Ahh the 90s – the time of bright colours, bumbags and backwards caps. A simple time when the only way to make a call when you were out was by using a payphone and the only way to watch a movie of your choice at home was to rent one from the good ol’ video store. The Big Con is a new coming of age crime adventure from Canadian indie devs Mighty Yell, which focuses on a teenager in the 90s fight to save the family video store by performing big and small cons throughout North America. Ali, our rad protagonist, journeys throughout malls, trains and casinos with a constant whiff of the 90s permeating the air like the smell of pop tarts and Baby Doll perfume.
Ali is a 17-year-old who loves hanging with her Mum in their family video store called Linda’s. But this ain’t no feel-good Hallmark movie folks! Ali’s Mum gets visited by a bunch of gangsters after she missed a payment on the mortgage, and now she may have to give up the store! Ali can’t stand by whilst their much-loved family business is taken from under them. Lucky for her a new kid in town, Tommy, just happens to want to give her a chance at scoring some big dough in the local casino town, Las Venganza. Ali is just about to leave for band camp, so her Mum won’t know that she’s actually on the road, swiping wallets and learning the art of the steal. After your initial tutorial of running around and pickpocketing from the locals around your town square, Ali, Tommy and Ali’s imaginary friend, Rad Ghost, are off to score the big coin Ali needs to pay off those nasty gangsters!
The gameplay in The Big Con is pretty simple. You approach people, hold down a button on your keyboard or controller, and try your best to release it when the cursor strays into an increasingly diminishing box. If the person nabs you, they will not be cool with you, man. Their face will turn into a scowl and a neighbourhood watch-style icon will hover over their head, symbolising their immense distrust of your presence. The only way to take another swipe at their pockets is by wearing a disguise, such as a moustache, or a fedora. These items you can find around the world.
Get nabbed three times and your punishment is to rewind videos. Like the 1990s themselves, the world of The Big Con is littered with video stores and Ali hates rewinding. So, as a punishment, Tommy makes her get jobs at random video stores to rewind their tapes. Ugh, that Tommy is such a buzzkill! The stealing in The Big Con comes in all shapes and sizes. You steal things for others in order to get information, you steal specific items and get lots of cash from the dodgy pawnshop guy, you overhear people saying their lock combinations and steal from their bags. It’s all about having a quick finger and being as stealthy as Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. If you can manage that, and have the curiosity to explore the world around you, you’re gonna have a pretty dope time in The Big Con.
“…I was teleported back to the days where Day of the Tentacle, Nickelodeon, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and Jonathan Taylor Thomas was all I needed.”
The game is also great at creating a number of different settings for the player to traverse around. I was a bit worried when I first started playing, thinking that this whole stealing thing would get old really quickly. But the game keeps things fresh by including a number of areas to explore throughout the game. Though these areas aren’t massive, you usually have a number of objectives to complete. The tasks, clues and notes you pick up throughout your time in any particular location can be found in your handy notebook that you keep in your bumbag at all times.
Receiving these objectives is sometimes super straightforward – Tommy usually gives you an amount that you need to steal before you can move on with your trip. However, if you keep on exploring the world around you and eavesdrop on people’s conversations, you can find even more trouble to get yourself into.
Though this crime adventure is easy to fall in love with, I think those who are too young to have lived through the 90s won’t get them nostalgic feels. Sure, they’ll laugh and ”get” the 90s gags and stereotypes, but I doubt this game will make them grin goofily as it made me. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just something for those who are too young to remember the 90s to keep in mind. (Sorry you weren’t cool enough to remember the greatest decade ever, dudes).
The main thing I really love about The Big Con is how much it made me feel like a kid again, a feeling people pay big money to recapture. I felt like I was teleported back to the days where Day of the Tentacle, Nickelodeon, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups and Jonathan Taylor Thomas was all I needed. If you combine all those things in a blender and dish it up, you really can call it The Big Con. The backgrounds with their wiggly lines, all the bright blue and yellow pastels, flannel, the sitcom-style background music, oh and you can even put on a “laugh track” in the background if you really want to feel those Saturday morning TV vibes.
It was also the little additions to the game and its world that 90s kids would appreciate, such as certain achievements including hand-drawn pictures of toys I used to play with as a kid. The magical ‘S’ symbol that everyone used to graffiti on their desks back in the day is spun around and used to indicate Ali entering a new area. It’s all the care that Mighty Yell has put into their depiction of popular culture from the 1990s that really made the decade come alive for me all over again.
The Big Con is available now on PC, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.