As good as baseball games have gotten, many people feel that they're too complex and yearn for the old days where you could play an entire game in 15 minutes but didn't have to have a college degree to figure out the controls. If you've ever felt this way, or if you just like fast-paced, over-the-top baseball, The BIGS for the PlayStation 2, while not the ideal version, should be right up your alley.
The BIGS has a lot in common with Midway's Slugfest series; the games move along at a brisk pace and there are plenty of gargantuan home runs, as well as some absolutely filthy pitches. On the mound, each of your pitches is mapped to a face button on the controller. To throw a pitch, you simply press the corresponding button and hold it until you've gone past the mark on the meter. If you wait too long or release too early, your location will be off and you'll tip your pitch to the batter. Each pitch is rated according to the pitcher's ability to throw it. This ability decreases as the game goes on, but the change can be accelerated by giving up hits. The harder the pitch is hit, the less effective it will be, and eventually, you'll lose the ability to throw the pitch completely. This isn't a huge problem when playing a single game because you've got plenty of pitchers at your disposal, but it's an issue in rookie challenge because a pitcher's stamina level carries over from game to game.
For every strike you throw, you'll fill your turbo bar a little, and when you've filled one of your bars, you can press a button to activate turbo. This adds some extra zip to your fastball and adds some break to your breaking pitches, making them very difficult to hit. Above the turbo meter is the power-up meter. On defense, this can be filled by striking out hitters, making great plays, and robbing home runs. Once it's full, you can use it on either offense or defense for one at-bat. When it's used on defense, your pitches are all powered up and nearly (but not quite) unhittable. You'll also steal some of the points from the opposition's power-up meter depending on how many strikes you throw. Even when you're tossing regular pitches, it's a blast because the pitches are so darn nasty.
Hitting is just as simple and just as satisfying as pitching. You've got one button for a contact swing and one for a power swing. You don't have to worry about lining up cursors or using the analog stick to try to match the pitch location--it's all about timing. The left analog stick can be used to aim your shot, but there's no reason to be intimidated--it's easy to do and not all that necessary. You can earn turbo by taking balls, but the pitches move so fast and break so much that judging location is nearly impossible unless the pitcher tipped his pitch.
The turbo that you've accumulated on defense carries over to when you're on offense though, so you'll get plenty of chances to use it. If you activate it before a pitch, you'll add some power to your swing and force the pitcher to throw a strike. If you use it after you've hit the ball, you can run extra fast. While you might not be able to fill your turbo meter much on offense, you can increase your power-up meter fairly quickly by getting base hits, walking, or getting beaned. Activating your big hit power-up will guarantee a home run, provided you make contact. But this isn't just any old home run, it's a titanic blast that will spark as it hits the fair pole or explode when it hits the scoreboard. It would have been nice to have a bit more variety with regards to where the ball goes when it's hit because it seems to go to the same few spots over and over again. It also would have been nice to not get home runs taken away by the CPU several times in a game (even when you use turbo to hit), but for the most part, hitting is a lot of fun.
Where The BIGS stumbles a bit is in its fielding and baserunning. Once you've practiced (and when it works) mashing a button to run faster and using buttons to select the runner, moving the analog stick to direct them works OK, but too often the runners don't make the turn or stop in their tracks just shy of the base. The ability to run full-speed into the catcher like a freight train is totally awesome the first time you see it and makes up for some of the baserunning woes, but not all of them. The rest of the game is so simple, you'll wonder why baserunning is so complicated. In the field, you can use boost to run faster or throw the ball faster, but the game plays so fast that you'll rarely have time to discern that you need turbo and press the button before it's too late. You can rob home runs by running up to the wall, pressing a button to jump, and then replicating a sequence of button presses shown onscreen. But unless you're playing another person, these opportunities are few and far between.
Once the ball is hit, you're given control over the player in the best position to make a play, but the ball is hit so hard that it's often already passed you by the time you figure out who you're controlling. This issue is exacerbated by a fielder's inability to change direction quickly; if you take one step in the wrong direction, you can forget about getting to the ball in time. Finally, the plays where the ball hits a fielder, knocking him down as it ricochets away are far too common and are all the more frustrating thanks to the lousy fielding controls. But even these issues don't prevent the game from being a ton of fun to play.
