It might just be the best darts game ever, but that isn’t saying much.
Particularly popular in the UK, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands, darts is extremely rarely adapted to the video game format. However, with the Wii and its motion controls, the fit seems more relevant than ever. The first example is PDC World Championship Darts 2008 coming from the developers at Mere Mortals at a budget price.
At first glance, the game appears to have a lot going for it. It has the official license, including all the authentic logos, sponsors, and championships, as well as sixteen authentic players whose appearances look decently realistic. It also features a Career Mode, in which you take a professional or a self-made darter through a career filled with exhibition matches and high stakes tournaments. Finally, you’re presented with a multiplayer component, consisting of an impressive fourteen different darts games.
Once in a match, you notice the realistic physics used in the game. Darts fly convincingly and have a satisfying sense of weight behind them as they hit the board. The way their weight affects their trajectory and speed in the air is commendably implemented.
There are two control options available for throwing the darts. The first one utilizes both the Nunchuk and the Wii Remote. You use the latter to point at the screen, directing a cursor to the desired hitting spot. You then move back on the control stick of the Nunchuk to fill up a power meter, which can be stopped by flicking directly up on the control stick. If done incorrectly, the dart veers off to the side. What’s more, the amount of power determines the trajectory of the darts, so that a hard shot will land above your cursor and a soft shot will land below.
The other control option utilizes only the Wii Remote. You control the cursor as before but press and hold the A Button once satisfied with its position. Now the Wii Remote should be thrust forward from your shoulder - like a real dart. Releasing the A Button sends the dart flying.
On paper, the second option seems to be more enjoyable, because it replicates the real sport more accurately, but I actually found the opposite to be the case. Playing with only the Wii Remote made the execution of accurate shots frustratingly tricky – not because of an imprecise registration of the motion controls but rather due to overly sensitive controls. If you happen to tilt the Wii Remote even slightly during your forward thrust motion, your dart will fly considerably off course. What’s more, adjusting the power level is even harder, resulting in even more shots with a fairly random direction. On the other hand, with the Nunchuk setup you tend to know instantly and intuitively whether you’ve just pulled off a successful shot. It requires real skill, and there is a lot less randomness involved.
Other issues present themselves once you get deeper into the game. The Create A Player Mode is extremely limited; darts are placed on invisible tables in the exhibition room and become invisible themselves after having fallen off the board onto the ground; spectators look horrendously blocky and frighteningly lifeless; the players stand completely still, not even blinking before a shot, and their animations generally repeat themselves far too much. Most of these issues represent graphical shortcomings that are pretty insignificant on their own, but together they tend to ruin any sense of authentic atmosphere.
The sound design - or rather the lack thereof – also needs to be addressed. First of all, the same announcer is used for all the tournaments. After each round he declares your score with the exact same intonation and level of enthusiasm every single time. The commentator offers very little insight, often muttering sentences with only three or four words. He also repeats himself to frustrating degrees. Practically the only other sound effects are cheers from the spectators and the impact of the darts on the board. Not even the clapping of your opponent as you win a match is heard.
The final and perhaps most serious problem with the game relates to the simple and repetitive nature of the sport. Compared to most other sports, little strategic thinking is needed. You’ll be doing the same control commands and seeing the same animations over and over again. There is very little variety in the way various characters control and different tournaments are structured. The Career Mode tries to provide this variety but with little success, since it mostly consists of alternating exhibition matches and tournaments. There is no online play either, but at least the multiplayer modes offer numerous darts games such as Cricket, Round The Clock, and Killer.
All in all, World Championship Darts clearly belongs in a genre with little to no competition. Perhaps a little more would have forced the developers to spend a little more time sorting out the many issues. This installment is too marred by low production values to be considered recommendable even for fans of the sport and even considering its budget price.