“Grasshopper Manufacture”. That is all you need to know to be prepared for what’s in store in Diabolical Pitch. Leave it to Suda51 and co. to take a pitching mini-game as might be found in any baseball simulation, run it through their creative meat grinder, and turn it into its own, standalone game experience.
As baseball all-star pitcher McAllister, you’ve suffered some sort of debilitating injury to your pitching arm in the middle of the big game. As rumors of your early retirement circulate in the press, you receive a mysterious invitation to a theme park that promises to make dreams come true. Upon arriving, your odd cow-headed mascot companion fits you with a bionic sleeve that miraculously lets your arm work again. The catch? You have to make your way through the park’s various worlds, pitching balls at the demonic carnival creatures lumbering toward you to survive. Sadly, despite building upon a simple premise with several twists and variations to the pitching gameplay, Diabolical Pitch ends up being shoe-horned into a rigid shooting-gallery mold.
Every Circus Has Its Bearded Lady
The Kinect allows you to aim your pitches straight ahead or diagonally to either direction, with the game taking over the fine-tuned auto-aiming. In addition, after selecting which hand is your dominant pitching hand, you can use your other hand to control an on-screen aiming reticule to let you lock on to specific enemies for hard-hitting headshots. Then, of course, there’s the titular Diabolical Pitch, a special chargeable move that has to be selected from a list of six unlockable moves before the stage begins. Raising your arms over your head like an actual pitcher will initiate a super-move, ranging from a fire or thunder-based elemental attack to a bionic arm cannon and even a meteor strike, doing massive damage to groups of enemies at once.
When you’re not lobbing fastballs at bad guys, you’re taking aim at power-ups, locking on to incoming missiles, or dodging enemy projectiles – at various times, you’ll be required to do certain moves to either catch a ball coming at you, or jump over/crouch under flying sawblades. The variety of enemies, and more importantly the many methods with which to eliminate them, will certainly have you flailing your limbs like a maniac, and is (at times) somewhat entertaining. Unfortunately, it also serves to highlight the woefully unsatisfying environments you find yourself in, which don’t offer any way to interact with them or explore them. True to its carnival-infused atmosphere, you’re merely at the dart toss booth, taking aim at targets, but otherwise staying completely stationary. Even a bare-bones on-rails movement system is absent; and with only five worlds, each with three stages and an extra points-only stage, the amount of content on display is dismally short. A few unlockable moves and power-ups and a 2-player multiplayer mode don’t provide enough more in terms of legs for Diabolical Pitch to stand on.
On a presentation front, Diabolical Pitch kind of left me under-whelmed. After hearing the game referred to as a “Kinect title for the mature demographic”, and with its fun fair settings, I was expecting more chilling enemy designs. What I got were four or five variations on the same “robotic lion/tiger/elephant/other zoo creature” theme. The story cutscenes after finishing each world seem like a graphite-pencil-sketch version of Terry Gilliam cutout animations, but overlaid with bad voice acting and a forgettable story. None of this is to mention the incredibly grating main menu music. I also experienced several technical issues, despite working with multiple Kinect setups and even retuning the device: there were many times when the game wouldn’t recognize my pitches (perhaps I was throwing them in a too-rapid succession), and – even worse – wouldn’t respond to my movements when trying to throw a Diabolical Pitch to survive and otherwise hopeless situation.
The Final Verdict
Diabolical Pitch comes up with a few good ideas, namely building a horror-themed action game using sports controls for combat. Perhaps spiritually linked to Grasshopper Manufacture’s upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw (two sports-themed action-horror games?), Diabolical Pitch throws a cool curveball by adding multiple variations on combat. While it’s neat to perform catching, pitching and batting motions, the game world sees itself tethered to a static environment without any rhyme or reason to it. I want to see these ideas in a fast-moving, adrenaline-pumping action game to match the creepy aesthetic of a corroded carnival, but this game isn’t it.