Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Big Con Offers Charm, Wholesomeness, And Crimes In Its Demo

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Hey there everybody! So, immediately after E3 this year, Valve held their Steam Next Fest, in which just a ton of indie games released limited time demos. And I downloaded and played just…a lot of them. Like, a lot a lot. I present to you the first in a series of reviews on those demos: The Big Con!

The Big Con is an upcoming indie adventure game, developed by Mighty Yell Studios and published by Skybound Games. Set in the 90s, you play as a teenage girl on a quest to save her family video store from loan sharks by picking pockets and hustling people across the country with the help of your criminal mentor. It’s bright, colorful, and surprisingly wholesome for a game about robbing people.

The demo is fairly streamlined, and crafted as such. Sometimes demos are just ‘the first thirty minutes or so of a game’, which can work out fine, but this isn’t one of those. Instead we start with the plot regarding the loan sharks already established and the criminal mentor already met.

On the one hand this causes some issues in that it’s kind of hard to get invested when I have no real connection to the video store, nor reason to trust or be impressed with the mentor (the demo even jokes about how the mom isn’t actually in the demo). But on the other hand…it’s a demo (I’m saying demo a lot lately). It’s fine for it not to get me emotionally invested, so long as it gets me to like the characters, the art style, and the gameplay.

Quite fortunately, The Big Con‘s demo nails that in all respects. The characters, most especially the main character, are quite excellent. Ted is a fun criminal mentor, who manages to be snarky and clever without coming off as creepy or malicious (a difficult line to walk when you’re writing the adult male mentor of a teenage girl). ‘Rad Ghost’, the character who most directly addresses the player, is a cute little 90s pastiche. And Ali, the player character, is an adorably awkward but determined young woman, and I do find myself wanting her to succeed and pull this off.

The art style is likewise excellent, if extremely specific. The Big Con isn’t just set in the 90s, it drips with 90s style. Sometimes in deliberate parody ways…

The Big Con plaid shop
Funnily enough, I know a decent number of women who’d shop here unironically

But also in just the general aesthetics of the locations

big con grocery store

As well as in the more important dialogue scenes

big con dialogue options, I already made a friend, the food is bad, and for once I'm not stuck with the top bunk

This game isn’t just a game set in the 90s the way IT was set in the 80s, or the way Stranger Things is set in the 80s as an homage to 80s media. This is a Nicktoon brought to life. From the background, to the style, to the way that half the cast is technicolor. While the gameplay is on the more modern side of things, everything else about the game is pure 90s.

The dedication is impressive, and it pulls it off remarkably well. But it’s also a very niche and specific aesthetic. If it doesn’t appeal to you…this game might not be for you. It’s not an endless stream of 90s jokes, the humor is honestly more modern rather than 90s irony, but it never lets up on the visuals.

In the demo, you focus on two areas. The first half is the town where Ali lives, as she picks pockets for the first time and learns to adjust to the new way of making money to save her family’s video store. The second is at an upscale mall, once she’s set out on a cross country trip with Ted, heading for the Las Vegas equivalent of this setting to make the money she needs.

Gameplay is primarily focused around exploration, item collecting, and picking pockets in the demo, and all of them work fine. There’s no pixel hunting for the first two of those gameplay styles. It’s always very clear what you can and can’t interact with once you get close enough. For the latter, pickpocketing is done with a sliding bar quick time event (QTE).

It’s a little odd at first, because it relies on releasing the button at a certain point rather than pressing it like most, but it’s easy enough to get the hang of, and it’s entirely possible to turn off the minigame and just always succeed, if you’d rather focus on the story and item collection. Which is entirely valid, believe me.

All in all The Big Con‘s demo was quite excellent. It’s sadly no longer available, but you can find playthroughs online if you want. At the end of the day, it did its job of representing the game well and of making me want to play the actual, finished game. And I can’t wait for it to come out in full!

Images Courtesy of Mighty Yell Studios

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  • Molly

    Gay, she/her. An unabashed Disney fangirl, who may or may not have an excessive love of shipping, comics, and RPGs. She's not saying. And anything you've heard about attempts to start a cult centered around Sofia Boutella is...probably true.

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