A long time coming, Diabolical Pitch was originally announced shortly after the Xbox 360 Kinect device itself back in 2010. Back then it was known as Codename D and all we had to go on was a trailer, however with the knowledge that is was being designed by Grasshopper Manufacture exclusively for the Xbox 360’s newest peripheral, something special was expected. While Diabolical Pitch is a very familiar experience, it does fill a gap in the device’s market which many have previously wondered why someone hadn’t jumped in sooner.
Diabolical Pitch is essentially an arcade style shooting videogame, a House of the Dead designed specifically for the Xbox 360 Kinect. However, it’s not until you revisit these titles – or play the handy PlayStation 3 re-release that recently launched – that you realise just how elegant Diabolical Pitch’s design actually is. It’s not a simple case of realigning the genre to fit and giving it an obscure backstory to make it appear fresh: Diabolical Pitch is yet another of Grasshopper Manufacture’s examples of how old school gameplay can still be relevant on modern hardware when looked upon from a new angle.
Playing as McAllister, a former championship baseball player who suffered a freak injury that ended his career, you find yourself in a bizarre amusement park after your car breaks down. Guided by a new friend with a cow’s head in place of their own, the player is given a gauntlet that seems to repair the damage done to their arm – potentially kickstarting their career – but in order to keep it you must make your way through the amusement park.
Obviously this isn’t a trip to Alton Towers, and things aren’t quite as simple as they may seem. There are five worlds, each of which is divided into four areas with the last area being a bonus level. In these areas players will engage with a constant stream of enemies – known as dolls – as they attempt to march towards you, damaging your health when making contact. There’s a decent variety of enemies, from basic marchers to flying foes and those who launch projectiles; for which there is a special cutaway sequence for dodging or catching as required. In order to fend them off the player has three moves available, the first of which is your basic pitch: by holding up one arm to aim the player can establish a lock-on to which they can then pitch directly to. A kick is available when enemies come close, though annoyingly the timing required to land a blow seems to differ for each enemy type, and the Diabolical Pitch manoeuvre is your special attack.
When beginning Diabolical Pitch only two of these special attacks are available (Fire and Thunder) but more are quickly gathered via in-game actions. Once a certain requirement has been filled – a requirement which is never entirely explained though appears to revolve around the number of enemies killed without injury – the player is given the opportunity to execute the manoeuvre whenever they see fit. Each Diabolical Pitch requires a different gesture to initiate and then a second to execute, the timing of this secondary input determining its effectiveness. Each Diabolical Pitch is most useful in different circumstances, and it won’t be long before players develop a favourite.
There are also a number of power-ups players can get mid-game, such as a back-up catcher to deflect projectiles, as well as those which are granted by using baseball cards. Baseball cards are unlocked by achieving certain goals and must then be purchased by using the coins collected in-game. Ranging from new Diabolical Picth’s to bonus points to resuscitation of your teammate when playing in the two-player co-operative gameplay mode, the baseball cards are always useful, putting a strain on your finances.
The multiplayer aspect of the videogame simply sees two players engaging in the same action from the single-player campaign simultaneously. The difficulty doesn’t appear to have been adjusted to suit the additional firepower given to the players, making this option considerably easier, especially on later levels, however it’s still a pleasant, highly enjoyable Xbox 360 Kinect experience with a second player, thanks largely to the forgiving tech. Unlike the recently released Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure, Diabolical Pitch isn’t too demanding in terms of space and is quick to detect your actions even in low level lighting.
The aesthetic design of Diabolical Pitch is obviously fairly unique. Essentially crossing the crushing obscurity of Donnie Darko with the surreal presentation of Pan’s Labyrinth, Diabolical Pitch is unmistakably the work of Grasshopper Manufacture. It’s a videogame that oozes character out of every pour, and one that refuses to be suitable for a family audience despite its approachable gesture-based action. The soundtrack is also of a commendable quality, with characteristic baseball commentary and sound effects at every turn.
While Diabolical Pitch may not the videogame experience that everyone was anticipating after that debut trailer, it is a title which demonstrates just how far the Kinect device has come. That entire experiences can be confidently built around it for a demographic that – as far as the internet would let you believe – are largely ignoring the hardware, is nothing short of remarkable. One can only hope that such gamers see the light of day and don’t let Diabolical Pitch go pass without paying due attention. For those gamers who bought themselves an Xbox 360 Kinect at launch and have begun to wonder why, you owe it to yourselves to invest in Diabolical Pitch.