Here’s a concept for you: take a once dominant major league pitcher, have him struck down in the key game of his career with an injury and then follow him as he, on a whim, pursues the promise of all his dreams being fulfilled at an eerie amusement park. Folks, that’s the story behind Diabolical Pitch for the Kinect on Xbox Live Arcade. Players take control of a baseball player named McAllister who is searching for a shot at redemption through a nightmarish carnival. Along the way, he must pitch through a horde of monsters of all sorts with the help of a bionic arm. When all that information hit my brain for the first time, the nine year old inside of me went into a joyous frenzy.
The visuals are as imaginative as the story. The game opens telling the tragic tale of the day McAllister blew out his shoulder during an important playoff game. Flat panels with gritty, indie-comic style graphics walk through the player McAllister’s collapse. The art style is a bit of a mash-up of a Tim Burton movie and American McGee’s Alice. As both a baseball fan – I am currently running 37.5 fantasy baseball teams – and a comic book lover – I have many long boxes of comics stored in the house – this mash-up of styles thrilled me to no end.
But then I began to actually play the game. What Diabolical Pitch delivers in creativity, it holds back in controls. Essentially, players stand in front of their television and make the motion of a pitcher hurling a baseball in order to attack enemies who advance at you in waves. You also have the option to kick should an enemy get dangerously close. The Kinect only seems to read the basic control motions correctly about 80% of the time. Too often I found myself having to replay a level because the game did not interpret the exact same motion to attack an enemy it had clearly understood only moments before. This resulted in both a slew of deaths and a lot of cursing under my breath. As this is an arcade title involving ever increasing amounts of exciting, intense action, the poor controls suck the joy out of what should be a quirky arcade hit.
There is also a bit of irony to the act that the game is set in a carnival. The actual mechanics and depth of play are on par with a simple carnival game. After a while, throwing pitches at bizarre creatures is about as fun as throwing pitches at a stack of milk bottles. Sure, the game offers unlockable powers like a cannon ball pitch and other special moves. The base experience, though, never changes. Make a throwing motion and, in the case of Diabolical Pitch, hope it reads the motion accurately.
Taking advantage of the two player mode does not do much to enhance the experience. When the controls are broken on what is already a shallow arcade experience, bringing a second person in the mix only multiplies the amount of eye rolling.