I am not what you would call a traditional baseball fan. I root for my home team (the Seattle Mariners) when they are doing well and ignore them the rest of the time. It's not that I don't like baseball, but my interests are often pulled in other directions and I find that I don't have the time and energy needed to be a hardcore baseball fan. But despite my wishy-washy take on real baseball, I absolutely adore arcade-style baseball games.
Maybe it's the fast-paced action, the constant home runs or the way they loosely follow the rules of the sport, but I've always been a fan of arcade-y baseball games. While I can respect the depth that a traditional baseball simulator has, I find myself getting bored at the pacing long before the seventh inning stretch. Perhaps that's why I had such a good time with 2K Games' newest baseball game, The BIGS. With its huge characters, crazy plays and frenetic pace, The BIGS proves to be one of the most enjoyable baseball games I've played in a good long time.
While most baseball games are trying to be as realistic as possible, The BIGS focus is all about that visceral feeling you have when hit a massive home run. There is nothing complex and intimidating about this sports game, The BIGS feels like it was designed to attract everybody ... even those people who have never thought about playing a baseball game before. It's not especially deep and the single-player mode is a tad limited, but 2K Sports' newest baseball franchise is perfect for those of us who feel that the modern day simulators have become a bit too complex.
For the most part The BIGS uses the same set of rules that every other baseball game plays by. You play a nine inning game where the two teams take turn playing offense and defense. You can choose any one of the thirty MLB teams, each with their own set of well known players. And you're rewarded for loading up the bases and hitting the ball out of the park. On paper this looks like your typical game of baseball.
What sets The BIGS apart from the rest of the crowd is its brisk pacing and focus on home runs and huge plays. In The BIGS you can play an entire nine inning game in five or ten minutes, it's the kind of game where you don't have to think too much about strategies and focus a lot of your time on your rosters. That's not to say that you can't bring some of your own strategies into the game, but The BIGS is to real baseball what speed dating is to a romantic night on the town.
You play The BIGS the same way you would any other baseball game. Pitching is boiled down to four different real-world pitches corresponding to one of the four face buttons on the Xbox 360's control. You use your left analog stick to aim in the strike zone and a golf-like swing meter that controls the accuracy and speed. If the player actually hits your pitch then it's up to you to field the ball and get it to the base as fast as possible. Like most baseball games, the bases are assigned to the different face buttons, so if you want to throw it to first base you would hit the B button, throwing it to second would be the Y button, and so on so forth.
Hitting the ball is also easy. Players have two different swings (a normal and power swing) and a button they can use to bunt the ball. Running the bases is as easy as pointing your analog stick in the direction of the base you're aiming for, and if you are afraid of being tagged out you can always slide by using the A button. For the most part this is all pretty standard stuff, quick and easy to learn and master.
Where The BIGS sets itself apart from the rest of the crowd is when you are introduced to the turbo meter. The BIGS gives you five turbo capsules to fill up and use at your discretion. Each time you throw a strike the turbo meter goes up, until ultimately you have all five of those capsules filled up and ready to use.
While the idea of turbo in a baseball game is far from innovative, The BIGS manages to do something original with it by making the turbo last for only one play. You can use it no matter what you're doing in the game, be it pitching, base running, fielding, or anything else. Since the turbo only lasts for one play you really have to figure out the most opportune time to use it. For example, you can use one of the turbo capsules to hit the ball a little further than you normally would, giving you enough time to easily make it to second (or even third). Or, as a fielder, you might use that short burst of turbo to get to the ball and throw that person out. You can even use the turbo one after another, so that you hit the ball farther and then run the bases faster. But remember, the turbo only lasts for one play so you have to use them wisely. The turbo adds a lot to the fast-paced nature of the game and it's fun to see how people combine the extra boost to make exciting plays you normally wouldn't be able to pull off.
Along with the turbo you also have a power meter that adds up as you strike people out, make huge plays, and load up the bases. When this power meter is filled up you are given one chance to use it to get an instant home run or an easy strike out. Unlike the turbo meter, the power meter will last more than one play. For example, if you're batting you can activate it (by pushing the two trigger buttons together) and use it the entire time that batter is at the plate. If you manage to hit the ball (no matter how lightly) you'll trigger a huge home run and neat looking animation. The batter and the pitcher can use it at the same time and trigger a duel, which comes with some great close-up graphics and an intense color scheme.
The real joy of The BIGS comes in how unrealistic everything is. At first the game looks like any other baseball game, but watch as you hit a ball at the first baseman and have it bounce off his head only to be caught by the second baseman. Watch as your outfielder is able to leap 25 feet into the air to catch what surely would be a home run. Watch as you slide into second and connect with the other team only to send them spiraling into the air. There are so many moments where you won't believe what just happened, you'll just sit there stunned and want to see it over and over and over again. It will only take a few innings before you see why The BIGS is different from all of those other sports simulators.
Unfortunately The BIGS does suffer from a few major gameplay hiccups. While the pitching and hitting is easy to pull off, the game falls apart when you have to field the ball. Like most baseball games, The BIGS will automatically select the player it thinks you should use to field the ball, but since the ball moves so fast the computer tends to give you control over the wrong person. That's not to say that you can't field the ball with that person (or even switch to another player), but by the time you've actually reached the ball you've give up an extra base to the other team. This is especially frustrating during those close games where a simple mistake could be the difference between winning and losing. As you play through the game you'll start to understand how the fielding works and make it work for you, but it's never as good as it should be. This is one of those problems 2K Sports will hopefully resolve by the time they enter their second year.
