One of the sleeper hits of 2007, The Bigs harkened back to the time when goofy, powered-up baseball games ruled the NES. Featuring hulking players, five fast-paced innings, liberal use of turbo, and simple controls, The Bigs was a welcome twist on America's national pastime despite a limited lineup of features. Improving on its legacy, The Bigs 2 combines new frills with the same thrills and spills that made the original a top prospect among arcade-style sports games.
One of the first game's most glaring weaknesses was its meager selection of play modes. The Bigs 2 includes a complete 162 game season mode to go along with a revamped career mode called become a legend. Returning from the first title is the addictive home run pinball game, which now includes a total of four venues to smash, bash, and thrash instead of one. Co-op play and head-to-head online matches also return, and there are separate playable mini-games focusing on contact, power, and speed. Yet most of the new additions, sadly, aren't that interesting.
The season mode is extremely basic, with limited stat tracking, pitiful management options, and no team-specific goals other than 11 optional milestones to shoot for as you attempt to reach the World Series. Though trades involve playing an amusing Plinko-style mini-game in order to obtain a coveted player, there simply aren't enough distinctive elements in this mode to keep you playing, such as a fantasy draft, or dynasty option.
The revised mini-games, which are incorporated into become a legend mode, are an uneven mix. Contact involves rapidly pressing the swing button as balls shoot out from a machine, while speed has you performing context-specific button presses as your athlete automatically runs through an obstacle course. Fielding has you trying to leap or dive for balls. All three are tiresome. The power mini-game, on the other hand, is a blast. You and an opponent are simultaneously trying to hit various targets behind a stadium's fences. The first player to reach 100,000 points can send a rocket (literally) toward the scoreboard and win the game.
Easily the best mode of the bunch is an enhanced version of the first game's rookie challenge mode. Become a legend has you creating a player from scratch and taking a brief rehab assignment in Mexico before returning to the Majors. You visit different cities to partake in an assortment of challenges, from completing a scenario or beating a certain pitcher, to trying to get a certain number of hits. You're able to build your ratings and earn prizes like retro jerseys by completing your objectives. You can also steal players from other teams and confront baseball legends like Dave Winfield, Ryne Sandberg, and Ozzie Smith on your way to the Hall of Fame.
Apart from a few tweaks, the batter-pitcher interface is the same as in the first game. Pitching involves aiming a cursor over the plate, selecting one of four pitch types, and then holding down a button as a vertical meter rises. Release the button once the meter moves past a horizontal line and you increase the pitch's effectiveness; release it once the meter is completely full, and you execute a perfect pitch with an extra burst of speed. Surrender too many hits and you run the risk of losing one of your pitches for the remainder of the game.
Batting simply involves timing your swing as the ball crosses the plate, with individual buttons executing a contact swing, power swing, or bunt. You can also aim your swing using the analog stick, which is something you'll do often thanks to the new rating systems for offense and defense. Like the original game, each player is rated from one to five stars in the areas of contact, power, speed, glove, arm, and, for hurlers, pitch type.
New to The Bigs 2 is a legendary rating that lends your actions an extra oomph. On the field, those with legendary gloves can make superhuman leaps and catches after performing a quick-time event. This means you'll want to avoid hitting the ball to certain spots on the field if you don't want a surefire hit sucked up like a vacuum cleaner. Other new quick-time events include dugout catches, scorching line drives, and grabbing foul balls near the stands.
Once again, everything you do, from strikeouts to singles to steals, earns you points that increase both your power-up meter and turbo bar. Reach 100,000 points and you're able to perform big heat pitches on the mound or a big blast at the plate, with the latter a guaranteed home run if it connects. Adding to the excitement is a big slam option, which involves a series of rapid-fire swings in an attempt to first load the bases and then bring the runners home in one scoreboard-shattering slam.
While it's easy to dismiss The Bigs 2 as a simplistic slugfest, there's a surprising amount of strategy associated with its point system and use of turbo-powered moves. In addition to individual ratings, each athlete has a passive special ability, such as improving a team's outfield defense. The new batter's wheelhouse, which is essentially a hot zone, makes you think about your pitches instead of just reaching back and blindly firing away. Throwing a strike in a batter's wheelhouse will shrink it for the remainder of his at-bats and net you more turbo if you manage to get it by him. Do you go after Alex Rodriguez early, hoping to shrink his zone to the point where he isn't as effective late in the game? If so, you could end up surrendering a home run and weakening one of your pitches.
While the play modes have been juiced up for this installment, the athletes have slimmed down. A sign of the times, the steroid-pumping player models have apparently spent the off-season away from the gym and syringes. The humorous personality of the first game still shines through in the animations, with overenthusiastic athletes behaving like every out is the final play in the World Series. You'll see exuberant fist pumps after a catch, pitchers raising both arms up after a strikeout, and failed hitters throwing their bats in disgust.
The presentation is filled with movement, with flags waving, JumboTrons pulsating, and different colored swirls associated with turbo-infused throws, swings, and hits. In between the arcade-style whooshing sounds are vendors hawking their wares and a busy play-by-play announcer who could use a partner in the booth. The biggest problem with the presentation is the inability to change the camera angles. While the batter's box view is fine as it is, the camera switches to an unusually close perspective to the fielders, which is disorienting when trying to track the ball and make a play.
The Bigs 2 is a clear improvement over its predecessor, so if you enjoyed your time spent with the original, you'll want to move this title to the top of your draft order. Considering that it's been two years since the last game, however, most of the changes are not particularly surprising, and there's still substantial room for growth in future installments. More options, tighter defense, gameplay sliders, and added variety across play modes would spell the difference between a big leaguer and a candidate for Cooperstown.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: 2K Sports