have been made five years ago, albeit with fewer polygons and at a lower resolution.
Unexpectedly bad. I hate to knock a sports soundtrack that uses rock music – that’s a plus over the usual array of pop/rap annoyances. Unfortunately, most of the featured tracks have that drone-on sound that died in the 90s. In fact, many of the songs come from the 90s! That’s the last thing I want to hear when playing Home Run Pinball, even though the soundtrack did make me want to break something.
Worse yet, the commentators have no more than a handful of lines to work with. There’s a Superman reference for wall jumps; a note about ‘huge sluggers’ that’s recited for too many players; just one line for steals (“That’s robbery – Billy the Kid would be proud”), and a few others that aren’t worth mentioning. Blitz is no better in this department. The only arcade sports games that are superior are the ones that chose not to include commentary.
The batting mechanics were more difficult to learn than I anticipated, but most others were easy to learn. The pitching system, while imperfect for having a charge meter (isn’t there a better way?), works exceptionally well. But be warned: the computer AI fluctuates between easiness and cheapness. When AI catchers are able to snatch nearly every ball you hit, the lure of becoming a star in Rookie Challenge is reduced.
The BIGS is extreme baseball at its best. But its ideas – turbo moves, power-up features, point system, attributes, etc. – came from the world of Street, Blitz, Hitz, and Jam.
Online and offline, four players can battle it out in heated games of two-on-two action. This is THE reason you will be playing The BIGS after the Rookie Challenge has been completed (and after the addiction to the cool-but-shallow pinball mode has faded).
The BIGS has a lot going for it, so much that every Street and Blitz fan should take home a copy as soon as possible. The intense home runs, stadium interactivity, slow motion passes and hard-hitting slides – that literally thrust one player into another – are a must-see and a must-play. I don’t think of video games as a spectator form of entertainment, but you will have fun watching The BIGS, whether you’re the one playing or just waiting for a friend to pass you the controller.