The Big Con review: a rags to riches coming of age tale
A thief in the night
If Hypnospace Outlaw was the perfect distillation of 90s internet culture, then Mighty Yell's debut game The Big Con is a similarly concentrated dose of 90s pop culture. Pastel swirls, bum bags and rad catch phrases abound in this coming of age thrift adventure, in which teenager Ali must loot her way across America to save her mum's video rental store from debt collectors. With just a fistful of dollars to her name at the start of her four-odd hour road trip, Ali will need to bag 97,000 of them by the end of it to come home victorious, and she'll do it via that most tried and tested of video game tropes: the swing meter mini-game.
It doesn't take much to pick the pockets of Ali's unsuspecting targets. All you need to do is walk up behind a character, hold down Y (or 1, if you're on keyboard), and let go once the seesawing arrow falls into the shrinking, but still very generous, purple pick-pocket zone. There's no stealth involved, and you can do it in plain sight of other characters as well. Some folks throw in the additional 'challenge' of walking slowly through the game's various locations, forcing you to inch alongside them in order to stay within pick-pocketing range, but it never gets more complicated than that.
Indeed, the only other wrinkle you'll need to worry about is how much money your marks actually have on them. In a somewhat cruel twist, cash-strapped folks are easier to steal from than those who are loaded. The more money they have, the faster the arrow moves and the smaller the pick-pocket zone, theoretically making the really big moolah harder to score. However, even the wealthiest targets have a very comfortable margin of error, and I think I slipped up a total of three times in my entire playthrough.
There's not much penalty if you get caught either. While you won't be able to approach that person again in your current guise, there are copious dress-up items you can don in each level that let you have another go, because hey, this teenager in a luchador mask is absolutely 100% a different person to that other young girl who came up to me a minute ago with a glasses and comedy moustache combo. And heck, if you really find yourself having trouble with the whole swing meter timing, you can always just turn off the mini-game entirely if you want an automatic purse-lifting experience.
Mechanically, then, The Big Con is pretty simple, and even the titular heist you're building towards ends up feeling a bit small and underwhelming in the moment because of it. That, and the ease with which you can pilfer everyone's pocket change, means you end up surprisingly flush by the end of the game, rendering said big con slightly null and void. As such, if you're not one for nostalgic, retro throwbacks, or having advice delivered to you via the medium of a yellow ghost in a rad cap and sunglasses (I'm not kidding), then there's probably a good chance that this theft 'em up adventure will leave you a bit cold.
However, as someone who did a large part of their growing up in the 90s, there's something about The Big Con's vibrant, comic book art style and scrappy protagonist that carried me through to the end long after the initial thrill of its puzzles wore off. It's got a good heart, The Big Con, and Mighty Yell do a great job of capturing feeling at the start of a 90s comedy adventure film. Setting off on a big adventure to stick it to the man, MAN.
Sure, that sense of righteous injustice does somewhat wear off a bit once Ali starts doing some pretty questionable things in her pursuit of her $97,000 - including, but not limited to, stealing from children, picking padlocks to rifle through people's luggage, and giving out some rather dodgy financial advice - but it's all done with light-hearted good humour and a wry smile. In the end, everyone is a valid target in The Big Con, and there are no moral consequences to your actions to dissuade you otherwise - apart from maybe deciding not to steal from them in the first place if you're feeling particularly virtuous, but honestly, where's the fun in that?
Besides, there are plenty of properly good things Ali can do along the way to appease your own moral compass if you want, and many of these storylines are neatly threaded across multiple levels for maximum reward feels, too. I not only convinced someone to stop smoking in my playthrough, for example, but I also brought a pair of cross county pen pal lovers together, helped the local high school janitor get a wayward tennis ball off a roof, and made one kid's dream come true by getting them a limited edition golden Furby-like Burblo toy (albeit for a big profit, of course; I'm not made of money, jeez).
Ultimately, The Big Con isn't going to tax you mentally or physically, but it's still a fun way to spend four hours if you're up for a few larks and a big dose of 90s feel-good fun. Mighty Yell have conjured some great locations to thieve your way through here, and their colourful cast of characters (quite literally, in this case) make them feel alive with lucrative opportunity. Against all the odds, The Big Con had stolen its way into my heart by the time I reached the end credits, and I'd have happily paid for the privilege, too.