Also worth mentioning (although less pressing) is the difficulty in stealing bases. At no point in this game does it explain how to steal a base, not in the on-screen instructions and not in the instruction manual. You can look it up in the controls menu, but even then it's kind of vague and hard to decipher. To steal a base you actually have to push multiple buttons at the same time, while also pointing at a specific location ... all while you're trying to bat the ball. Thankfully these gameplay quirks don't ruin what is otherwise an exciting game of baseball.
For whatever reason The BIGS does not have a full season mode, so don't go into this game expecting to play through a full 162 game season. Instead you get the Rookie Challenge, which is a mode where you create your own character, insert him into a pre-existing team, and then go through a faux-season trying to take your major league team to the World Series. While this may not be the same as simulating a full 162 game season, it is a fairly interesting substitute that takes a lot of the tedium out of the normal sports campaign.
What's cool about the Rookie Challenge is that you aren't just playing a bunch of nine inning games; instead you are giving different tasks and scenarios. For a lot of the time you'll be playing five inning games, which is nice and short (and will only take you a few minutes to complete). As you progress you will be asked to play these games while making your rookie perform certain tasks. For example, they will want you to play a five inning game and have your rookie score three RBIs or hit two home runs. Some tasks will involve you stepping in late in the game and coming back from behind. You will also have the reverse scenario, where it will be late in the game and you'll be up by one run and need to keep the other team from scoring.
When you aren't playing against other teams you will be spending your time training in a bunch of mini-games. You'll have to run an obstacle course, hit a certain amount of points in a batting challenge, and field a lot of balls in a defensive challenge. Eventually these mini-games turn into one-on-one competitions between you and some of the best players in the major league.
While The BIGS does not attempt to simulate the entire season, it does take you through most of the major events of a ball club. You'll start out at spring training, hit the All-Star game, and eventually make your way to the playoffs. Unfortunately by the time you get the playoffs you will realize that you've already seen and done most of what this game has to offer. Thankfully the gameplay is exciting enough to hold your interest through some long and grueling games. All in all there's a lot of diversity, but this single player experience is a bit on the shallow side and may get old before you finally win the World Series.
Like most sports games, The BIGS is a better multiplayer game than it is a single player experience. The game supports up to four players at once, two on each team. You can also play with your friends (and strangers) online if you can't find anybody to pick up your second controller. Unfortunately some online problems (such as lag and the occasional dropped games) plague the Xbox Live experience. One can only hope that this is resolved so that those of us who love playing against other people will be able to do so without worry of our game freezing in the third inning.
Along with the multiplayer and Rookie Challenge, The BIGS also offers a number of other traditional baseball modes. You'll get the Home Run Challenge, where you try to score as many home runs and you possibly can in a short amount of time, and the general Exhibition Mode, which is nothing more than you playing a normal baseball game with two MLB teams. These modes are fine, but these are the kinds of modes you've come to expect from a traditional sports game.
Where The BIGS takes off is when you discover Home Run Pinball. I would not be exaggerating to say that Home Run Pinball is easily the most addictive part of The BIGS; it's a mini-game that begs you to come back time after time and better your score. It takes everything that is great about the single player experience (hitting the ball) and turns it into a fun score-based game. Home Run Pinball takes place in the middle of Time Square, complete with huge signs everywhere, enormous televisions, lights, people and taxi cabs. As a pitcher throws balls at you it's your job to take out those billboards, TVs, cabs, and neon lights. Everything you hit has a set point amount, and some of the harder targets (such as the New Years ball) are worth a lot more points than easy to reach targets. Best of all, as you take out certain objects you will get score multipliers and other power-ups that will ultimately aide you on your quest for a high score. It's a simple concept that is surprisingly addictive, there's just something about wanting to beat your high score that makes me come back for more. It doesn't hurt that this mini-game only takes a few minutes to play.
The first thing you'll notice when you load up a game of The BIGS is that everybody in the game is real, real large. The character models in this game are absolutely massive, giving off the impression that you're playing with a bunch of superheroes. These characters add a lot to the larger-than-life feel of The BIGS; they are large and ready to take line drive right to the face (without flinching, no less).
While most of the characters tend to look good, you can tell that real player accuracy wasn't a big priority for the developers of this game. Some of the characters look spot on, while others look nothing like their real life counterparts. This goes for their batting stances, which aren't always accurate. In fact, a lot of the characters have the exact same animation from situation to situation. You'll notice that when you strike out most of the players look exactly the same as they throw their bats down in disgust, the same is true when you get a home run and when you are hit with a ball. Still, those are the types of things I expect to see ironed out as this franchise moves into its second and third year. As a first effort this game looks great, there's enough detail in the characters and stadiums to keep most of the diehard baseball fans happy, and more than enough painful moments to keep even non-sports people interested in the on-field action.
With so much going for it The BIGS is an easy game to recommend. The game is different enough from the standard simulators to warrant a look from baseball fans, and even non-fans may enjoy how over-the-top the game is. This first installment does have a few minor problems that will hopefully be fixed up by the time The BIGS 2 comes out, even with those problems this is a hopelessly addictive game that deserves to find an audience.