Diabolical Pitch Review
Game: Diabolical Pitch
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade with Microsoft Kinect only
When one thinks of game designer Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture, you imagine strange and unique titles that don’t fit the conventional moulds of video game genres, such as Shadows of the Damned or Killer 7. Cult titles by definition. So when we heard that the team behind those were working on a Baseball game for Kinect we were more than a little shocked. Surely this doesn’t fit in with the Grasshopper style that we have become accustomed to?
That being said, when we then hear that the game is actually an arcade-inspired title, where you play as a baseball pitcher with a prosthetic arm who finds himself at a strange carnival where he has to knock down vicious animal-shaped dolls before they butcher him with meat cleavers, the whole thing starts to sound a lot more like a typical Suda 51 project.
The game begins with a short, and incredibly odd, cutscene, where comic-book style captions and panels are used to depict the fall from grace of McCallister. On the brink of taking his team to the World Series Championship, McCallister blows out his shoulder and from there his life heads in a downward spiral. The injury forces him to retire and he considers suicide. Just when everything seems at its bleakest, McCallister awakes to find himself in a creepy carnival that promises to grant people their every wish. For our pitcher, this involves him being given a replacement arm; one which allows him to pitch again. The only catch is that he can’t leave the carnival until he clears all areas of enemies and reaches the castle at the end (this is never really explained, but hey, it is an arcade-style game, with a heavy emphasis on high scores, not story lines!). All of these cinematics are pulled off in a cheesy and over-the-top creepy manner, which complements the overall crazy Japanese aesthetic which is almost always present in Suda 51 titles.
Graphically the game won’t set the world alight. All of the graphics are quite serviceable, but never really excel. This is fine, as the game has a kind of retro charm to it, and it adds to the B-Movie horror vibe that over-rides the atmosphere. The sound effects are all of a similar quality and whilst the music (especially the menu themes) can quickly become irritating, the groaning noises and explosions successfully make the game feel closer to House of the Dead than All Star Baseball.
Gameplay is spread out across five different areas of the park, such as Adventure World, Horror World and Space World, and throughout each of them McCallister must face wave after wave of crazed animal dolls. Being a Kinect title, the mechanics are fairly simple, you aim by holding out your weaker arm toward the screen, with which you point controlling a target reticule. With your dominant arm, you simply perform a throwing action in order to pitch balls. You must hit targets and knock them down – a’la a carnival sideshow game – before they reach the front of the screen and cause you damage. Throw too often though and your shoulder becomes injured and you have to wait before you can throw again. Sometimes, with stronger enemies in particular, you have to aim at them for several sections in order to lock on and perform a headshot, if you wish to cause damage, others, such as bosses, will have shields and you must wait for the shield to drop before you can hurt them. The throwing mechanic all works quite responsively and the idea of aiming and throwing is all very intuitive. There are even times when you must use your catcher’s mitt to catch flying weapons, and this is again easily performed with motion control.
You also have a couple of other moves in your arsenal to protect yourself. If an enemy manages to get really close, and you don’t have time to line up a shot, you can always kick out in real life, and the in-game character will boot the enemy clear; but the main weapons you possess are your diabolical pitches. There are six in total, but you start with only two, Fireball and Lightning. These are special pitches which are charged up after several successful kills, and each has a different trigger stance and effect. These must be used wisely to clear the screen when things begin to get hectic and can really pull you out of a jam. As you play through levels and successfully defeat enemies, they drop fruit machine logos, which you collect by throwing balls, if you collect three of a kind in a row, you get bonus points and bonus money. Between levels, the money is then used to buy Baseball Cards, which upgrade abilities and unlock new pitches to throw.
This shows the arcade spirit of the game. As mentioned earlier, it all feels a bit like a carnival sideshow game, and you are constantly keeping your eyes open looking for power-ups and multipliers, so you can build up high scores and win more money. Between levels you can view your top scores and compare them to your friends and the world via online leaderboards, so the emphasis is very much on the now somewhat old-fashioned notion of beating other people’s scores.
There is also some local multiplayer which you can take part in. The levels are all identical to the single-player mode, but a couple of new mechanics have been added in. Firstly, if one player loses all of their health they get knocked down. To help your friend up, both players must reach out toward one another in a helping hand stance. Also, when both players have their Diabolical Pitch charged, by joining hands they can unleash a joint pitch, that is particularly devastating. It is probably more fun playing the game with a friend, as you can help each other to clear enemies and both laugh together at the ridiculous bad guys and cheesy cutscenes.
VERDICT: The game is fairly short and unless you are really set on beating scores and competing with friends, you could probably see all that the game has to offer in a matter of hours. It is simple, pick up and play fun, which is immediately accessible to players across a broad spectrum of ages and playing skills. Despite the somewhat creepy theme and setting, the game is probably a good one for playing with other family members as it is such a simple premise that anyone can understand. The game has a strange style that is sure to put some players off, as is the baseball theme, which has never been a hugely popular in Europe. At its core, Diabolical Pitch is a mini-game that has been drawn out into a fully-fledged title. This makes the whole thing seem a bit shallow, but there is still plenty of fun to be had in the over-the-top silliness. As an Xbox LIVE Arcade download, the title will keep you entertained for a short time, but doesn’t score a Grand Slam.