Platform: Xbox Live Arcade Kinect
Rating: Teen (Violence, Blood)
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
When Goichi Suda announced Grasshopper Manufacture's work on an Xbox Live Arcade game designed with the Kinect in mind, reviewers and fans were a little stymied. What could this "Codename D" possibly be? Why, Diabolical Pitch, of course!
Diabolical Pitch's story centers around a former pitcher by the name of MacAllister who receives a bionic arm to replace his injured one. As always, these gifts have a price. Our protagonist must fend off deranged stuffed animals while exploring a dark, run-down amusement park. It really sounds like something out of a bad horror flick.
Do they look diabolical, or what?
Gameplay involves actually making a throwing motion with one's arm to throw baseballs at possessed plush animals, giant wooden dolls, and other demented beings. If enemies get too close, making a kicking motion causes MacAllister to kick enemies away. Players only get a limited number of kicks per area, however; this can become a problem when tons of enemies swarm around the player and won't leave. For dealing with unique encounters, there's always the Diabolical Charge. Players start with a Fire Ball and Thunder Ball, and can unlock additional Diabolical Charges as they progress. Each one has a different effect, though I find the Thunder Ball to be best for large swarms of enemies, especially in the bonus areas.
There are five worlds to Diabolical Pitch, with each world holding three areas and one bonus area. So the game seems kinda short. Thankfully, the need to stop and rest every couple of stages helps keep players from finishing this game too quickly. Seriously, my arm is KILLING me today! I can tell that I haven't worked my throwing arm in a very long time.
As MacAllister moves from area to area, a talking cow plays tour guide. Anyone who's played a Suda game before should come to expect bizarre conventions, and Diabolical Pitch is no exception. The cow talks about some pretty heady stuff for a simple game: accomplishments in life, rigging the odds, chasing dreams, not exactly normal game topics. While thought provoking dialogue starters are always a good thing, I'm not sure a Kinect game is the right place.
For those who have friends to game with, (Friends? What are those?) Diabolical Pitch features a 2-player cooperative mode. Both players throw baseballs at even more enemies, and even have a team Diabolical Charge to lay waste to enemies en masse. It adds another layer to the game, and more opportunities for Kinect Fails on youtube.
Perhaps I've spent too much time playing Suda games, but I was surprised by the Teen rating on Diabolical Pitch. For a studio that layers on the phallic humor at every chance it can, Diabolical Pitch seemed kind of off. It left me almost expecting a witty aside about MacAllister's manhood or something, just so that Grasshopper Manufacture could maintain their streak. But it never showed up. Perhaps this is a sign of a new direction for Suda and Grasshopper, but I doubt it. Someone has to do the low brow humor, otherwise it shows up in more mainstream games. Nobody wants that!
If there's one thing Diabolical Pitch has going for it, above all else, it's the gameplay. This is, hands down, the most fun I've had with my kinect in a long time, especially where the game didn't feel "gimmicky." Few Kinect games out there actually feel fun to play. Even fewer games are designed with the adult gamer demographic in mind. It's nice to see a game that just feels right, and doesn't really enter the realm of the uncanny valley.
If the current crop of Kinect games just isn't doing it for you, you might want to check out Diabolical Pitch. It's cheap, it's fun, and it will give you quite the workout. Suda fans will find his trademark art style in spades, and a visual aesthetic very reminiscent of Shadows of the Damned. And if nothing else, it's $10. What have you got to lose on something outside the norm?