The Bigs Review
Baseball is commonly referred to as America's Pastime. Sure, it lost some popularity in the 90s after the strike and has been working to regain that popularity in the face of more intense sports like Football. Despite this, there are still a lot of baseball fans out there, many of which are more casual fans. They may not enjoy some of the simulation-style games we've seen released of late and may want something faster paced, much like the Slugfest series of years past.
Well, for those fans, there is now The Bigs. By 2K Sports, the maker of the MLB 2K series, The Bigs stands out from regular baseball games by adding in a major arcade feel to the game. Larger-than-life players, crazy bat designs, stadiums that feel more epic than those seen in other games and, finally, a turbo system, all contribute to making this feel like a true departure from the games we've come to know and love. However, this departure from the other style of games comes at a bit of a price to hardcore baseball fans.
From the start of the game, you'll notice that The Bigs is lacking one major thing – a genuine season mode. Sure, there's something similar with the Rookie Challenge, but there isn't anything for the fans that want to guide their team through one or more seasons, making trades and managing rosters as they go. For this game's target audience, the casual fan, this isn't a big deal – the game feels much more approachable this way. You still control your entire team during this rookie challenge mode, too (unlike MLB 07's Road to the Show mode where you just control your player) but there is no stat tracking, no ability to trade players (only steal them) or a way to carry things beyond your first season.
However, this Rookie Challenge mode is quite a bit of fun. You'll design your rookie's look from the ground up, though you only get access to basic stuff at first – hair color and style, batting stance, facial customizations, stuff like that. As you go on, you'll get the ability to add on a new nickname, sunglasses, a different bat design and more. This mode isn't short, either, and will take even the most grizzled baseball fan 15 or so hours to plow through. You'll face multiple challenges along your road to try to become the World Series MVP, including simple ones like winning a three-inning game to harder ones like stealing multiple bases in a single game. Some of the stat challenges can be far harder than they should be, but after you've played the game for a bit, you'll find a good way to make them all work. Sometimes, that means moving your rookie around in the batting order to ensure a base runner will be on for an RBI, or putting yourself first in the lineup to get more chances at getting on base.
From the moment you start any of the game's modes, you'll notice the main thing that sets The Bigs apart from other baseball games out there and, surprisingly, makes the game just as strategic as the hardcore sims – the turbo meter. When you make solid pitches, you'll add on to the turbo meter. Make multiple good pitches in a row, and you'll get bonus turbo on the meter. However, if you throw a ball, the batter gets turbo in the same way. Having turbo lets you enhance what you do in the field or at bat, be it allowing you to hit harder, pitch faster or chase down a ball with blinding speed. Thankfully, turbo doesn't make every hit an instant home run and using it can sometimes be a gamble late in the game – if you aren't that powerful and barely put a ball over the fence, there's a good chance that the outfielders will rob that home run and get a huge chunk of points towards their Big Play meter.
This Big Play meter is another aspect of the game that sim fans won't be used to. You'll fill this up by getting hits, hitting home runs and making outstanding plays in the field. Once you've earned 100,000 points, the chance to perform a big play will be enabled. For pitchers, this lets you throw three ridiculously hard-to-hit pitches – fastballs will scoot at over 120 mph, curveballs will break from the top of the strike zone down to damn-near touching the plate and changeups will take a few years to make it to the plate. Alternatively, the batter can also enable a Power Blast, which lets them hit a guaranteed home run if they so much as make contact with the ball. Note that a pitcher throwing strikes while you have power blast enabled gets triple turbo for each strike – this makes it so that even the power blast doesn't throw the game's balance out of whack. This, along with the turbo meter, can lead to some strategic decisions. Say that you're up 2-1 with with a runner on base – do you want to use that turbo to try to drive the runner in or save it for when you're facing the likes of Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard to have a better chance at striking them out? The decisions aren't always easy to make, but they are definitely there and give the game a nice strategic element.
The game's graphics also contribute to this whole over-the-top feel that The Bigs is going for. As mentioned earlier, players seem to be larger-than-life. It almost seems as if The Cream or The Clear made it into the game (though Barry Bonds, as usual, isn't here) with the way these players look and hit the ball. Smashing a pitch into the stands will leave a trail of fire behind the ball, while pitching with turbo will do much the same thing. Activating the Big Play mode will turn on some major lighting and lead to a small celebration of sorts if the pitcher gets a strikeout or the batter hits a bomb. The animations after you hit a home run can also be pretty funny the first few times you see them.
Overall, 2K Sports did a good job of giving the Bigs a totally different feel and making a game that was approachable by the casual fan. The minigame that is included is somewhat forgettable, though enjoyable the first time you try it -- hitting baseballs around Times Square is funny the first couple of times but gets boring after that. The lack of any need to manage rosters beyond very basic placing of players in certain spots means anyone can pick up the game and play it. However, this comes at a cost – hardcore sim fans that like to play their baseball games for hours on end will find the game to be overly repetitive and not as much fun with the lack of any stat-tracking or roster management. For the stat-heads (a crowd that I lump myself in with), The Bigs is a definite rental as it is still quite fun to play.
In the end, though, 2K made the right move to give casual fans a baseball game they can easily pick up and play with their friends. The Rookie Challenge mode is still fun, but not in long, extended play sessions. The most fun you'll have, though, will be playing against a friend – the exaggerated, arcade-style feel of the game will bring you hours of enjoyment. If you and your buddies enjoy baseball to any degree and want something to play when you're hanging out, definitely pick this one up – it is far more accessible than any other baseball game on the market today.