Diabolical Pitch review

By Steve Watts, Apr 04, 2012 12:00pm PDT

Diabolical Pitch begins when its protagonist, big-league baseball player McAllister, throws his shoulder out during a career-defining game. His arm is never really the same after that day. Some time later, he's a grousing, growling husk with a bad arm, pessimistic and beaten down. Likely without intending to, designer Suda 51 created the perfect metaphor for how it feels to play his game. I stepped into the cleats of a sad, frustrated man whose arm doesn't work the way it should, and more than anything I just wanted to go back to the way things were before it all happened.

Some context--Diabolical Pitch is a Kinect game, so almost every action is approximated through full body motion. The game provides five worlds worth of creepy amusement park robot-dolls to be on the receiving end of my attacks. I actually pitched the ball at enemies, jumped over or ducked under projectiles, aimed by holding out my non-dominant arm, caught certain types of thrown projectiles, and even kicked as a last-resort for incoming dolls.

The concept may sound pulled from a book of Mad Libs, but it actually works. The family-friendly imagery blends well with the dark spectacle to create an appropriately unnerving tone. The story never really materializes, but the tone is genuinely creepy.

The setting would be better-served if the game itself weren't so fundamentally broken. Pitching the ball at enemies, which easily makes up 95 percent of the game's interactions, is too imprecise and inconsistent to be counted on in a pinch. Since the intense nature of the game relied on putting me in tight spots with multiple threats, all-too often I felt cheated by a pitch not registering with the game. I lost count of how many times McAllister stood idle, awaiting death as I flailed my arms hoping for a last-second save. It usually wouldn't come.

It's not as if I didn't grasp how to pitch; it's more that the game varied wildly on what would count as a pitch. Sometimes a limp-noodle wrist flick is enough to send out a 75 MPH stinger. Other times a full arm motion with follow-through will register nothing. At one point I flung my arm three times trying to pitch, then finally gave an exasperated shrug--which, of course, registered as a pitch and sent the ball flying.

Developer Grasshopper must have sensed this problem, because it grants an over-generous auto-aim when pitches do register. It seems to target the closest enemy, whether I was aiming in that direction or not. This is usually for the best, except when an enemy in the background is doing something much more threatening. At those moments, my only option was to use the lock-on by raising my non-dominant arm, which is also the only way to score headshots on tougher enemies. The saving grace is often the titular "Diabolical Pitch," a set of super-abilities that range from throwing a large fireball to batting charged balls in quick succession. Saving the Diabolical Pitch for the right moment can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Worst of all, the physical activity requires one repetitive motion on one limb--I couldn't fling balls with my other arm once I got tired, and I found no option to pause. Add in the fact that I had to pitch three times just to fire off one shot at a point, and a stage can be absolutely exhausting. McAllister has a "Fatigue" gauge, which seems oddly out of place in a game that literally fatigues the player.

Multiplayer is essentially the single-player game, but side-by-side with a second pitcher. I could help my downed partner by sacrificing some health, and join in a shared Diabolical Pitch. Other than those minor variations, it's the single-player game with all of the weaknesses that entails, even if adding another player helps temper the accuracy problems by doubling the potential number of shots.

The game offers power-ups for factors like fatigue, health, score multipliers, and new Diabolical Shots, but none of them fix what really ails the game. Its primary input method simply doesn't work consistently enough to match the challenge. It makes the experience an annoying slog, and I doubt I'd have even bothered to finish it if not for the review.

Diabolical Pitch strikes an interesting tone, and may have made a decent creepy diversion if not for the serious flaws in its control mechanism. The game has a solid conceptual foundation, but whiffs so badly on the execution that I cannot say I enjoyed it, nor can I recommend it.

[This Diabolical Pitch review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.]

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