|The BIGS (2007)
Publisher: 2K Games
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii
If major league baseball was made up of Incredible Hulk-sized super athletes who’ve either been working out and chugging health shakes three times a day, or pumping their bodies full of steroids, it would look a lot like 2K Games’ arcade baseball title, “The BIGS.” Created with the ultimate fan in mind, “The BIGS” cuts through all the crap and complexity of more recent baseball games by focusing on the exciting aspects, like pitcher/batter showdowns, supercharged dingers and ninth inning comebacks. And while some might view this as being somewhat shallow, it doesn’t make the over-the-top experience any less addictively fun.
The bread and butter of the game is Rookie Challenge (the closest thing to a season or franchise mode) that tasks you with creating an up-and-coming rookie sensation and then leading your team to the World Series. Choosing everything from physical appearance (he’s gonna be big, but just how big is up to you) to his batting stance (there are more than 20 different options), your rookie begins in Spring Training where he’ll learn all the ins and outs of playing the game. This includes an exhibition match against a powerhouse team like the Seattle Mariners, and a series of training challenges that help you become familiarized with hitting the ball (Contact Hitting), swinging for the fence (Distance Hitting), making diving catches in the infield (Fielding) and rounding the bases.
After completing the Spring Training challenges, you’ll be awarded upgrade points to help make your rookie a better player. Points can then be used to increase your player’s ability to contact the ball, the power of his swing, his fielding skills (like catching and throwing) and his speed. These same points can be earned as you progress through the game, and are earned based on how your rookie does during a game. Tallying hits and making big plays will give you the best chance of transforming your rookie into the next MVP, and while putting him at the top of the line-up may not sound like a great strategy to win games, it will give your player the maximum amount of at-bats.
Once you’ve finished making the initial upgrades, the real fun begins, as you’ll travel with your team across the country to participate in a range of challenges. Some require you to simply beat a team in five innings (the longest a game will ever last), while others are more specific, like mounting a ninth-inning comeback or earning two hits with your rookie. The gameplay itself is simple. Batting offers you three choices: contact swing (A), power swing (X) or bunt (Y), and the pitching options are mapped out in the same way. Most pitchers have four pitches (usually a fastball, a curveball and two others), but the more a specific pitch is hit, the less effective it becomes until you eventually just lose the option of throwing it all together. It’s not such a big deal in an exhibition game, as you can just substitute him for a new pitcher any time, but in Rookie Challenge, pitchers become fatigued and need to recover.
The actual strategy of the game (yes, it does exist) comes down to the idea that, when all is said and done, there’s nothing more important than the pitcher/batter match-up. When you’re on the mound, you’ll earn points toward your turbo meter by throwing strikes and, consequently, your opponent will earn points towards his when you throw a ball. The turbo meter is then used in a variety of ways, from adding extra heat to your current pitch, to increasing your chances of knocking one out of the park. Each turbo-activated move has its own counterattack, so if the opponent has turned on the jets to make it to first, you can beat him there with a supercharged throw. Turbo can also be used to break up double plays while sliding into second, or to field unreachable pop flies.
Not even turbo can change the events of a game quite like the Big Play meter, however, because once filled, you’ll have the option of unleashing a Power Blast or some Big Heat. Filled by getting hits (10,000 points for a single, etc.), striking out batters (7,500 points) and making big plays (a whopping 25,000 points for robbing a home run), the option of performing a super ability is offered every time the meter reaches 100,000. A Power Blast is exactly like it sounds, a shooting-star-of-a-homer that’s practically guaranteed (granted you can actually make contact with the ball), while Big Heat rewards the player by stealing 10 percent of his opponent’s Big Play meter for every strike he throws. It only works for the at-bat in question, so it’s important to save up for the right time. You never know when you’re going to be robbed of a home run or run over at home plate, so deciding when/how to use your bonus could be the difference in advancing to the next challenge or having to play the same one over again.
Padded with a lackluster online mode and two standalone mini-games – your basic Home Run Derby and Home Run Pinball, a loose adaptation of the classic bar game, where you rip balls at taxicabs and neon signs in the middle of Times Square for points – “The BIGS” is one of the most enjoyable baseball games you’ll ever play. While things get a bit ridiculous at times (hard hit balls knock players to the ground way too often, and the home run ratio is less than that of at-the-wall catches), it’s all part of the fun in playing a game designed more around the “wows” than the “hows.” And don’t worry, you won’t be called in front of Congress if you smash a couple balls out of the park.