It’s time to go back to the nineties, for a crime spree like no other. This is The Big Con, a game that mixes the very best of nineties nostalgia – squiggly patterns, those S’s that everyone doodled at school and going to the movie store – with loan sharks, petty-theft and an ungodly amount of corn puns, all wrapped up in a technicolour fever dream of an art-style.
And it’s absolutely brilliant.
The Big Con follows Ali Barlow, a teenager who’s only real concern is trying to get out of going to band camp. That is, until loan sharks threaten to shut down her mum’s video store. Not one to take things lying down, she decides to embark on a cross-country crime caper to find the $97,000 needed to keep the store open.
Our journey across America includes a lot of petty-theft, pickpocketing and conning people out of their cash. In fact, that’s the main aim of The Big Con – earn enough money in each level by any means necessary to move onto the next.
Pickpocketing will be your main source of income. But you’ll also quickly learn the art of the Con – to discover what people want, to provide them with it, and to relieve them of their cold hard cash. Sometimes, you’ll get the information you need by just brushing past them or by speaking to them. More likely though, you’ll need to eavesdrop on their conversations to find out their true wants and needs. It’s then up to you to act on that information. There’s a slight element of problem-solving involved here. You might hear a code from a passer-by that could open a bag or a door on the other side of town. There’s also the Collector with the strange accent, who seems to follow you wherever you go. He’ll pay you handsomely for any coveted item you find on your travels.
These different ways of earning money work brilliantly together and thoroughly succeed in encouraging you to speak to anyone and everyone, to explore everywhere and to really get to grips with the rich levels that Mighty Yell Studios have created.
You’d think a game about loan sharks and a life of crime would be pretty dark and gritty. The Big Con is anything but. If the vibrant art-style didn’t already give it away, this is a game that revels in not taking itself seriously. It’s silly, it’s bizarre, and it’s bloody good fun.
That’s where the main enjoyment comes from in The Big Con – interacting with the weird and wonderful characters that occupy this world. There’s the bloke angrily muttering to himself about how bucket hats will be the next big thing, the guy with a dangerous obsession with shoes and the Rad Ghost, who has a funky theme tune, gives friendly advice and is a figment of your imagination – a true Holy Trinity, if you ask me.
Naturally, Ali’s sharp wit and dry humour plays well with these weirdos and makes her an ultimately endearing character. She’s also a remarkably well-rounded one. Between those funny observations, cultural references and sarcastic remarks, Ali often questions the morality of her actions. And the many conversations she can have with her mum provide some sentimental moments and help keep the game somewhat grounded. The game goes to great lengths to remind you that we are committing crimes, but for a good cause.
This is also a game that revels in nineties nostalgia. You have the vibrant art style, but you also have loading screens adorned with doodly S’s, squiggly patterns bordering each level and a trip to the mall thrown in. There seems to be a reference around every corner too. Having missed out on the nineties, I’m sure there were plenty that went over my head, but there are enough obvious ones to elicit a few chuckles out of anyone.
The only criticisms of The Big Con are relatively minor ones. The controls feel a little clunky at times, speech bubbles often disappear when talking to someone and a world map would have been appreciated. In practice though, they don’t affect proceedings too much. This is still a wholly enjoyable experience.
Overall, The Big Con offers something for everyone. It’s a tale that is both remarkably sentimental and utterly bizarre, and it’s one backed by a rich cast of characters and a world infused with nineties nostalgia. You’re not going to be conned out of your money with this one. The Big Con is well worth your time.
Travel back to decades-past with The Big Con on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One