The Big Con Review: Be Kind Do Crime
Ali is a pretty normal 90s teenager — she enjoys hanging out with her friends, spends plenty of time watching movies, and obviously wears a plaid shirt wrapped around her waist (duh!). Actually, to be honest, she’d be an extremely cool teenager in the 90s, as she runs a video rental store with her mom and has her own room with a phone, glow in the dark planets on the ceiling, and every band poster imaginable. Yeah, life is overall rad for Ali… until the day a couple of loan sharks roll into the store and threaten her mom: 10 days to repay $97,000, or it’s curtains for the mom ‘n daught video shop. What’s a teenage girl to do?
Conveniently, another stranger rolls into town who seems to have the answer — steal the money.
So begins The Big Con, a 90s coming of age story wrapped in extraordinary amounts of crime. Developed by Mighty Yell and published by Skybound Games, The Big Con asks players to “choose how to make your scratch as you don disguises, pick pockets, and rip people off in this comedic crime-filled adventure.” Available on Steam and Xbox for a reasonable $14.99, The Big Con will delight players want a fun story that flirts with far too much danger for your average high schooler to handle.
The Big Con opens up on Ali’s predicament, beginning in her humble hometown famous for corn skewers. $97,000 in 10 days is damn near impossible to scrounge up for your average adult, so it’s easy to imagine the enormous amount of pressure Ali and her mother have on their shoulders. So when the suspiciously friendly drifter offered Ali a shot at the cash, she jumped at the chance, knowing it may be her only option. After practicing pickpocketing on her friends and neighbors, Ali and her new partner in crime, Ted, hit the road, looking for lucrative jobs along the way.
Controls in The Big Con are interesting — there’s no mouse support, so it’s keyboard only. Arrows and WASD make for movement, Q to pull up Ali’s notebook, E to interact with people and things, 2 to pickpocket, and 3 to dip into the ‘ol fannypack. At first, I thought the lack of mouse support was really odd, but I soon found my left hand resting comfortably on the 1, 2, and E buttons and my right on the arrow keys.
When it comes to aesthetics, The Big Con draws much of its inspiration from the early 90s (think SoCal Sunwear and Saved By The Bell), although there’s plenty to be found of the mid and late 90s. Everything is bright and vibrant, which really helps nudge players who might have a harder time with the somewhat dark material into a life of crime. The coloration of the various characters’ hair and skin reminded me of the cartoon Doug, where green and pink people were totally normal. And with a fun soundtrack to match, The Big Con sounds and looks like a 90s dream.
Speaking of the 90s, the references to the final decade of the 20th century were plentiful. A store dedicated specifically to plaid, a hit toy selling out instantly that looked an awful lot like a Furby, Crystal versions of food items that would make the FDA weep… even an Orbitz reference was thrown in there. Additionally, there were a whole bunch of NPCs walking around that looked awfully familiar, such as The Rock in all his black turtleneck and fannypack glory and the excellent Wayne’s World duo. My personal favorite? The constant anti-smoking sentiments scattered throughout the levels in the form of Ali persuading a smoker to quit the habit. I’m sure many of us remember the smoking PSAs in 90s video games, so to see this included in a video game about the 90s was a perfect nod to the era.
The Big Con’s pickpocketing mechanic was executed in an interesting way — to quickly sum, NPCs will wander around the area with some cash in their back pocket. By standing near them and holding “2”, the pickpocketing meter will appear, the goal to release the “2” button in the rapidly depleting purple area. If successful, Ali will receive some cash and, on occasion, an item alongside the money; if caught, Ali will need to wear a disguise before attempting to steal again. With a wide variety of hats, masks, glasses, and other items to wear while pickpocketing, Ali makes her way through the small jobs to get to the big bucks.
The Big Con was one of those games that I didn’t want to put down and legitimately enjoyed just powering through in one sitting, but it does unfortunately have a few issues. For one, the story is a little… predictable; now, this didn’t bother me at all, but I went into this expecting a 90s experience and got what felt like a 90s teen movie. For those thinking they’re going to get up to serious conman hijinks like setting up a card table or robbing a bank, they might be disappointed to know it’s mostly pickpocketing and fetch quests from start to finish. Completely enjoyable mechanics, but, you know, worth mentioning. I also had the issue of some NPCs and items going invisible at times, but it didn’t prevent me from actually progressing. Just odd is all.
I want to stress that any perceived issues should not deter anyone from lifting The Big Con for themselves. For those who love a feel good story and only want to push themselves out of their comfort zones just a teensy bit (idk why stealing pixelated money from pixelated people gives me anxiety), The Big Con is a fantastic game with an interesting premise and enjoyable execution. After playing it, I realize I want to do things a bit differently and can’t wait to jump back in, and judging by the very positive Steam reviews, I’m not alone in that sentiment. The Big Con does a lot of things right, making for a fun game with oddly family-friendly teenage rebellion.
The Big Con is a heart-warming coming of age story that will delight 90s kids, referential-humor enjoyers, and those with sticky fingers. Its relatable protagonist never loses her heart of gold, despite the horrible circumstances she finds herself in, which serves as a shining testament to the dev team’s ability to carefully craft a story using controversial mechanics. If you have $14.99 and 7 – 10 hours to spare, take a look at The Big Con — it’s bound to steal your heart.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Xbox One, XBox Series X | S, PC (reviewed); Publisher: Skybound Games; Developer: Mighty Yell; Players: 1; Released: August 31, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of The Big Con provided by the developer.