The Big Con review: A vibrant and touching blast from the past

Travel to a time when Furbys ruled the Earth.

The Big Con Gameplay
(Image: © Windows Central)

The Big Con Hero

Source: Skybound Games (Image credit: Source: Skybound Games)

The early '90s were a magical period when video stores ruled the world, the average person didn't have a cellphone, and you could pretty easily get away with hiding a whole lot from your parents. The Big Con successfully transports players back to this era in a vibrant, hyper-stylized time machine from flannel over-indulgence to the world's obsession with music television.

For a child of the '90s like myself, this was an incredibly nostalgic voyage packed with pop-culture references and long-forgotten anecdotes from years past. With nods to Furbys, VHS slasher films, Seinfeld, and so much more, The Big Con felt like reconnecting with an old friend after 20 years. If you're a fan of classic adventure games like Monkey Island or simply want to immerse yourself in the glory of this iconic decade, do yourself a favor and set aside a few hours to play The Big Con.

The Big Con: What you'll like

The Big Con Locations

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In The Big Con, you'll take control of the spunky teenager, Ali Barlow, as she desperately attempts to save her family's video store from foreclosure after loan sharks come looking to collect. Ali can't help but feel an overwhelming desire to find the necessary means to round up nearly $100,000. On the other hand, Ali's mother is far more concerned about securing her daughter's future as a professional trombonist by using the little funds they have to send Ali to a music camp. The compelling dynamic of teenage desires versus parent's intentions is both heartwarming and relatable.

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TitleThe Big Con
DeveloperMighty Yell
PublisherSkybound Games
Xbox versionXbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Game size1.4GB
Play time3-5 hours
Xbox Game PassNo
Launch price$15

As someone who spent countless hours browsing our local video store with my parents to find the perfect film for our weekly movie nights, I couldn't help but feel instantly attached to the mission of keeping this small-town video store alive. On paper, the main story in The Big Con is simple enough and plays out almost like a cliché family film from the early '90s. However, the addition of reflective input from decades past adds layers of symbolism and yearning for another time to this cross-country adventure. I obviously won't spoil the ending or significant plot points here, but The Big Con is ultimately a touching story about the value of friends, family, and chasing your dreams.

In addition to critical mainline characters like Ali, her mom, and Ted, the charming con-man who sucks our hero into this morally questionable crime spree, the various locations in The Big Con are packed with entertaining recurring characters as well. From a struggling comedian testing his latest and anything but greatest material on you to a smoker struggling to quit the habit, these individuals play a critical role in adding meaningful interactions outside of the key story beats. Engaging with these side characters and assisting them with their problems pays off in touching or hilarious ways.

... if you want three to five hours of intoxicating eye candy, you're in for a real treat.

One of my favorite elements of The Big Con was the wildly eccentric art style. With colors and designs ripped straight from '90s staples like Saved by the Bell and Doug, this charming adventure title beautifully balanced nostalgia and creativity. With neon skin tones and distinctive apparel, every character in this world felt unique, regardless of their roles in the overarching story. Every single moment of The Big Con drips with personality and mesmerizing neon colors. If you're looking for a dark and gritty tale of vengeance, this isn't it. But if you want three to five hours of intoxicating eye candy, you're in for a real treat.

It's also worth noting the many small, essential details littered throughout the environments in The Big Con. The infamous blue and yellow banners of the Videoville locations, which are obvious parodies of the former corporate rental king Blockbuster, scream loudly from street corners, and the interiors of these storefronts are filled with promotional materials for films like From Husk Til Dawn, which is a corn-themed knockoff of Quentin Tarantino's legendary vampire flick. There's no shortage of similar nods to other moments or pieces of history from '90s pop culture for players who simply want to stop and soak up the scenery.

The Big Con: What you won't like

The Big Con Dialogue

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While The Big Con is filled with a star-studded cast of voiceover talents like Erika Ishii and Dave Fennoy, this game ultimately takes a minimalistic approach to deliver voiceover lines to the player. At the start of each line of dialogue, these characters say one word to set the tone of their words essentially. Often this is something as simple as "Rad!" or "Aww, man." I don't fundamentally have a problem with this delivery approach, but with so few actual lines of dialogue, often the spoken line didn't correctly match the text on the screen. This didn't negatively impact my enjoyment of the story significantly, but it was an odd inconsistency that became increasingly difficult to ignore.

With no way to revisit previous locations, this simply meant I missed out on sidequests for that playthrough.

It's no secret that The Big Con pulls plenty of inspiration from classic point-and-click adventure games from the '90s, but some modern touches help give the game a more engaging gameplay loop. Unfortunately, some of these mechanics get rather stale after a few interactions. In The Big Con, pickpocketing strangers is a great way to earn a quick buck, and this gameplay system incorporates a timing-based mini-game to accomplish. Initially, I thoroughly enjoyed the skill-based implementation of this mechanic, but after a dozen or so thefts, it became quite repetitive.

The Big Con's only other worthwhile complaint stems from a few unclear "point of no return" moments throughout the game. I loved exploring these gorgeous environments and experiencing the various ways Ali could con innocent bystanders. However, on two separate occasions, I accidentally entered a conversation or door that transported me to a new area before I was ready to leave. With no way to revisit previous locations, this simply meant I missed out on sidequests for that playthrough. This complaint isn't a big deal if you're not a completionist like myself, but in my case, this meant additional playthroughs of the game.

The Big Con: Should you play it?

The Big Con is a short and sweet adventure title filled with vivid characters from a genuinely bizarre period in American pop culture. Mighty Yell did a remarkable job capturing the essence of the '90s without relying entirely on in-jokes or in-your-face references. This approach ultimately makes The Big Con a great trip even for folks who didn't get to experience the wonder of video stores or peak Toys R Us. If you're OK with an experience under five hours, this is an excellent distraction from the crushing reality of the modern day.

While The Big Con certainly isn't jam-packed with content, at $15, there's genuinely a lot to love here. The heartwarming story of a mother and daughter struggling to succeed in a world hellbent on exploiting their good intentions, the vibrant '90s-inspired art style, and locations that feel both fresh and familiar, make this lovely adventure title a fantastic summer indie standout. I cherished almost every minute of my brief detour in this retro world, and if you have any nostalgia for VHS tapes, I think you will too.

The Big Con might not be considered one of the best Xbox games for every player, but fans of adventure titles will certainly enjoy this charming cross-country crime caper.

Miles Dompier

Miles Dompier is a Freelance Video Producer for Windows Central, focusing on video content for Windows Central Gaming. In addition to writing or producing news, reviews, and gaming guides, Miles delivers fun, community-focused videos for the Windows Central Gaming YouTube channel. Miles also hosts Xbox Chaturdays every Saturday, which serves as the Windows Central Gaming weekly podcast.