The Big Con starts with a lot of promise: the 90s aesthetic is pulled off to near perfection, the jokes build around a solid emotional core, and the gameplay evokes the better aspects of point and click adventure games past. But while it is a charming and fun journey through a brightly colored 90s landscape, it’s not easy to recommend The Big Con. Not unless you have the patience to deal with many small but frequent technical mishaps.
You play Ali, an “average” American teenager who embarks on a journey of petty theft, money hustling and the eponymous ‘big con’ to save the family video store. Ali is a fun protagonist and you have some say on the nature of her personality and priorities in life. I enjoyed playing an Ali who saw her mom as her best friend, an uninspired trombone player who would rather just hang at the family video store all day.
We don’t spend a lot of time in Ali’s hometown, which is a shame, but it’s a chill place that really, really loves corn. While the story remains a simple one, there are some really interesting narrative beats that kept me engaged throughout my time with the game.
Humor is entirely subjective, and whether or not The Big Con’s jokes land with you depends on how much you appreciate the unique kind of tongue in cheek tone that is so specific to the 90s. Would you appreciate a toggle for canned laughter that injects a bit of the 90s sitcom nostalgia? How about an imaginary pal based on video disc jockeys who makes random reminders to say NO TO DRUGS? Ali listlessly riding a coin operated kiddie ride in a garishly bright mall is an entire mood. If the image can get you to at least chuckle, it’s likely that you’ll enjoy what Big Bad Con has to offer.
I found myself laughing often, and some supporting characters were truly memorable and always fun to interact with. I may have also enjoyed the Burblos — The Big Con’s version of the cute but terrifying Furbies — a bit too much. The rightful obsession with fanny pack, the surfer dude mechanical fortune teller Brotan, and wonderful VHS aesthetic all made me smile and enjoy my time with the game. And yes, I did opt for the canned sitcom laughter and loved every time it popped up in conversation.
I found myself laughing often, and some supporting characters were truly memorable and always fun to interact with. I may have also enjoyed the Burblos — The Big Con’s version of the cute but terrifying Furbies — a bit too much.
The Big Con is ostensibly about working your way towards becoming the ultimate con man and pulling off the ultimate score. Pickpocketing is a challenging but simple quicktime event that rewards risk and daring. There’s a promise that you can build up to bigger cons if you pay attention to your surroundings, refer to the game’s automatic notes in your journal, and figure out how to solve social puzzles.
Unfortunately the game’s bugs throw a wrench into things by getting in the way of several interactions when you least expect them. Button prompts aren’t always responsive, dialogue bubbles with essential information flicker away too quickly or don’t show up consistently, entire characters or puzzle sections disappear and don’t come back even after restarting the game or console.
These bugs increased along every step of Ali’s journey, making the game more challenging in a way that can’t possibly have been intentional. By the time I finally reached Las Venganza – the game’s version of Las Vegas – I was frustrated with the area map, the glitchy controls, and the visual bugs. It was often unclear to me if I was playing badly versus when the game had broken in some way. The end result was the same: locking me out of many quests or disrupting my immersion and focus.
Bugs [made] the game more challenging in a way that can’t possibly have been intentional. It was often unclear […] when I was playing badly, and when the game had broken in some way. The end result: being locked out of many quests or disrupting my immersion and focus.
The game invites you to consider the morality of your misdeeds but it doesn’t survive a player’s natural tendency to chase after numbers and complete every side quest. There was some strong potential in the earlier parts of the game, when you had to choose to steal from people you know, or take advantage of someone innocent and well meaning. But soon that thins out and The Big Con does little to humanize its marks, or provide any meaningful depth to them. It ultimately decides the morality of Ali, taking away what agency you had in the first place.
It feels like a missed opportunity that could have been addressed more effectively in its narrative and themes, but asking a small and fun game like The Big Con to provide a morality tale feels beyond its scope. A few extra bits of dialogue or description here or a few more conversations and narrative choices could have gone a long way to live up to the promise of the game and might have laid the foundation down for a more satisfying ending.
Ultimately The Big Con is a charming and funny story but a little too light in both gameplay and narrative to truly meet its potential and with plenty of bugs to get in the way of it. Despite my eagerness to return to the nostalgic past of the 90s and immerse myself in the bright color palette and gorgeous aesthetic, I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that this could have been an amazing game. Despite my disappointment, I’ll be setting aside time in the future to revisit these lovely characters, take a crack at the more challenging puzzles, and soak in the 90s.
The Big Con
About the Score
It’s a game you can just y’know, play. Like, it's okay. Some caveats were had but we found something to enjoy or appreciate.