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Kovox Pitch Review


Now THIS is why we review games. It’s all about the leftfield titles that arrive on the Microsoft Store unannounced, with unassuming art and zero expectations. From the Store card, Kovox Pitch should be a budget baseball game, and – by rights – we should play it for an hour before drifting back to MLB: The Show. But – ha! – it’s not. It’s far more than that, and we’re back to why we love writing about games so much. 

Now, pull up a chair to the Dragon’s Den, a pile of cash by your side, and tell me whether you’d invest in this pitch (pun unintended). Imagine a baseball game. Now, this isn’t a baseball game where you play with or against other people, oh no. This is a game that captures the thrill of baseball practice, with an automated baseball thrower tossing the balls at you. Now, the balls come at you in a rhythm; in fact, this is a rhythm action game, with the balls arriving in time to music, and you have to thwack them to the beat. And wait – rather than being pop, rock or other traditional genres, the music is post-punk and shoegaze. And it’s Russian. Are you in?

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The chances are that you would have kept that money right by your side. You wouldn’t invest, and you might have run for the exit, right behind Deborah Meaden. But you’d have missed out on one of the most intriguing gaming experiences of the past couple of months. You’d have denied the world Kovox Pitch. 

All very dramatic, and we’re probably overplaying it, but we genuinely enjoyed the short amount of time we had with this contrary little rhythm action game.

Events start with a brother returning to his family home, having gone off to college. He comes back to find that his younger brother has withdrawn into playing baseball, and is making pitching machines out of old mopeds. His mum is worried, and sends the older brother out to bond, so they practice baseball and listen to some good old Russian post-punk. 

The story creeps into the moments between songs, and it is far and away the worst part of Kovox Pitch. It certainly aims to be heartwarming, as the brothers reconnect and lift each other up, but it’s inadequately translated and – as hard as they may try – the voice acting is some of the worst we’ve encountered. There’s not enough story to cover the twenty-odd tracks either, so you’re left chatting about the architecture of courtyards. Yep, you read that right. 

You can, and should, spam A to get through these sections. That takes you to the baseball rhythm action (not something we imagined typing). Things start simply, as the baseballs move along a single track and can be whacked with any button you like. It’s about the rhythm, rather than matching shapes, which makes it incredibly accessible. 

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The button maps are good as well, following the music in an extremely logical and percussive manner. The true test of a rhythm action game is if you could zone out, or even close your eyes, and still match the flow of beats that are being presented to you. And so it goes here: everything is intuitive, and you can resort to reflex should you want to. 

The music is from Russian post-punk bands including The End of Sunny Days, Satoruu, The Antihero and more. That might mean something to someone, but even using the interwebs, we couldn’t find much or any information on them. Presumably us typing in English rather than Cyrillic is not helping that Google search. 

But don’t take that to mean that the music is poor. Completely the opposite. We’re a secret post-punk and shoegaze fan, and everything holds up remarkably well. You could have told us that the songs came from a Mogwai or Bauhaus Russian concept album, and we might have believed you. They are just about pretentious enough to have made one. 

Whether it’s to your tastes, though, is up for debate. The low guitar drone, swamped in feedback and pulled down into the mix, mumbled over with Russian vocals, may not be everyone’s cup of The Cure. But we really liked it. We could feel our heads dropping to the floor, our fringe growing out, and a white-man’s shuffle coming on. It’s also remarkably suitable to a rhythm action game, as the guitars have a constant throb and pulse. 

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Whether it mixes with the baseball theming is another matter. There’s a real discordance running through Kovox Pitch, and whether it makes sense to you will determine its quality. We found it coming together eventually, but not immediately: we could imagine a young goth, playing baseball by himself mainly because he wants to hit things hard. With that Rosetta Stone, everything else began to make sense. The emotional storytelling, though – well, that didn’t mix at all. 

Soon the rhythm action starts adding in mechanics, and they’re a touch hit and miss. Some balls encourage you to swap tracks, moving into the background to hit another cascade of balls. Others require you to hold a button, mash the button, or skip the ball entirely as it acts something like a mine. Then the dreaded colour-coded balls come in, requiring you to press specific buttons.

We loved the hold and mash balls. They make perfect sense (if not rooted in physics), and add much-needed complexity to the one-button inputs. The skip-balls, too, are absolutely fine, even if they don’t make baseball-sense. The switch-tracks are okay, arriving at the midpoint of the game. The oddness of a ball being a prompt rather than something you hit never quite normalised with us. We kept hitting the thing, rather than switching track, and then panic-moved over to the other side. And the balls on other tracks arrived so quickly, leaving very little time to recalibrate.

The ones we didn’t like were the colour-coded balls. For one, they’re not coded in a way that would make Xbox players immediately understand. If they had A, X, Y and B written on the balls then we might have found it more intuitive, but learning the colours mid-song wasn’t something we were able to do. They also add a huge difficulty spike to a game that was simple to that point. Suddenly, the game was frantic rather than enjoyable, and it never quite recovered for us. 

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Our reaction is probably based on Kovox Pitch being a single-player story game, rather than a Guitar Hero where you play and replay songs to master them. In that format, I can understand the difficulty, as you play on multiple difficulties to best it. But here, there are no difficulty settings, and you are playing linearly through them. Suddenly we were stumbling through the game, and a harsh failure state – miss three or four beats in a row and the whole song resets – only made the panic more real.

Up to that point, and – finally – when the colour-coded baseballs started making sense, Kovox Pitch was a delight. It’s the least conventional rhythm action game we’ve played, and we weren’t even expecting to be playing a rhythm action game before we booted it up. Everything was a surprise. 

Like rhythm action games? Like Russian shoegaze and post-punk? Like baseball? The number of people who say yes to those three questions can probably be counted on one hand. But if you are instead open to those three experiences, then Kovox Pitch is one of the most surprising and unconventional games of the year.

You can buy Kovox Pitch from the Xbox Store

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