PDC World Championship Darts 2008
Smoke-filled emporiums peopled by pint swilling beer bellied gents flinging miniscule arrows towards a patchwork target - if this is what springs to mind when you think of championship darts, then you probably need to join the 21st century. These days darts is a game played by slender professionals who have honed their bodies into athletic perfection and keep their senses unhampered by alcohol. No wait that's a lie, it's still pretty much the same - well, minus the smoke.
Here perhaps is the lasting appeal of darts, the last bastion of male dominated Neanderthal activity still holding out to the political correctness of our times, a breath of fresh air amidst a crowd of over precious health and safety conscious sports. The question for us today is whether the game in hand can capture and reproduce this ethic. Is the Wii able to deliver the nerve jangling shootouts and arm aching 180's we have learned to love from our youth?
Things start off in impressive style. The visuals of both players and environments are spot on. They recreate both the movements of these larger gentlemen and the swell of expectation of the watching crowd. The motion of the throw and the flight of the arrows easily convince us that there are some real physics at work here. The genius here is the combination of the massive rotund throwers and the diminutive projectile - the interaction of these two opposable objects balances on a knife edge.
The great visuals however, are not well matched by the game's audio. It seems almost unforgivable that there is an absence of plausible commentary. Darts on TV comes alive through the exuberance of the announcer who inflect their voice to match the score. A dour 110, a mid-range 140, an inflected 160 and finally both barrels released with a 180. In the game however there seems an absence of commentary work. What sound there is doesn't flesh out the experience at all. Also substantially lacking are the crowd encouragements which in real life are more than a match for a Tim Henman Wimbledon quarter final.
Control wise things are better. And let's be honest, this is the meat of any Wii 'sports' games. To aim a dart you aim at the board by pointing the Wiimote then hold down the B trigger to lock on. You are then into throwing mode. Here, you control the weight and direction of the thrower's arm by swinging the Wiimote forward and releasing (the button not the controller mind). So, although the box pictures a player holding the Wiimote like you would dart the reality is a little further from this. The majority of the throwing is done with the control in a vertical rather than horizontal position. All this is a little hard to describe, but suffice to say the mechanic works well and seems to have been designed to take full advantage of the contoller's accelerometers.
Initially this throwing can seem a little forced and result in haphazard accuracy. But if you are willing to put in the hours, read - days, then you will discover that there lurks within a very competent control method. The developers have obviously aimed this at the darts aficionado who will be happy to persevere with the game to get the most out of it. Those that do will find that these controls simply fade into the background and let them concentrate on the current targeting task at hand - perhaps the best complement any scheme can claim.
The game is structured around tournament play and enables you to build up your player profile as you work your way through the ranks. There is very little rocket science here, and as you would hope the structure is sufficiently flexible to entertain both one off multiplayer sessions along with longer all night fight-outs at the ochy.
If you are a follower or fan of darts, then this is a game you should get a lot of value from. That said, even those not itching to fling those miniature arrows at the cork board will still find a lot of fun here. All just need to bear in mind that this experience is one that must be learnt, rather than coming fully formed out the box. It is pleasing to see a level of commitment and understanding to be on the increase in third party titles such as this. Even a year ago this sort of game who have been a wholesale port from the PS2, PSP or PC. Even though this still has its roots in other platforms, the Wii version has been honed for enjoyment on Nintendo's popular console.
The result of this attention to detail and commitment to develop an ongoing Wii version of the game is a great little experience. If you have even a slight inkling towards darts and a smattering of patience to persevere for a few hours with the controls you will find a lot of fun here.