New developer The Mighty Yell is breaking out the 90’s nostalgia with The Big Con, a stylistic feel good game drenched in neon. In it, you play as Ali, a teen with an attitude and a talking hallucination of a best friend named Rad Ghost. In an effort to save your mother’s failing VHS rental business, you embark on a cross country road trip to earn money by way of pickpocketing and grifting people out of their hard earned money. It’s a madcap adventure that is fun and lighthearted but misses the mark on any kind of real message.
The Big Con revolves around Ali and her mother, who live alone maintaining their dwindling VHS rental business. Ali is generally tasked with rewinding the tapes but is about to be sent away to band camp for the trombone (which she hates.) The story takes a turn when she overhears that her mother owes a hundred thousand dollars to a local loan shark. Frustrated, Ali takes a walk and runs into another unsavory character who promises to teach her the ways of pickpocketing and grifting. Using these tools, Ali rides the rails across the country taking as much money as she can, eventually ending up in a bigger racketeering scheme than she had originally intended.
The animation is top notch, with a hand animated look that elicits memories of Doug or any number of Nickelodeon cartoons from my childhood. There’s also some top notch voice acting with talent from Erika Ishii (Apex Legends, Destiny 2), Dave Fennoy (The Walking Dead) and Melissa Hutchison (The Walking Dead) leading the pack of an already solid production. Add in a theme song from the famous Rockapella (known for their theme song of the 90’s game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego), and we are jam packed with star power. For extra flavor there’s even a laugh track feature thrown in to punctuate those extra fly quips.
The story progresses with varying stops along the journey. Each stop provides an interlude story beat, followed by a monetary goal to finish the level. You are to achieve this goal by pickpocketing cash or items from the pedestrians on the given map. You’ll talk with some of the various NPCs, or you can eavesdrop for side quests that will reward more cash. In essence, it comes down to ‘adventure game’ mechanics. Find an object, use it on a secondary object to unlock a third object to return to your quest giver. Success comes from finding the right puzzle pieces or conversation notes to progress the individual quest lines. These individual quests will also progress from map to map, giving favorite side characters new additions to their stories.
As far as pickpocketing is concerned, it’s all about timing. You’ll stop a moving meter to hit the designated spot. You get three fails per level, and these fails also include choosing the wrong options or giving the incorrect object to the quest givers. Not all quests are required to complete a stage, but I found myself lingering on some of the more complicated puzzle solutions and scouring the map for those missing details to finish a quest. The game is on the shorter side, so I felt encouraged to dig deeper and was often rewarded with funny one-liners or satisfying conclusions to questions I had regarding the characters.
While The Big Con has messages of body positivity, positive mental health, and confidence, it never once says that stealing is bad. Your character Ali is so morally ambiguous to pickpocketing that despite having the plucky teen attitude she resorts to thievery at the drop of a hat. Someone just simply suggests the notion of stealing and she jumps in head first without a second guess. It’s what pushes me off slightly from the game. By the end, there’s one throwaway line regarding Ali’s kleptomaniac proclivities, and it’s just as quickly shrugged off. It feels incongruous to what is penned as an irreverent 90’s adventure. Ali consistently steals from children, parents, struggling actors, couples and anyone else in her view. Are we supposed to be rooting for her, because it felt at odds with the actions of our protagonist. Sure, she is doing this to save her mother’s video store but I rarely felt morally positive at the end of the levels. I also attempted to perform a no pickpocket run but it’s pretty close to impossible to progress and story beats still require grifting and tricking, so that’s a non solution either. It just didn’t align with what I felt was our character’s personality. The only real message is that Rad Ghost really doesn’t want you to do drugs, which is definitely played up for laughs.
The Big Con pulls some serious double duty blasting the in your face attitude of the 90s to your console while also giving a solidly fun travel story. The characters are wholly unique and fun to interact with, with some solid star power to boost the obvious quality of this package. The real downside comes with the nagging feeling of conflict between Ali’s personality and her moral vacuum when it comes to swindling. As far as she’s concerned, it’s a non-issue and that makes it harder to root for our hero in saving her family business. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it definitely raises an eyebrow, which now as I sit here and think about it… How many episodes of 90s television start with some crazy happenstance but ends back at the status quo for next week’s episode? Perhaps it’s just another way The Big Con is trying to bring us back to our childhood. Like most entertainment from back then it’s a fantastic piece of art, as long as you don’t think too hard on it.
A Steam key was provided to us for the purposes of this review.
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