It's ironic that Diabolical Pitch begins with the protagonist suffering a career-ending arm injury, because extended time playing the game made us pretty sore. There's a reason professional pitchers keep their arms in tubs of ice and why Tommy John surgeries are so common. In other words, get ready for lasting pain for every hour you play the game. In smaller bursts Pitch isn't as physically taxing, but this painful experience is just one of several barriers to fun here.
It's too bad, because developer Grasshopper Manufacture and its creative lead Suda51 have earned a dedicated following over the years, precisely for coming up with strange, unique concepts and the worlds they embody. The Kinect baseball/horror mash-up Diabolical Pitch, like most Suda51 games, starts with an undeniably cool concept – but it fails to do anything special with it.
We were hooked early on by the story of a former pitching great on hard times who's transported to a demonic amusement park. The star pitcher's bum arm is replaced by with a bionic substitute, but there's a price: He has to bean all the monstrous enemies that come at him in the park. We really liked the look of the world; it reminded us of the strange version of hell seen in Grasshopper's critically acclaimed Shadows of the Damned. We also appreciated the general creepiness of the title, especially the disconcerting things said by our guide to the underworld (as seen in the below video).
But Grasshopper's cult following isn't just based on its creative words; it's also thanks to the quality of their games – and it's here that Diabolical Pitch is lacking. As strange as the trappings are, the actual gameplay of Pitch is straightforward, plain and surprisingly dull: Throw baseballs as fast as you can at the enemies. And ... that's it. Early on we were having fun tossing balls left, right and center at demonic versions of theme-park animal mascots. The carnival atmosphere and setting initially were a perfect match for the style of gameplay, with the pitching reminding us of the kind of diversions where a couple of bucks would get us a handful of baseballs to throw at dummies in hopes of getting a prize.
Sadly, that same carnival atmosphere is a big reason Diabolical Pitch doesn't work in bigger doses. Those carny pitching games are meant to last a few minutes, so playing for a half-hour is painfully redundant. The types of enemies change up, as does the setting, but the gameplay is always the same: a static image of our hero flinging balls at repetitive sets of predictable enemies. Sure, they were interesting at first, but after electrifying our 171st tiger man, the repetition wore us down.
Similar to the early thrills of the setting, the special moves (aka Diabolical Pitches) are fun but lose their flavor fast enough. It's a blast at first, with dynamic poses and throws (like lightning storms and lock-on cannons), but soon enough the Diabolical Pitches are overwhelmed by the overall wave of sameness. And it doesn't help that the usual Kinect issues of accuracy and technical failings rear their nasty heads, as pitches that we thought were on the mark were sometimes miles off. The accuracy problems were at their worst for us when trying to catch, and missing a few catches is a fast ticket to a Game Over.
Diabolic Pitch is a mediocre experience, even considering the relatively affordable $10 price of admission. It's a novel distraction at best – hardly a sterling example of why Grasshopper has such dedicated fans. It simply falls short of its potential to be something special, instead ending up a one-pitch pony with an interesting hook.