One of the more popular sports titles in the early '90s was a little game called NBA Jam. Developed by Midway, it was best known for being a less serious take on the sports genre. You had all of the famous teams and a good number of the famous players, but the gameplay was more fast-paced and less serious than other official titles of the generation. It featured arcade-style gimmicks, such as an almost complete lack of rules and the ability to cause players to enter a sort of "super mode" when they performed well. As popular as NBA Jam was, the popularity quickly faded, and realistic sports games remained the norm. The Bigs is sort of a modern-day take on the ideas behind NBA Jam, featuring exaggerated arcade-style gameplay and real players, although with baseball instead of basketball. The Bigs was met with a fairly positive reception, although fans couldn't help but notice a few flaws and missing features. Fortunately, the developers listened, and The Bigs 2 is shaping up to fix all of the problems with the first game and add a few neat new features to boot.
The Bigs 2, like its predecessor, is a basic baseball game at heart. Almost all of the rules are functionally identical, and if you've ever seen baseball played, you're not going to have a hard time picking up the game. The Bigs varies greatly in the exaggerated style of its players. Everyone moves faster, hits harder, throws better and acts in ways that we wouldn't see from any real-world baseball player. It's arcade-style gameplay through and through, and you can expect to see ridiculous and over-the-top plays occur constantly. It's basically a baseball game for those who want all the excitement of insane plays without the quiet "normal" moments in between.
Much like NBA Jam, The Bigs 2 gives players a chance to earn special rewards by performing lots of high-quality plays. As you perform amazing plays, your team is rewarded with Turbo energy, which is sort of a group "super bar" that can be spent to perform special moves. The most valuable of these occur when the bar fills up and you can spend it to effectively assure yourself a free home run. You can also get a chance at a free Grand Slam if you fill it up. Using all of your energy allows four players to go in a row. If the first three hit, you get an automatic single for each, and the last is a chance for a home run. Get all four, and you've got a Grand Slam on your hands. It's a very interesting mechanic that rewards solid play, although I can't help but feel that it might make games a bit unfair if one player gets too much of an advantage. A good run of Turbo can give an insurmountable lead, so earning Turbo becomes the primary focus of many of the games.
Baseball is always a game of risk versus reward. Whether you're trying to steal a base or bunting to throw off the opposing team, it's all about deciding if what you're going to do next is worth the risk. The Bigs 2 emphasizes this with some interesting arcade-style mechanics that are new to the franchise. The biggest new mechanic is the wheelhouse, which represents a batter's "strength" when it comes to hitting the ball. When a pitcher throws the ball, he can see the batter's "sweet spots" indicated as a brightly colored area in the batting box. If the ball is thrown within those sweet spots, the batter will hit it much harder should he connect.
Considering that The Bigs is built around some of the greatest baseball stars there ever were, this isn't something you want to happen. Why shouldn't a pitcher just toss the ball away from the sweet spot whenever possible? The game rewards you for tossing a solid pitch right through your opponent's strong area. Any pitches tossed through the wheelhouse section decrease the overall size of the area and earn the pitcher a substantial boost in Turbo. The risk doesn't end there, though. Every time your pitcher's throws are hit, he loses stamina. Lose too much stamina, and your pitcher can lose the ability to throw pitches! If you think you're in a bad situation when the opponent gets a solid hit, just imagine that solid hit giving them a ton of Turbo and taking away your best pitcher's signature throw. This makes every single pitch in the game rather nerve-racking, as you have to constantly balance how much of a risk you're willing to take in exchange for substantial rewards.
While the batter and the pitcher are the most important elements of The Bigs, that doesn't mean that the rest of the team doesn't have its uses. Each team member has his own strengths and weaknesses, but perhaps the most notable of those are players who have the legendary ability to perform special catches. If a ball flies toward one of these fielders, you can enter a special Quick Time Event to try and catch the ball. Complete it successfully, and you can stop a game-changing move in its tracks and earn an awesome boost of Turbo, but screw up, and you might be in an even worse situation than before. This is really essential, as the unrealistic speed and power of the game means that you have a lot less time to react to a solid hit. Unless you want the opponent constantly earning meter-filling doubles and triples, you're going to have to master catching.
While The Bigs 2 features the ability to have popular teams compete against one another, the real star of the show is going to be the Become a Legend mode, which lets you create a customized player. You can change everything, from his height and weight to tattoos and what sort of customized bat he uses. You don't begin as part of the Major Leagues in the Become a Legend mode; the story assumes that your player sustained a serious injury early in his career and had to take time out to recover and prove that the injury wasn't career-ending. Consequently, your player has to begin to the Mexican League, and as you might expect, you goal is to Become a Legend and earn your way into the Hall of Fame. It isn't quite as easy as just winning games, though. In addition to having to take your team to victory, your player is also given specific goals that he has to complete during a game. Some of these are as simple as hitting the ball once or twice, but as the plot progresses, they'll grow more and more complex.
Those looking for a more traditional game mode will want to check the Season mode, which allows you to take a team through an entire baseball season. Those looking for something more casual may enjoy Home Run Pinball, a returning feature from The Bigs, in which players are put into the middle of famous cities like Tokyo, Japan, and encouraged to slam baseballs into targets to earn the highest score they can.
The Bigs 2 looks to be a straightforward update of the original game. A number of the most requested features, such as a Season mode, have been implemented, and the game has been smoothed out and cleaned up without losing any of the silly arcade-style fun that fans enjoyed. The Become a Legend mode is sure to offer a lot of replay value, if just for the various challenges that test and improve a player's abilities, and the other gameplay modes seem great for something to just pick up and play. While it's probably not going to appeal to baseball fans who must have the strictest realism, those looking for a game built around arcade-style fun will want to check out The Bigs 2 when it hits stores early next month.
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