Most times, sports-themed video games strive for realism and accuracy. Pro football players have been known to obsess over their Madden attributes, and NBA players strive to improve their game on the actual court, but on the digital one as well. Baseball games typically strive for a similar level of accuracy, with franchises devoted months of development time to drill down into the most intricate of player stats in order to deliver the most realistic game possible. The Bigs 2 throws all that stuffiness out the window, instead opting for a streamlined, arcade-style game that’s easy to pick up and play but nearly impossible to put down. We put the game through its paces recently and also caught up with Rob Nelson and Damon Perdue, producers on the title so we can bring you all the latest on this particular slugfest.
For those new to the franchise, The Bigs is all about taking baseball players you know and love and making them into larger-than-life caricatures, but in a good way.
While the steroid era may hang a pall over current seasons, The Bigs beefs up the players but strips them of pretension. These are supermen, with powers that no mere mortal could posses. Once you’ve got your head wrapped around the idea that you aren’t supposed to take this game seriously you can really start to have fun with it.
Much like the first game, The Bigs 2 handsomely rewards big plays and has little time for the humdrum minutiae of regular baseball. Strikeouts and hits earn both turbo and points that feed into a big play meter. Once the meter is full you can release a potent offensive or defensive strike, massively tilting things in your favor. The Big Blast and Big Heat from last year are back (making hits all but assured and all but impossible, respectively), but this year a new wrinkle has been added. Now, if you allow your big play meter to fill completely then you have the opportunity to unleash a Big Slam. When triggering this event your players face 4 pitches in rapid succession. Connect on the first three and it’s an automatic single for each; nail the last one and it’s a guaranteed grand slam. It’s the perfect weapon to mount a major comeback in the late innings or put a close game out of reach.
That’s not the only change though, as there are plenty of other little tweaks and adjustments. One is Legendary Catches, which allow you to rob the opposing team of surefire hits or homeruns through a test of reflexes. When the icon appears players must quickly tap a button to initiate a slo-mo sequence, during this time you also must match whatever other button icons appear onscreen. Success means a snazzy still-frame shot of your player making the grab as well as a tremendous injection of points into your big play meter. It also means crushing defeat for your opponent, which is reward enough in itself.
Another addition is dynamic hot zones which shrink and expand based on each batter’s performance.
Obviously balls hit in this part of the strike zone are more likely to end up as home runs or at the very least base hits, but there’s also an incentive for pitchers to go after them. Blowing by strikes in hot zones not only grants a boost to your turbo meter, but also shrinks the meter in turn. Therefore, courage in the face of particularly intimidating hitters can pay big dividends if you manage to keep the ball off their bat. Obviously failure is a constant possibility though, and all it will take is a few big shots from opponents to send your confidence reeling and your pitches to the less dangerous parts of the plate.
A final upgrade to gameplay is the new player-specific power-ups that are attached to certain MLB stars. Big name guys such as David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez have specific power-ups they grant to the team, making them even more dangerous opponents. Some stat boosts only apply to the specific player they’re attached to, while others grant benefits to the whole team. The only thing that players might not enjoying hearing is that these power-ups are preset and non-detachable, so you’ll never discover new abilities lying dormant within players nor be able to switch them out for others more suited to your style of play.
The new game also has a brand new career mode, which promises to be much deeper than those in years past. While we didn’t get a chance to try it out ourselves, Rob Nelson and Damon Perdue filled us in on some of the details.
This time around the career mode doesn’t restrict players to one year, but rather follows them through all their time in the majors, thus creating a more in-depth experience. New players start out playing in Mexico (with fictional leagues, teams and players), and then hone their skills until they can make their MLB debut.
Progression is measured through stars in each statistic, with the typical 1-5 arrangement. This time around though you can apply a sixth star to make a specific attribute “Legendary,” with the obvious goal of maxing out all your skills. Along the way you can “steal” other MLB players and add them to your team and the final stages of the career mode involve taking on legendary players of years past and overcoming the challenges they present. Nelson and Perdue explained that for some of these legends the challenge would simply be to win the game, while for others you may have to hit more home runs or even take on a legendary player 1-on-1 in one of the title’s mini-games. Things aren’t all sunshine and roses though, as you still can’t create a pitcher and go through the career mode that way. Turns out most of the challenges are offensively oriented and don’t really lend themselves to utilizing a pitcher. Not a big deal for those who don’t mind playing out in the field, but troubling for gamers who spend their time attempting to be the reincarnation of Cy Young.
I briefly mentioned mini-games above and this year’s edition of the franchise features a whole slew of them. Home Run Pinball is back once again, but this time with more venues (Tokyo, Las Vegas and retro Times Square have all been confirmed), as well as to play the game in co-op either online or off.
There are also new mini-games based of fielding (make the most legendary catches) and speed (race your opponent through the stadium, up the bleachers and over the rooftops). These modes are also available for multiplayer but only offline, so if you want to take your game into the wider world you’ll have to settle for either a traditional game or a round of Home Run Pinball.
One last thing to address is the fate of the Wii version of the game.
In the first edition Nintendo’s version of the title differed greatly from the other new-gen offerings, with somewhat questionable controls and a few missing features. This time around though Nelson and Perdue are assuring us that all three editions of the game are the same, with the Wii sporting all the same gameplay modes as the Xbox 360 and PS3 editions. Furthermore, motion controls have been improved so players no longer have to flail like idiots to run bases, and pitching has been substantially streamlined. Additionally, while the game doesn’t yet support MotionPlus, Nelson has stated that the team would love to try it out in potential sequels, as well as try their hands at the motion control technologies being created by Sony and Microsoft.
We left our time with the game a bit disappointed with what isn’t being included, but excited for what the game does have to offer. It feels like not every piece of the puzzle is there yet, but taking the extra year to develop The Bigs 2 has paid dividends, as the new features sound like they’ll be a lot of fun and the already existing gameplay has been tweaked nicely. With the game scheduled to launch in a couple weeks we’re definitely looking forward to spending a bit more times with the boys of summer, even if they are a little more muscle-bound and generally bigger than we remember.