Arcade translations of professional sports have been a mainstay in video games for decades, and no sport is arguably more fun in a gravity-defying setting than baseball. Is there no better triumph than clocking a 100+ mph fastball into the stratosphere twice as far as Barry Bonds ever did? While the answer is debatable, the lack of arcade baseball games on next generation home consoles since Xbox 360 launched is not. Sensing this gaping software hole, 2K Sports and Visual Concepts finally stepped up to the plate with their first of hopefully many entries in the oft-shunned “fun” alternate sports genre, The BIGS.
Big muscles, big bats and big plays; these are the cornerstone for what pushes The BIGS beyond simulation baseball gameplay found in 2K Sports” other baseball game, MLB 2K7. That’s not to say the core of the game is not intact. You’ll still play the basic game of baseball: pitching, batting and (difficult) fielding. Only you won’t care about numbers or stats unless they directly impact whether you win a game or challenge. The BIGS is jump-in-and-play baseball at its finest. The presence of an instruction manual need not apply.
I found my time spent playing in The BIGS split evenly between a simplified “career” mode and an addictive distraction, which I’ll touch on further down. Career mode allows players to create a hulking behemoth in their liking and then steer him through either the grapefruit or cactus league, and ultimately into The BIGS. Once called up, a small number of cities attached to Major League teams each house a varying number of games or challenges which must be completed before new ballparks are available. In one “game,” you might be required to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in 3 innings. In another, you may be required to come back from a two-run deficit to the Colorado Rockies in the bottom of the ninth.
The challenges add a spice of variety beyond typically laborious nine-inning bouts, though unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all facets of what goes on when the ball is in play. I love big, booming home runs as much as the next guy, but I hate the “Gamebreaker” treatment Visual Concepts have applied to home runs. In NBA Street, once the Power meter is filled, the player can execute a nearly unstoppable dunk. Likewise in The BIGS, once the power meter reaches maximum, any contact with the baseball will result in a home run either shattering the scoreboard or clanging high off the foul pole. As an anti-Yankees fan, I love nothing more than blowing out a section of lights in their scoreboard. But as a gamer, I don’t want to have to wait for a power meter to fill before I can really launch a home run, sometimes only once per game.
In addition to the Power meter is the Turbo meter, which unlike the Power meter, is available for use on a near-regular basis. Any positive play executed, either offensively, defensively or pitching, adds a sliver to this meter. Using Turbo adds a little extra oomph to pitches, more focus to batting, speed to base runners and fielders, and annoyingly, more leap to outfielders. When the outfielders are able to jump like Tigger, way too many home runs are brought back into the park ” to the tune of 3 to 5 a game.
Beyond career mode lies an equally fun means of killing large chunks of time. “Home Run Pinball” is as simple as it is addictive. You stand in Times Square and hit nonstop pitches into neon signs, parked cars, and even the New Years Eve ball. Sounds easy, right? It is, until the pitcher starts working in a variety of off-speed pitches to keep you on your toes. He’ll also throw an extra-nasty Turbo pitch should you drill him with a hit. Only deep focus and concentration will lead to the four Achievement points and upper echelons of the Xbox Live Leaderboards.
Despite a handful of gameplay quirks, “The BIGS” is still incredibly fun to play through on career mode, if for nothing than to chase down the scores of easily obtainable Achievements that fall one after another. The added bonus of Home Run Pinball and full online play with friends only sweetens the pot more. The BIGS is a welcome reboot of arcade baseball games, and with room to grow, it stands poised to stick around for several more iterations, or at least until Julio Franco hangs up his cleats for good.