Diabolical pitch is a brand new Xbox Live Arcade title from Grasshopper Manufacture, the deviants that brought us No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned, and the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw. Utilising Microsoft’s motion sensing camera Kinect you take the roll of a professional baseball player that suffers a crippling injury during the most important game of his life and subsequently spirals into a depression.
Following a car accident one particularly dark evening you awake to find yourself in the nightmarish world of Queen Christine’s Dream Land; a dilapidated theme park filled with rotting animal themed mascots that want nothing less than to tear you to pieces. If you manage to fight your way through every challenge in the park you will be granted an audience with Queen Christine, who has the power to grant wishes.
After being given a mechanical arm brace you are told to use your pitching skills to fend off wave after wave of zombified creatures. The way the game is set out in short bite-sized chunks really makes it feel like an old-school arcade game that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Sega Dreamcast.
Having said that, as with many Kinect games, the actual gameplay experience is a little uneven. Some of the greatest parts of the game are things that can only be achieved with Kinect, while some of the game’s biggest flaws are the result of the Kinect controls.
The actual gameplay itself is very simple. Your only objective in each of the twenty or so stages is to take out every enemy that comes at you. The type of enemies you’ll face range from basic ground forces to more advanced enemies with shields and enemies whose only weak spot is their head. The game features a very generous automatic lock on that guides your thrown ball towards the nearest enemy you were roughly pointing at. This may annoy some people but I found that it helped maintain the game’s rapid pace.
In order to hit specific items or enemies you can use your non-dominant arm to highlight your desired target. This feels a little strange at first, as there is a noticeable lag between your actions and the actions of your onscreen character, but overall the system works pretty well.
As your character is suffering from a serious arm injury you cannot continuously throw balls at the enemy. There is a fatigue bar on the left side of the screen that will rapidly fill up if you throw the balls too frequently. Should you find that your fatigue bar fills up entirely then you are unable to throw any balls for a few moments and run the risk of being overrun.
When enemies get too close you are given the option of being able to kick them away by physically performing a kick. At first you are limited to only three kicks per round, but there are a number of pickups that can be collected (by throwing a ball at them) that’ll grant you extra kicks. Certain enemies will throw projectiles at you that you must either catch, jump over, or duck under to avoid getting hurt.
Defeating enemies will fill a meter that lets you perform a Diabolical Pitch, the game’s equivalent of a super move. There are about half a dozen to choose from, and can easily be switched around at the start of each level. These range from fireballs and electricity to more bizarre power-ups like summoning a gigantic meteoric baseball or turning your arm in to a baseball launching cannon.
With every enemy defeated you’ll earn coins that can be spent on purchasing Baseball cards. Each card unlocks a new ability, including new Diabolical Pitches and general performance upgrades. There are over 60 cards to purchase in total and after completing the game I had barely unlocked half of them.
Another welcome feature is the inclusion of a relatively hassle-free two player mode. When playing two player you will need to make sure you have enough space to play or else you run the risk of whacking each other with your flailing limbs.
However, as fun as parts of the game are, there are certainly a few issues. It may just be my set up, but I found some of the Kinect controls very unresponsive. The biometric sign-in feature that uses Kinect to scan you and sign you in automatically never seems to work in the game, even though it works when I start my Xbox up. Similarly every time I start the game up I have to run the Kinect tuner in order to get it to even acknowledge the fact that I am standing right in front of it Once it was set up and got going there weren’t too many issues, but it is still a pain having to run the set up every time I want to play it.
The other main issue is the sheer level of repetition. Yes, Grasshopper do a relatively good job of frequently introducing new enemies, but essentially the thing you’ll be doing more often than not is flinging your dominant arm about. Still, there is no denying that the game is fun and has a charming quirky old-school arcade feel about it which will appeal to many hardcore gamers out there.
Graphics: 3/5 – Some distinctive character models and nicely designed environments.
Sound: 3/5 – Very basic voice acting and sound effects coupled with a samey soundtrack… not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Gameplay: 3/5 – Your basic aim of the game is to throw baseballs at approaching enemies. Yes, every now and then you’ll be asked to catch a ball, or jump over a flying buzz-saw, but when it all comes down to it this is a game about throwing a baseball.
Longevity: 3/5 – Twenty stages across five unique worlds, sixty upgrades to collect, and a two player multiplayer mode. Not too bad for a Xbox Live Arcade title.
Overall: 3 out of 5
Diabolical Pitch is an old fashioned Arcade style game that suffers from the odd glitch in the otherwise fairly good Kinect controls. It’s not massively long but if you have a Kinect and are looking for something a bit unusual then I would recommend that you give it a try.
- Luke Mears