Review: Diabolical Pitch

DiabolicalPitch

Diabolical Pitch is like that wild ‘n’ crazy rookie pitching prospect, the guy with the sick breaking ball that no batter can seem to touch. You bring him up to the majors for the Big Game—or in this case download him to your Xbox 360 hard drive—only to discover that all he’s capable of hurling is fastballs that land five feet in front of the plate. Game over. Taste the disappointment.

I wanted to like Diabolical Pitch on the strength of its wonderfully bizarre-ass premise and developer pedigree alone. A tale as weird as this could probably only come from the mind of Suda51 and the cats at Grasshopper Manufacture: Washed-up major league pitcher desperate for a comeback finds himself trapped in a freakish carnival/castle, using his new bionic arm to hurl baseballs at the heads of advancing hordes of demonically possessed humanoids with animal heads.

Cool. Now we finally know what happened to Roger Clemens.

Chalk this one up in the great-ideas-gone-awry column. Grasshopper Manufacture made a fateful, Faustian bargain to design this game for Kinect, and it ends up costing both the game’s soul and the gamer’s sanity and patience. As is the usual case in Kinectville, the devil’s in the motion tracking details. Some gestures the game recognizes gracefully and immediately, like your standard pitch and the two-hands-above-the-head motion that triggers the titular diabolical pitch, which can be a devastating fireball, a ginormous Meteor Ball or a lightning blast that nails every enemy on the screen. Unleashing these bombs—after properly building up your pitch meter, of course–represents the game’s best stuff.

Unfortunately, the more specific actions are freaking disastrous. Before you’ve progressed too deeply into this carnival of terror, you’ll need to use a targeting reticule, controlled by your non-pitching hand, to lock onto specific targets. That reticule is wonkier than Manny Ramirez after 20 bong hits and a headlong crash into the center-field wall. It vanishes completely from the screen as it recalibrates, locks onto the wrong objects, or delays your ability to deliver a pitch, any and all of which result in a projectile straight upside your mug, death and a level reboot. The same is frequently true for the reticule-reliant Cannonball Pitch, and for the jumps and crouches you’ll need to deploy to dodge the saw blades later enemies will wing your way. If an MLB player racked up half as many tracking errors as the Kinect sensor does in Diabolical Pitch, they’d be sent to the sports psychologist. Or back to Little League.

In a nifty touch, Diabolical Pitch cops the casino gameplay elements from No More Heroes. Slot-machine icons (cherries, bars, lucky 7s and others like you’ll find at this review site) pop up in the environment, begging to be beaned for bonus points and jackpots of gold coins that can be used to snare baseball-card upgrades to your pitches and bonus multipliers. In a not-so-nifty touch, the game yanks you out of the action to watch a canned scene every time you do something basic like reach your hands out in front of you to catch a projectile or jump to dodge one. This is a Kinect title. Shouldn’t we be experiencing these movements rather than watching them?

Repetition is supposed to help big-league pitchers hone their control; here, it only hones more innings of disappointment. A couple levels of beanballing red-eyed tiger- and panda-men that squeak and disappear in bursts of sulfur is fun, even when the Kinect camera’s acting like a drunken mascot. Ten-plus levels of the exact same experience feels like a mini-game that’s been stretched out like an Albert Pujols triple to right field. Aside from a handful of new pitches and new variations on the Ani-men bestiary, there’s nothing groundbreaking that doesn’t debut within the game’s first fifteen minutes.

If you like your masochism to be a shared experience, there’s the option to play side-by-side with a friend, including the ability to hurl a union pitch if you can coordinate your movements well enough. But as tempting as it is to ignore the Kinect Katastrophe vibe and recommend this devil’s bargain simply for its world-class absurdity factor, giving in would be like allowing fried chicken and beer in the major-league clubhouse. And we all know how well that turned out.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Wacko vibe is crazy/spooky/cool
+ Unleashing diabolical pitches is an adrenaline thrill

Cons:
– Kinect sensor fails to pick up too many essential movements
– Targeting reticule frequently goes wonky, MIA
– Actions that ought to involve the player (catching, dodging, etc.) play out as animations
– Nothing new after the game’s first 15 minutes

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (Requires Kinect)
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: 4/6/2012
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (offline only)

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.