Part way through the demo of The Big Con from developer Mighty Yell, I find myself in a shopping mall near a stand full of hair scrunchies. An unsuspecting shopper who's just minding their own business is my target, and I sneakily idle up behind them. It might be wrong to steal whatever money they have in their pockets, but I'm doing this for a good cause. Does that make it okay? No, not really. But I'm doing it anyway. See, when your mother's video store is at stake and she owes some very uncool loan sharks $97,000, desperate measures are called for. The Big Con takes you on a crime-filled adventure that takes you back to the '90s with bold, colorful graphics, and backgrounds filled with abstract shapes and pastels that look like they could have been plucked directly from MTV or Nickelodeon.
Any fan of the decade, or kid who grew up in the '90s, will appreciate the many nods to the era. From fashion to toys, and even alternate takes on movies, The Big Con has such a distinctive style and sense of humor. And from my brief time playing as Ali, the teenager turned pick-pocketer and shoplifter, I'm overcome with nostalgia and fall completely in love with this very rad and totally crime-filled adventure.
Gotta be sneaky!
Who better to introduce you to life as a teenage con artist than one very Rad Ghost. I mean, how could you not trust an apparition who wears a backward cap and shades? Surely they know what's up. The Rad Ghost sets the scene for your role as Ali, who wants to save her mom from losing her video store. With the help of a fellow named Ted, you first learn the ropes of picking pockets to get your hands on some dollars. The mechanics of pick-pocketing are quite simple.
When you're nearby someone you can steal from, an icon will appear. In order to successfully pinch whatever they have on them, you have to hold down the button input and release it within the purple section of a bar that appears on the screen. If you don't time it right and release it outside of the purple zone, the person you're trying to steal from will catch you in the act and you'll fail to steal the contents of their wallets. It gets a little gnarly when someone you're pickpocketing is on the move, and some people will be harder to steal from than others, especially if they have a lot of money on them. Ted tells you that a mother with a baby in a stroller is a tough mark. And sure enough, when I try to steal from her, the purple portion of the bar is much smaller than the others and the pointer also moves faster, which makes it more challenging to successfully pick her pockets.
As you run around an area, you can also come across other opportunities to rip someone off or earn money in different ways. You can also spend your time picking up trash off the ground, collecting objects, finding items of clothing you can wear, and kicking lamp posts for the hell of it. One of the best items I come across is a VHS tape of From Husk till Dawn, an alternative take on the '90s movie From Dusk till Dawn. And when I say alternative, I mean it has a corn husk used as a gun on the cover and a corn-shaped fellow wearing shades instead of Quentin Tarantino… Corn seems to be a big deal in Ali's world – a statue of corn can be seen in the middle of the street, and a mural of anthropomorphized corn decorates the side of a store. It's all a bit, well, corny, and I'm so here for it.
As someone who grew up in the '90s, one of the greatest joys of playing The Big Con is discovering all of the references to the decade. After I earn myself my first target sum of $10, I move onto the shopping mall which is ripe for the (pocket)picking. From a store that only sells plaid clothing to finding a fuzzy toy known as a Burblo that pays homage to the famous Furby craze, it really is a love letter to the time in the best way possible. I can't stop goofily smiling as I appreciate all of the design choices, including a notebook you use to keep track of your goals that has that trademark black and white school-style cover. There's also a transition screen between areas that uses a graphic of that classic cool skater S we all drew in school. You know the one I'm talking about (opens in new tab). The one that's pleasing joined up on all sides that everyone doodled in class.
As you venture around the different stores, shoplifting items, and pickpocketing customers as you go, you can sometimes come across an ear icon where you can eavesdrop on conversations. This chatter will often reveal an opportunity nearby, such as pretending to be the sister of someone in a changing room to swipe their purse, or discovering who's willing to pay big bucks for a Burblo. There is also a list of 'can do' optional tasks that bring some puzzle elements into play. One example sees me trying to work out how to get my hands on the code to the back room of the toy store so I can get the coveted Golden Burblo.
The demo absolutely flies by, and when I come to the end of my time in The Big Con, I don't want to leave this colorfully nostalgic world behind. Packed full of humor, style, and the totally excellent opinion that pineapple is, in fact, the best pizza topping, I can hardly wait to do more crimes and discover more '90s nods when the full game releases this year. I didn't expect the Mighty Yell's crime-filled adventure to make me miss my childhood days quite so much, but I'm left with the overwhelming desire to dig out my old Furby and watch classic movies from the decade.
The Big Con is coming to PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X in Summer 2021.