Game Rant's Anthony Taormina reviews Diabolical Pitch
When the prospect of Grasshopper Manufacture, a developer known for delivering some of the most insane video game properties imaginable, teaming up with Microsoft's Kinect is tossed around, it's a safe bet that the topic of baseball isn't the first thing that comes mind. However, that's what Grasshopper Manufacture delivered for their first Kinect outing: a motion-controlled baseball game titled Diabolical Pitch.
Of course, with this being Grasshopper Manufacture and all, this isn't just a typical pitching simulator, or something that is meant to bring the family together, this is Kinect Sports on drugs. Diabolical Pitch carries all the trappings of a Grasshopper title, from zany designs to absurd control mechanics, and it's actually one of the more surprising Kinect titles to have released for the system.Diabolical Pitch's story revolves around the character of McAlister, a once popular pitcher who has fallen from grace and pines for the days of old. By some good old demonic happenstance, McAlister ends up literally pitching through a sinister theme park on the road to redemption -- redemption that involves replacing his newfound wooden pitching arm with his original one.
It's story for story's sake, and the game's choice of setting and characters do help justify the arcade nature of the game, but overall it lacks the punch of a typical Grasshopper title. Props to them for not simply letting the game exist without any through-line but the story isn't going to do much in the way of keeping players engaged.
Of course, this storyline wouldn't even be worth exploring if the gameplay weren't on-point, and thankfully it is. Using the conceit of a baseball pitcher, the player is tasked with hurling balls towards enemies as they slowly work their way towards the screen. It's a very advanced version of tower defense where McAlister's body is the tower (complete with a health bar), his arm is the weapon (which has a cool down period and will get fatigued if overworked), and the enemies are charging from various directions.
Pitching is done exactly as expected and works extremely well. The game does a great job of recognizing the player's angle and direction of throw, and makes educated guesses as to which target you're throwing towards if needed. A lot of the frustration that could have arisen from a something as precise as hitting a target with a virtual ball is non-existent, making this one of the least aggravating and most user friendly Kinect titles in a while.
The pitching mechanic is the real meat of the gameplay, but it's only a small portion of the motion-controlled abilities that are at the player's disposal. If an enemy gets too close the player can kick towards the screen and about two or three of the closest targets will go flying backwards, or if an enemy throws a projectile, gamers can reach both hands out to catch the on-coming attack. Crowd control can also be facilitated via the eponymous diabolical pitch, one of seven different special pitches that come in a wide variety of forms.
One special is a gigantic fireball that hits a wider area of targets than a standard pitch while another turns the player's arm into a canon - which can fire through multiple enemies. Each has their own strengths, and is usually better saved for moments when a wealth of enemies are on screen.
As the game advances through its five worlds — each with four areas — new mechanics are introduced like jumping/crouching (to avoid saw blades), and aiming pitches with your glove hand, until the final world becomes a delicate ballet of pitching, kicking, and dodging. It's actually unfortunate that the game is so short (it took me about 3 hours to complete) because each of the new mechanics adds a fresh dimension of fun to the experience, and made me want to play more.
While most of the motion controls are perfectly suited to the inherent shortcomings of the Kinect (something that Microsoft could learn a thing or two about), a few of the mechanics, namely the aiming, could have used a little more fine-tuning. Earlier levels, when surviving is solely about pitching, are much easier to complete than those that juggle a handful of mechanics, but the game never became too challenging. Enemies too become increasingly more varied, and harder to dispatch, and help keep what is essentially a series of rote tasks from overstaying their welcome.
Multiplayer is also thrown in for good measure, and lets two McAllisters attempt to dispatch an oncoming horde of mechanical carnival animals. It's controlled chaos, and becomes a little more cumbersome considering all the movements available, but getting together with a friend is part of the Kinect motto and is supported well enough.
Replay value is added via the game's scoring system and card collections. Killing enemies will outright bank points, but the real currency can be accumulated via a slot machine based system that rewards the player for hitting similar items like the cherries, bars, or 7's in groups of three. That currency can then be used to purchase baseball cards that unlock everything from new diabolical pitches to lowering McAlister's fatigue.
Diabolical Pitch is every bit the Grasshopper Manufacture title players have come to expect (or not expect for that matter), but also one of the best uses of Kinect that has been released in downloadable form. It's arcade style, pick up and play nature, allows the game to never outstay its welcome, and its inventive mechanics keep it from being just a pitching mini-game.
There is a lot of Grasshopper's trademark weirdness contained within the title, which makes it a must buy for Suda 51 fans but also keeps it from being an across the board recommendation. The frustrating situations that Kinect sometimes presents can be a little hard to work with but, ultimately, enacting each ability works as intended. The only flaw that has no reasonable justification is the drab design of the enemies and play areas, which made for a game that carries a similar color palette the whole way through. Diabolical Pitch won't be for everyone, but if you're a Kinect owner looking for a little something different, but that still uses Kinect in very traditional ways, this a perfect little downloadable title.
Are you interested in checking out Diabolical Pitch? Does it sound like the perfect change of pace that Kinect has been looking for?
Diabolical Pitch is available now on the Xbox Live Arcade.