52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 18
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Developer: Blue Castle Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Anyone that has been following my weekly post about Canadian developed games may have come to realize that I am a hockey freak, with little room in my heart for other sports. This is not to say that I will never play a non-hockey sports game. One needs to just look at my profile to see that I have played just about all games genres released so far with the exception of hunting and fishing games (I know I am missing out on an easy source of achievements, but even I have standards). It just that when playing a hockey game I expect the most realistic game possible while with other sports, I want a game that is just plain fun to play. The BIGS is a new baseball title from Blue Castle Games, a small Canadian development studio located in Burnaby BC, and published by 2K Sports. 2K Sports is best known for the popular Major League Baseball 2K franchise. So can The BIGS play ball with its bigger brother?
To be honest, The BIGS does not even play in the same league as the MLB 2K series. Both games to do features real MLB teams and players, but the MLB 2K series is a realistic simulation of a baseball game, while The BIGS in an arcadish take on the game. With its incredible hits that can set the ball on file, outfielders that can scale huge walls to catch impossible balls and base runners that can turn a single into a triple, the game is anything but realistic. In the BIGS, every play feels like watching a highlight reel and the momentum of a game can shift with a single swing.
The BIGS manages to add suspense and awe to a game that is for the most part quite boring (do not flame me, this is a personal opinion only). This is accomplished with the use of two new meters; the Turbo meter and the Big Play Meter. Each positive action like making at catch, throwing at strike or hitting the ball will reward the team by filling in either the Turbo or Big Play meter. These meters can be used to change theentire momentum of a game. The Turbo meter is sectioned off multiple smaller containers, each of which can be used at anytime to greatly enhance the skills of a player allowing him to perform superhuman feats like jumping high into the air to catch a ball, or performing incredible dive to snatch away a certain base hit. The Big Play meter can only be used once the meter has been completely filled, but as the name applies, this feature can change the entire course of a game. If a Big Play has been selected while a batter is up, any contact with the ball will cause a flaming home run that will send sparks flying and the crowd cheering. What makes the BIGS so exciting is that both teams have similar meters, this must be taken into account at every play.
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The developers decided to keep everything in the game simple. There are no huge list of stats for each player, instead they are all rated on a simple 5 star system in 6different categories. This applies also to created players. The controls are also very simple (as opposed to MLB 2K9 that is). Most all actions are completed with a single button press. The pitching in particular is very pleasant and simple to master. In the BIGS each pitcher will have four different pitch types to choose from, each mapped to one of the four main buttons (A, B, X and Y) on the Xbox 360 controller. To make a pitch, the gamer needs only to select the target area in the strike zone then select a pitch type by pressing its corresponding button and keeping it pressed while a pitch power meter fills up on screen and then releasing the button when the pitch power meter is in the green zone, a small portion at the top of the power meter. The accuracy off the pitch will depend on how much of the meter is filled in when the button is released. A perfect pitch will occur when the meter is completely full. Perfect pitches are required when trying to paint the corners of the strike zone. An added benefit to a perfect pitch is that it requires a perfect swing to hit.
Hitting is also quite simple. To hit the ball, a gamer needs only press the A or B button while the ball is in the strike zone. The A button is used to perform a swing that has a better chance of making simple contact with the ball, while the B button is used to perform a swing that has more power, but less of a change of contact. The type of swing to use will need to be determined by the type and quality of pitch performed by the pitcher. One would not want to choose a power swing when the pitcher has just made a perfect pitch. The batter can also attempt to draw the ball to the left or right using the left analog stick in a particular direction when performing his swing.
The single button simplicity of pitching and hitting does not work so well for fielding and base running. Base running in particular is quite annoying. The gamer must first select a base runner to control. Each base is represented by one of the 3 main buttons, X, Y, B and A for home plate. Once a base runner has been selected, he will run the the direction of the left analog stick. It is important to note that the base runner will run as long as the left analog stick is pressed towards a base. I cannot tell you how many times I let go of the stick an inch before touching the plate only to have my base runner stand short of the base and get tagged out. Base running with more than one player on base was so frustrating that I would just let the players advance on their own once a hit was made never attempting to push the players beyond the automatic advancement.
Fielding was equally as frustrating. Once a hit had been made, the AI will automatically select the player closest to the ball, but not move the player towards the ball. The BIGS is all about big and hard hits, and the ball will clear the infield in a second, and reach the outfield in about 3. The trick now becomes a guessing game of trying to figure out which outfielder the AI will select, where the ball will land and to start pressing the left analog stick in that direction immediately in the hopes of making a play. If the choice made is incorrect, there will be not be enough time to correct the situation, just attempt to minimize the damage.
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Baseball has always been about the duel between a pitcher and the batter. Everything is fluff. This is no different in the BIGS, but the Turbo meter and Big Play meter does an incredible job of heightening this experience. Now even before taking the first pitch, one needs to always be aware of the current level of the opponent's Turbo and Big Play meters. Does the opponent have enough to attempt a huge hit? And if so, can you counter with a huge pitch? Will you attempt to paint the strike zone considering that if the pitch is not perfect and it misses the strike zone to become a ball, that little boost to the Turbo meter can be enough to allow the opponent to now select a big play. While on the subject of pitching, it is of great importance to mention that pitchers do not tire, but will be punished for bad pitches. As I previously mentioned, all pitcher have 4 different pitches in their arsenal, and each pitch has its own meter. This meter will be filled in a bit for completing a perfect pitches, but reduced for missed pitches or hits off that particular pitch. Turbo hits or Big Play hits will drain this pitch meter even more. Once a pitch meter has been drained, that pitch is no longer available to the pitcher.
The BIGS does not offer any form of a season or franchise mode, but does offer a Rookie Challenge mode. The gamer create a new rookie player and then complete various challenges and scenarios to build up the rookie. Some scenarios are simple such as win a game in so many innings, while others are more complex such as steal two bases and hit so many home runs in a game. The rookie challenge cannot be simmed and will take a good 20 hours to complete. For the real achievement junkie among us, there is an achievement for performing the rookie challenge as an American or National league rookie.
Beyond the Rookie Challenge, there is also a Home Run Derby in which the chosen player competes side-by-side another competitor to be the first to reach 10home runs . Way more enjoyable than the Home Run Derby is the Home Run Pinball mode. This game mode sets the selected player in the middle of Times Square in New York with the goal off hitting stuff on either side of him to score points. The goal is simply to score as many points as possible. Specific items will release bonuses when hit enough times increasing the potential score that can be obtained. Heck this mini-game alone was way better than the MLB Stickball game that was released on the Xbox Live Arcade a few months back.
Finally the BIGS does offer online play as well. Gamer can compete with friends in ranked or unranked matches or can join a friend in need in some coop play.
The BIGS was just what I was looking for in a baseball game, plenty of fast paced action with some nice explosions to boot. The game is an absolute pleasure to pick up and play. Now if only Blue Castle Games could re-invent basketball and soccer the same way, I would be a happy person, but they maybe busy developing Dead Rising 2 and The BIGS 2 at this time.