PDC World Championship Darts 2009
Pub sports have always struck me as sharing numerous links with motor sports. Don’t giggle, the two have more in common than you might imagine. At face value they are almost polar opposites: one a hyper-inflated exercise in excess at breakneck speeds, the other a slovenly test of pin-point accuracy. On closer inspection, however, the two disciplines reveal some similarities. Having been honed and refined by the participants for years, each is today a spectacle of near-perfection in execution, where wins and losses come at the hands of mistakes which are as minute as they are uncommon. Each occasionally goes badly wrong, of course, leading to the twin barbarities of several-car pileups or deep, drink-fuelled wounds. Each has its fanatical followers, but I take solace in the fact that no objective critic can really be expected to get particularly worked up about either.
“This car goes from zero to 60 in four point five seconds!” a red faced Jeremy Clarkson bellows informatively at me from the seat of some hazardously speedy mega car while I try to concentrate on PDC World Championship Darts 2009. His apparent enthusiasm for something so mechanical, so exceptional in its field but nevertheless tightly constrained, meets with a good deal of envy on my part as I calculate how long it takes for a review of a darts videogame to go from zero to cliché-ridden. Resisting the urge to walk the well-trodden route of declaring that this, like every other game of the sport throughout the ages, is “As good as a darts game can get, but still a bit underwhelming,” is no mean feat. Especially, that is, when Dave Ja Vu is making equally compelling demands of your time and energy.
Still, it’s only fair. For one thing which is patently obvious from the off is that Abducao have not been guilty of this type of laziness with a license which presumably succeeds or fails with little deference to actual quality.
The first hint that Abducao have paid due reverence to the undertaking comes with the front menu. The accompanying music is appropriately rich and bombastic, and this is something of a revelation for a score emitting from the DS’ tinny speakers. All of the included game modes can be accessed with minimal fuss from the opening screen, and the selection is generous: PDC World Championship Darts 2009’s career mode is a little skeletal but offers some structure to proceedings, even if it does render the preceding tournament option effectively redundant; party games are wide ranging and keep multiplayer ventures from going stale too quickly; and wireless functionality offers two player games from a single cartridge, which is a commendable inclusion.
But there’s an elephant in the room – namely that all of these modes wind up with players taking turns to throw projectiles at a board.
This is not to say that Abducao haven’t done their utmost with what they have to work with. The mechanic assigned to the flight of the dart is a satisfyingly realistic one, with a designated “sweet spot” at the side of the bottom screen incorporated into a backswing-to-flick movement which fans of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series will be familiar with. Perform a throw too quickly and you’ll tend to overshoot the perfect mark, but take too long and the shot will cancel. At crucial shots it is more difficult to select your place on the board just so, as the reticule shakes and wavers to mimic the real-life effects of nerves upon a player. Losing a set because of this inclusion rarely results in a sense of pleasurable authenticity, however – far more likely, it’ll cause childish console throwing tantrums.
The garnish surrounding the action at the oche is as convincing as can be expected from the DS, with real-life darts players rendered impressively on the top screen. It’s a modest success, as they come off as little more than thinly animated stills during play, standing stock still whenever you take a breather from lining up throws. Sadly, the pomp and circumstance of the Wii version is lost almost wholesale with none of that game’s exaggerated entrances or upbeat audio output to be found. In their place are grainy cut-outs of onlookers, surreal loops of audience effects, and a continuous rehashing of a small pool of commentary lines. Though their sway over gameplay is minimal, the offering is topped off with a near full complement of arenas and professionals taking their place in the game – a development sure to please hardened fans but destined to be lost on anybody less enamoured with the circuit.
With this commitment to tireless recreation so patently evident, it’s hard not to have sympathy with Abducao and publishers Oxygen Games. What they have produced is a perfectly playable copy of the real game, but the box ticking exercise of locations and means of playing is really not what darts is about. Amongst videogames, PDC World Championship Darts 2009 is peerless. But until the catchy theme tunes, drunken camaraderie and meaty dart-meeting-board thwack of the real game can be condensed into a handheld games console, the physical alternative will be an adversary no software can overcome.