There's something about the atmosphere of the 90s that just resonates with so many people - even those who weren't even alive during the time period. From the classic dial-up tone when you connected to the internet to taking home your favourite movie from Blockbuster, it's a timeless period that many feel nostalgic towards. Now, in comes The Big Con, a game that fully embraces the 90s through its groovy visuals, world-building and narrative, which despite a few missteps, manages to be a devilishly charming little adventure.
The Big Con sees you in the shoes of Ali, a teenager who ventures on a cross country road trip with her newfound friend to raise money and save her mum's video rental store. It's a ludicrous premise and one that perhaps doesn't have room to breathe before you're thrown from location-to-location, but it's reminiscent of classic 90s movies such as The Sandlot, which always felt larger than life despite their attempts at being grounded.
It's not long before your road trip starts and introduces you to The Big Con's central mechanics. The aim is to raise a gargantuan amount of money by pickpocketing, stealing and helping people throughout the world. It's all presented in a fairly basic way, with a pretty standard mini-game for pickpocketing for example, but it's an addictive gameplay loop. As you arrive at each new locale, you'll have to raise money to move onto the next, pushing you through a 90s wonderland of nostalgia. One minute you'll be in a flashy American mall scraping cash, the next you'll be in a desert town planning your next heist. It moves at such a pace it's hard to put down.
The main problem is that none of what you do is particularly challenging, and at times, feels morally wrong without truly exploring the implications of your actions. Whether you're stealing toys from a child or taking advantage of someone's forgetfulness, there's a sense of wrongdoing that never quite allows you to feel sympathetic towards Ali as you perhaps should. It doesn't help that the characters around her are so wonderfully realised with their own unique personalities that make your law-breaking actions feel all the more wrong.
It's all presented in a rather fluffy way with truly gorgeous visuals. Honestly, each frame of the game could be taken as a beautiful freeze frame. It manages to feel like a game stripped from the 90s, while also feeling very modern in its gameplay. Flash colours ooze off the screen as if you're in an episode of Tracy Beaker and the music is always enchanting. You also have your own journal to track down your current quests but it quickly becomes packed and hard to manage. It's actually easier to completely ignore it and go on your own adventure.
The Big Con presents a fun, addictive gameplay loop to embrace - despite never truly sitting right with us narratively. Its world is a delight to explore, the characters are fun and the 90s vibes wrap around you like a warm winter's blanket. It's a shame its morals are never presented in a truly challenging way, but if you can look past its messy narrative, you'll find a fun, charming indie adventure that's hard to put down.