April 4, 2012

Review – Diabolical Pitch

Review Diabolical Pitch
Grasshopper Manufacture’s first kick at the Kinect gives players a solid footing to stand on, bringing the action to them rather than asking that they flail their limbs wildly to move through environments – possibly while shouting “look ma, no hands!”

This doesn’t lessen the physical workout by any means, as four consecutive days of throwing imaginary baseballs at my television has left my body broken. I persisted in working through the pain of strained muscles however, partly because I wanted an achievement for throwing a faster pitch, but also because Diabolical Pitch is the most replayable experience available on the Kinect – or at least the most replayable experience that doesn’t ask you to dance in time to Lady Gaga.

Players step into the cleats of star pitcher McAllister, who loses the use of his pitching arm after his greatest game, and then mysteriously arrives at Queen Christine’s Dreamland, where he is given a prosthetic pitching arm and offered the chance to make all his dreams come true by a somewhat melancholic cow.

If that sounds a bit odd, expect things to get far more bizarre. And welcome back to a delightful place we know simply as the Grasshopper Zone.

Review Diabolical Pitch
Queen Christine’s Dreamland consists of five themed areas, where players will take their position on the mound while freakish robotic animal dolls lurch toward them, hoping to bludgeon them to death. The player’s immediate defense against this threat is their dominant arm, simulating the act of throwing to hurl baseballs at these fiends – all players should be happy to hear that the game allows them to choose their left or right arm to perform this action at the start of the game.

While players are able to hurl balls in any direction they throw toward, their other hand can be used to lock-on to enemies and direct pitches, which becomes essential in scoring headshots and striking certain enemies that require lock-on targeting. Though the game begins with plenty of tiger robots crawling at a snail’s pace toward players, new enemies will prefer to stand back while firing projectiles. Spiked baseballs can be caught by putting both hands forward in the direction of the incoming attack, while saw blades will require players to either duck or jump the assault. There is also a steady stream of missiles unleashed at times, which players can target with pitches.

Though the screen has a tendency to overwhelm players with enemies, it’s important to keep your eyes peeled for bonus items, including bars and cherries that raise your score, self-explanatory health packs, and temporary perks like the catcher’s glove, which will cause a phantom player to block or catch incoming projectile attacks.

Review Diabolical Pitch
Diabolical Pitch presents quite the learning curve as stages progress – each world offers three stages and an additional bonus round. After fighting a stage full of enemies a boss doll will appear, often sporting shielding that only allows players a narrow window of attack – and often using standard enemies to make this more difficult to take advantage of.

The game’s difficulty level climbs dramatically along the way to having McAllister’s wish granted. By the time I’d reached the final world, the screen was littered with enemies and I was struggling to hurl as many imaginary balls as possible. Beyond my own exhaustion was the fact that throwing too many pitches close together also exhausts McAllister and forces him to take a breather just as enemies are closing in for the kill – I don’t mind admitting that I died plenty along the way.

Your ace in the hole is the diabolical pitch. After destroying three enemies, players gain the chance to use a super pitch that is selected prior to each stage. These are over the top actions that require more dramatic gestures and introduce an element of Dragon Ball Z to baseball, throwing fire or lightning pitches to start, and then gaining the ability to fire rabid shots by swinging your arms like a bat with the line drive, or using the cannon arm to fire devastating shots at enemies.

There are more diabolical pitches to be discovered, which join a series of other perks and abilities players can grab by purchasing baseball cards with coins earned within stages. These cards can increase you health, scoring opportunities, damage – long story short, you’ll want them all but spend a lot of time saving up for the better picks.

Review Diabolical Pitch
Diabolical Pitch is essentially a shooter in which the player never has to worry about their own movements, focusing completely on attacking enemies. Aside from the baseball aesthetic offering a fresh entry point, Grasshopper has poured plenty of attention on the enemies in this equation, though the limited variety may seem deceptive at first.

As the game progresses the patterns of enemies gets frantic, filling the screen with them or perhaps dropping the player into a pit filled with opponents freshly ready to strike. Beware your own enthusiasm, because it is amazing how hard I started throwing pitches when stressed.

As mentioned, there are enemies that will walk toward you, and enemies that will fire projectiles from a distance. There are also flying enemies that will swoop toward players if they aren’t hit in time, and enemies that carry shields and offer only a temporary window for attack.

Review Diabolical Pitch
When Grasshopper begins mixing and matching these enemy-types, the experience can feel entirely overwhelming – particularly when packs approach from all sides and there’s no sensible means of destroying them all with pitches. The diabolical pitch and the ability to kick back enemies certainly helps fight back, but players will also discover that Grasshopper offers opportunities to use enemies against one another. Headshots on a robotic elephant will ricochet into other enemies, and striking incoming missiles at the right time will destroy nearby foes as well, leaving your diabolical pitch for use against shielded enemies perhaps.

There’s an earnest strategy at work to surviving some of the final stages that offers far more than shooter fodder and required several sessions on my part to overcome. There’s rarely a sense of repetition despite the limited number of environmental and enemy assets, and Grasshopper doesn’t let the experience end before including a final boss confrontation that allows players to put their skills to use on a grand scale.

Diabolical Pitch doesn’t push bolder into new Kinect territory, but it exploits every opportunity to make the most of existing controls, focusing on simplistic mechanics that work splendidly toward the real challenge of the content, rather than presenting controls that prove to be the real struggle.

While enemy types quickly become familiar, the mix and match shuffle continually raises the challenge and encourages digging through the perk system, inspiring revisits while also providing stages that offer earnest space for short bouts of action in which to do so. That two player’s can tackle the challenge together, combining diabolical pitches for a more devastating union attack and helping pick each other up in times of need only increases the value on Grasshopper’s Kinect curveball, which stands as one of the most focused and polished releases for the peripheral to date.

Grasshopper Manufacture


Xbox 360 (Kinect) (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Singleplayer, Local Co-op

Release Date
April 4, 2012

800 Microsoft Points

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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