From the original confidence man’s early ruses in the 1800s, to Soulja Boy selling janky game consoles in recent years, scamming is a cruel yet integral part of the North American ethos. After just a 30-minute demo with The Big Con, it’s already strikingly clear the game understands this — fusing grift culture with a pungent 90s aura to craft a sweet story-based swindling adventure.
You play an angsty, backwards hat-wearing teen named Ali. She needs $97,000 to save her mom’s video shop from the impending doom of dubious gangsters. Ali doesn’t really vibe with working, however, and after meeting a mentor with slick-backed hair and a knack for crime, she decides to scam her way out of the collosal debt: coin by coin. Toronto studio Mighty Yell developed The Big Con with a team of less than 10. And that small team genuinely nailed the vibrant, zigzag carpet aesthetic through solid art direction and retro comedy movie style quips.
The demo sets you exploring the fictional American town of Lisbon County, checking out landmarks, malls, and shops across your various hustles. Your first goal is to get two bus tickets. That way you can take a trip to scam central and make bank off some chumps. To do that, you first need to master the timing-based pickpocket minigame, which is admittedly very fun. You run behind unsuspecting bystanders and press E to trigger a meter that ticks back and forth at increasing speed while trying to nail the safe spot (at the risk of getting caught). This mechanic is amusing, but the notable part is how little money you get from these people. After pickpocketing a whole mall I made like $20, which trembles in comparison to the rest of the $96,980 the intrepid child must collect. It makes you think: Is scamming really the best way for a kid to raise this absolutely ridiculous amount of money?
On your adventure you meet a zany cast of characters ranging from discount Jerry Seinfeld to a rich dad who, at one point, becomes your hustle whale in the mall. The dialogue and character interactions are on point; they deftly stick to the nostalgia of the time period without feeling outdated. During conversations you can also select various responses. It doesn’t seem to affect the narrative in any way, but it’s nice to have characters expand on whatever you find interesting.
The Big Con‘s visuals have a wavy, pencil and crayon feel that makes exploring each area evoke memories of flipping through highly detailed picture books. The music also does my favourite cue of switching which instruments play the theme — depending on where you are on the map or what store you enter. That fine-tunes the vibe to specific situations. Helpful Items are scattered throughout the neighborhood as well, all bearing chucklesome descriptions that build out the world in nuanced ways. Masks and hats also appear as cosmetic items; while I didn’t find a use for them in the demo, it was hinted that they could help your sneaky heists later on in the game.
I had a blast with the short time I spent in The Big Con‘s throwback world. Even though it’s a game based around crime, I enjoy that it’s tonally very upbeat, with a clear aesthetic executed fully through both its dialogue and art. Giving a teen the sisyphean task of raising almost a hundred thousand dollars is an intriguing narrative setup, so I’m excited to see how that plot wraps up — and what escapades the full game will put behind it. The Big Con is slated to drop later this summer and I cannot wait to get my radical scam on.