Diabolical Pitch Review
Posted by Jon Wahlgren
Warning: baseball puns
Leave it to developer Grasshopper Manufacture to take a perfectly innocuous activity like throwing a baseball and find the perfect way to twist it into a weird sci-fi horror show. As a former major league pitcher down on his luck with a bum arm, an anthropomorphic bovine in a suit grants you a souped-up bionic arm — to earn said great power, your great responsibility is to pitch, catch and kick your way through a carnival of terror and take down spooky mascot things stalking around.
The grand majority of time spent is making a throwing motion either forward or to the side, with the game capably picking up the likely intended target. Holding up the gloved arm brings forth a targeting reticule to line up lock-on throws necessary to clobber certain types of baddies, which, intentionally or not, feels a lot like calling your shots. The Great Bambino would be proud, especially if he had access to the titular action. Amounting to special moves, Diabolical Pitches unleash all sorts of havoc on the screen and are a consistently fun way to wipe out hordes at a time with over-the-top powers like a cannon arm or electric ball. Rocking enemies earns coins that can be cashed in for baseball cards to unlock score bonuses or new pitches — choosing the right pitch before going to battle can make all the difference, adding a touch of strategy to the mix.
Taking out scores at a time is welcome as the action quickly escalates, filling the environment with a number of meanies that conceptually walked right out of left field. Some of the evil mascots settle for walking over and slamming our hero on the skull, solved with a swift kick in the groin to send them flying. Others hang and pitch back, prompting a catching gesture in the correct direction to avoid peril, and others still fling buzz saws to duck or jump over. It would be generous to say Diabolical Pitch's five worlds are expansive, yet each group manages to up the ante and throw enough curve balls to bench you if you aren't paying attention. In that sense, Diabolical Pitch goes a long way for its limited scope.
Generally speaking, Grasshopper has tamed the Kinect sensor to the point where 90% of your motions are detected properly so long as you play in conditions that at least approach ideal. It's refreshing how invisible and organic it feels to make a throwing motion and actually hit what you intended, a sense of connection unfortunately not present in as many Kinect games as we would like. The lock-on reticule is slightly less impressive if only because it's been done a few times before in titles like The Gunstringer and Child of Eden, but with few exceptions Kinect gets itself out of the way and lets you just play. It's a shame then that those exceptions always seem to rear their heads at the worst possible times, like when a flurry of foes charge you or an enemy speeds by, causing your frustrated throwing motions to feel impotent.
What elevates Diabolical Pitch above the pyramid of weighted milk bottles found at town fairs and amusement parks everywhere is a strong sense of style and little Grasshopper signature touches. Many a nod to the developer's previous games have found their way in for a nice bit of fan service, and the haunted carnival visual style is pulled off with an off-kilter gusto that only Grasshopper can do. The presence of the number 51, tigers or a bunch of slot machine symbols may be lost on someone who hasn't ever played No More Heroes, but they lend a certain character to the game and might just make you want to give the developer's back catalogue a whirl.
Diabolical Pitch hits the field with panache as Grasshopper's rookie Kinect game, taking the pennant for best baseball game Microsoft's camera has yet seen. While it doesn't throw a perfect game thanks to the hardware occasionally letting down the overall experience, Grasshopper's ludicrous deconstruction of the sport is a breath of fresh air for Kinect and pretty much nails what it sets out to be: A ridiculous and fun time.