Whenever I found out Suda51 is involved with a game, I know I?m in for a very unique experience; Diabolical Pitch is no different. Diabolical Pitch is an action baseball game for Kinect on XBLA developed by Grasshopper Manufacture (known for Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned, and the upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw) and Suda51. Honestly, I?m not even sure where to start, and generally if I?m made speechless from a game it?s generally a good thing, this is something completely different though.
I kept going over how to explain the main story to Diabolical Pitch without sounding like I?m crazy or completely twisted, yet I couldn?t find a way to do so and sound normal, so here goes. You control McAllister, a legendary pitcher in the big leagues that just pitched a perfect game that brings them to the World Series. After winning the game McAllister hunches over on the mound grasping onto his arm that?s unable to move. The next scene shows McAllister getting into a car accident and then waking up in a very dark and twisted land. A man approaches you, but he has a head of a cow and is speaking some nonsense about being trapped in a twisted amusement park called Queen Christine?s Dream Land.
Here the cow headed man informs McAllister that he can get his arm back to the way it was, but he?ll have to pitch his way through the amusement park to reach the castle at the end. He is then outfitted with a bionic arm so that he can hurl baseballs with speed and precision against the enemies that will be approaching. McAllister quickly learns that he?s going to have to pitch his way out if he wants to survive this demented amusement park. What he?ll be constantly throwing balls at is sinister animal mascots that are constantly trying to attack you. Evil tigers, rabbits, elephants, birds and many more twisted creations will be coming for McAllister in a dark and creepy setting. You need to survive five distinctly themed worlds, each of which consists of four areas (though technically three as the fourth is essentially a bonus stage). See, there?s no real sane way to describe the game without sounding completely out there.
Enemies will pop up at various spots in the play area and you need to pitch and destroy them before they can attack you and deplete all your health. McAllister stays stationary the whole time, on his mound per-se, and must stop the waves of oncoming mascots until you get to a boss for each area. You need to destroy your enemies with your projectiles and some enemies will switch things up by throwing things at you that you either need to catch or dodge.
As you progress further towards the mysterious castle, you?ll need to be a little more strategic in your throws and defense. The main way you?ll be doing this is by specifically aiming for certain foes which helps destroy them quicker than a regular throw. You do this by using your non-throwing arm and holding your hand out as an aiming cursor. If you played Child of Eden, it?s the same similar concept with one aiming arm and one throwing. Sadly, the controls worked perfect in that game, but not here; more on that later. When you lock on an enemy by hovering over them with your secondary arm it will lock on to that nemesis, your next throw will automatically hit that specific mascot and gain yourself a headshot, thus killing most enemies in one throw. Eventually this will become the norm, as eventually you?ll face enemies with silver bodies, meaning a regular throw won?t damage them, forcing you to lock on for the headshot.
While you don?t need to throw as fast and hard as you can every pitch, you do gain more pints for throwing faster overall. If an enemy is about to attack you up close, you can make a kicking motion towards the Kinect and it will knock away the closest threats, but this move is limited so you need to use it sparingly (If you?re lucky enough to get Kinect to recognize it in time). Eventually you?ll be tossing up combinations of throwing, catching pitches, ducking saw blades, kicking, and of course the aptly named Diabolical Pitch.
As you destroy enemies and fill your meter, you can eventually use your chosen Diabolical Pitch (six in total) to easily wipe an area clear of enemies. You?ll need to rely on your powerful Diabolical Pitch special moves when a horde of enemies are coming at you all at once and use it at the appropriate times. Each of the separate Diabolical Pitches has their own motions that you need to perform to charge it up to be used. Eventually as you learn how each specialized Diabolical Pitch situation is catered for, this is where a lot of the strategy comes in, not only first choosing the correct one before you start an area (you can?t change Diabolical Pitches until you go back to the main menu) but knowing each level and which pitch is best suited for each type of enemy onslaught. While these special moves are the main staple of the game, it does become quite tired early on, and I?m not speaking about your arm after throwing hundreds of pitches in rapid succession.
As you complete areas you?ll gain coins based on how well you did, how many bonuses you collected (by throwing at them), and how fast you pitched. These coins can then be spent on buying new baseball cards which will unlock new Diabolical Pitches, bonuses like lower fatigue (you can?t continuously throw pitches or your arm becomes too tired and you have to let it rest a few moments), and more. It?s an interesting idea and it tries to entice you to replay levels over and over to gain more coins and beat your scores, but you?ll need some massive endurance to play through it that many times.
What can make or break a Kinect game is obviously the motion controls and how accurate it tracks the player. Sadly, for how few controls are needed to be input, almost all of them don?t work when they should or are nowhere near as accurate as they need to be. When you?re aiming with your non-dominate hand the cursor will constantly be wandering around the screen, even off it at times, making you guess where you?re aiming before it shows up again. Sometimes you?ll try pitching to the right and it will go left or elsewhere, more so, ducking and catching isn?t always recognized in the short time that you need to perform the action before getting hit. Sometimes my throws would go for the power-ups instead of the enemy a few feet from my face and trying to initiate some of the Diabolical Pitches will have you flailing about trying to get it to work. Sometimes it took multiple arm swings to even get the Diabolical Pitch to throw exactly when I wanted it to. When your arms are already sore from the intended gameplay, throwing all these extra pitches to try and get it to simply work, doesn?t help.
Surprisingly, there is a multiplayer mode as well for you and a friend to play side by side that adds a few more gestures for you to memorize and attempt to perform. While the initial game becomes very easy with a second player, if one player loses their health, both players can reach their arms to one another to try and revive the other. You can also perform a team Diabolical Pitch that needs to be done in unison, though actually pulling it off on command will take quite some time and patience. You lose so much times trying to do the cooperative moves that you?re better off for the most part simply throwing regular and lock-on pitches. The multiplayer is there, but it suffers the same Kinect tracking issues single player has, only doubled.
If you know and enjoy Suda51?s unique style, Diabolical Pitch will seem normal to you; to all the others, you won?t have any idea how someone game up with a game that looks quite like this. It?s completely over the top, which is to be expected, but with simple comic style cutscenes and a story that is completely out there, it?s very hard to become invested or even care about McAllister, no matter how unique the setting and premise is. I give Grasshopper props for trying something new and distinctive, but the game falls flat as it?s simply not all that fun to play, even when it does work properly. It?s original, that?s for sure, but throwing pretend baseballs at the screen for two hours wears very thin quite quickly.
Diabolical Pitch feels like a minigame that belongs in a larger collection of minigames, but sadly it?s not, and this is all you get for 800 Microsoft Points for two hours of gameplay. It?s a shallow experience that even if it did work properly at all times it still wouldn?t be that much more exciting or fun. Your upper arm will become incredibly sore for days after a few area clears and that alone makes it difficult to continue replaying stages for the unlockables even if you somehow enjoy pretend pitching for hours. I?m a fan Suda51, but this is nowhere close to a homerun; more like a pop fly that bounced off the outfielder's face.