There's no traditional season mode in The BIGS. Instead there's the rookie challenge, where you create a player then try to lead him and his team to the World Series. There aren't a whole lot of customization options with which to create a player, though additional items unlocked throughout the mode let you add a little flair. Once you've picked your player's position and distributed some attributes, it's off to spring training. Here, you'll play a couple of games; based on your performance, you'll earn points that can be used to improve your players' running, hitting, and fielding abilities. You'll also participate in some fun minigames, such as batting practice and running an obstacle course. You earn big points for successfully completing these drills, which is good because the points you get from playing actual games don't amount to much.
After you've finished spring training, you must barnstorm your way around the league, taking on whatever games appear on the map. Sometimes you'll have to play a full (five inning) game, while other times, you are placed in a situation where the game has already started and you must perform a task with your created player, such as steal a base, drive in a run, or get a base hit. After you've beaten the first few challenges against a team, you'll get the opportunity to steal one of its players if you beat that team in yet another a full game. You can only steal 10 players, so you might want to hold off on snagging someone from the Devil Rays or you might not have room for someone on the really good teams that you'll encounter later in the rookie challenge. As you finish the available games and scenarios, new ones will open up. Then eventually, you'll take part in the All-Star game, and if you're good enough, the playoffs and World Series.
The rookie challenge is quite a bit of fun for a while, but you'll find that you've seen most everything it has to offer in just a few hours. Because this is an arcade-style game, it would be unreasonable to expect a whole host of general manager options and full stat tracking, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect at least some customization options or some basic statistics. Alas, there are none. As a result, you might find yourself rushing through games or even getting yourself out on purpose because there aren't any rewards (other than minimal points for your created player) for playing well and crushing the competition.
The BIGS is light on additional play modes on the Xbox 360 and PS3, but there are even fewer on the PS2 and PSP (though there are more than on the Wii). You can take on another player in a split-screen home run derby where the objective is to be the first to hit 10 taters, but home run pinball is nowhere to be found. The PS2 version has online support, but we were unable to test it due to a lack of opponents. You won't be getting online with the PSP version, but it does have ad hoc support, which is better than nothing.
Most likely, the first thing you'll notice upon starting a game is that the players are quite large, though not as big as they are on the 360 and PS3. Their faces are detailed and in most cases look like their real-life counterparts. But their bodies are larger than life, and their muscles are ripped. Even normally scrawny players like Ichiro look like superheroes, though there is still a little difference between him and someone like Albert Pujols. There's not such a dramatic difference between the stadiums in the game and real stadiums, but some artistic license has been taken with the proximity of local landmarks to the field, as well as the size of notable features inside the stadium. The game doesn't look bad on the PS2, though it doesn't have widescreen support and is sore need of some antialiasing. The PSP version is quite impressive looking, and at times looks better than the PS2 thanks to the smaller, widescreen display. A few issues prevent both versions from looking as good as they probably could have, most notably the flickering, noticeable seams between textures. Some of the animations, such as when a player spins around after missing a pitch or how an outfielder floats in midair in slow motion as he robs a home run, look great, but there isn't enough variety. The transition from one animation to the next is also often awkward or nonexistent, particularly when fielding. The huge home runs look fantastic, and it's awesome to watch the scoreboard explode, but you'll probably find yourself wishing for more variety rather than player celebrations, or at the very least, more destruction from your homers.
Given the over-the-top nature of the game, it's probably a good idea that the outstanding but somewhat mild-mannered duo from MLB 2K7 Jon Miller and Joe Morgan aren't calling the action. Instead it's Damon Bruce, a radio host for KNBR out of San Francisco, who calls the action. Outside of a few instances where he blurts out the wrong player's name, his basic play-by-play is on point and his energy level is high, though not to the point of being annoying. Bruce's commentary is sometimes choppy or late on the PSP, but not to the point that it ruins the experience. The crowd and the sound effects are also typical for a baseball game. The exceptions to this are the nicely fitting, almost cartoonlike sounds of the bat crushing the ball and the sound of a pitch whooshing past a hitter.
With its simple, yet exciting gameplay, The BIGS has gotten off to a nice start. It's a bit shallow, with some room for improvement in regards to how it plays in the field and on the base paths, but anyone looking for a fun, arcade-style baseball game for the PS2 would do well to give The BIGS a shot.