Since the Kinect’s launch there have been few titles that didn’t involve dancing, mini-games or some sort of fitness focus so it’s always quite refreshing to see a game that doesn’t lean toward one of these genres and instead delivers something unique and different. Step forward Diabolical Pitch, a game from the bizarre minds of Grasshopper Studios and Suda51 responsible for the No More Heroes series and the underappreciated Shadows of the Damned. Judging by these guys previous work this certainly looks promising, but is it simply another dodgy Kinect attempt?
Diabolical Pitch sees you playing as McAllister, a famed baseball pitcher who has hit a roadblock in his career when his arm suddenly starts playing up. Down and out he unfortunately ends up in a car crash before finding himself in a twisted carnival nightmare complete with creepy rides and plenty of evil wondering animal dolls. Luckily a talking cow doll (yes you read correctly) provides McAllister with a replacement arm to help take on waves of enemies through a series of battles in the hope of replacing and restoring his old one. Will he succeed?
If there’s one thing that immediately stands out when you start you’re first attempt, it’s the satisfying connection you feel when hitting enemies with a baseball and since the game focuses on this element a great deal, it’s a good thing it does.
Playing Diabolical Pitch is all about making throwing gestures at the screen to cue McAllister to do the same in-game, hitting enemies as they attempt to approach and attack you. Twisting your body provides a general target area from left to right, while using your weaker hand allows you to aim more accurately. To begin with things start off very simple with basic throws taking out most enemies. As you pass the first “world” though more is thrown your way (literally). You’ll be required to keep an eye on your health bar as well as your fatigue meter, to catch projectiles from different directions, jump over spinning blades, duck and kick enemies within leg reach and more. Enemies grow tougher to defeat requiring you to time your attacks or aim for a specific body part and when you throw all this together in some of the later stages, things can get very hectic.
To help even out the playing field (see what I did there) McAllister has a number of abilities, power-ups and special pitches at his disposal. Purchased between stages with money earned from killing enemies, these can help aid McAllister on his journey providing him with higher score bonuses, improved abilities like stamina or power and more. The best upgrades however are the ‘Diabolical Pitches’ that not only deliver some of the game’s best use of motion capture, but also the most fun moments. After defeating enough dolls, you’ll be granted the use of said special pitches via some funny poses that could see you winding up as if to swing a bat, raising both arms or with one arm outstretched and the other against your chest like a warrior. With a few on offer these allow you to unleash devastating moves that can for example explode a section of the field, form a cannon that fires super fast balls or even use a baseball bat to smack back enemy shots. They’re wacky and they’re good fun to use.
Single player consists of five worlds each with a handful of stages. These last no more than five minutes each and finish with a brief boss battle to cap it off. While you are doing the same sort of thing over and over, just about enough variety is thrown your way to keep you engaged and even though the campaign can be finished in little over a handful of hours the end occurs just around the point where repetition sets in. For those who do want to continue throwing and catching, online leaderboards help extend the lifespan.
Also included is a multiplayer mode that allows you and a friend to pitch your way through the very same campaign. Much like single player its good frenzied fun and with a few added co-operative moves added into the mix overall it’s a nice addition to the package.
The Kinect does an admiral job picking up all the gestures and it’s only during the games more crazed moments that it can start to fall apart. When you’re ducking, aiming, throwing and catching all within a few minutes you’re bound to come across moments where the hardware simply can’t pick it all up. This can become especially frustrating when it happens during crucial points leading to an unwarranted death. While the Kinect helps make the game feel unique and special, it also hinders it from becoming as great as it could be. Whatsmore the Kinect only further irritates when navigating menus as a combination of a clumsy interface and frequency leads you to wonder why a controller option wasn’t included to speed things up.
The story is easily forgettable but the narrative while not Grasshoppers best does still deliver the typical sense of wit and style we’ve come to expect from the developer. Everything from the menu design and background music right over to the art style and carnival noises feel unique and the overall sense is that of cool fairground Americana. It’s different.
Visually for an Xbox Live Arcade title, Diabolical Pitch looks great. The enemies and environments look decent enough taking you through a nice variety of funhouses, castles, rides and cemeteries and the lighting too when performing special moves or particular feats looks impressive. As mentioned before the music is pretty cool and overall it’s a pleasing game to watch and listen.
Diabolical Pitch is a unique experience that offers a good amount of fun only hindered by the very device that makes it so special. The controls can feel sloppy and the general idea may grow tiresome after extended plays but for those many exciting, frantic moments you’ll be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable arcade Kinect title out there.