Whilst it's doubtful that anybody would circle this in red marker on a release schedule, darts, and by extension anything related to darts, has its fair share of fans. This is the second PDC darts game on Wii, and a good start for the original should bode well for what would be essentially a yearly update. Question time: Does it live up to it?
From the start-up Wii menu screen that provides a cringe-worthy shout of 'ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY!!!' to the character lineup consisting of a host of British blokes, the majority of whom you've probably never heard of, this game is highly authentic and true to its source. Big (or big-ish) names like Sid Waddell and Russ Bray provide on-the-fly commentary that thankfully isn't exacerbated to repetitive and mundane levels, and a more than obvious use is found for the Wii remote.
Dumping the nunchuk option from last year's game, PDC 2009's developer Rebellion has instead chosen to focus on sole Wii remote use and, judging by how it works here, it was a wise decision. The basics are easy enough to get to grips with, and it's not a cause for concern if you don't pick them up straight away, as a screen detailing them pops up before each match. It's simple enough: hold A or B, point at screen, make a throwing gesture and let go of the button, and voila! Of course, if it were really all that easy, the game would be a breeze, so the power of the gesture is measured and taken into account. As such, hitting that treble twenty is reliant on getting your swing just right, and Rebellion have stuck in an assist setting to help reach the needed precision. The player can choose one of three settings: 'maximum' provides a power bar on-screen and measures you strong your throw is before you do it, 'minimum' does the same on a more limited plane, and 'off'…well, that's self-explanatory really. 'Maximum' would be recommended for first-time players, although only Andy Hamilton himself would manage a decent round on here without the power bar.
There are a fair number of differences between this and the previous edition of PDC. Previously mentioned is the omission of the nunchuk control scheme that actually benefits the one that is left. More obviously, though, is the presentation of the players and their surroundings. As the commentator announces the entrance of each competitor, you'd swear that the WWE had somehow invaded your new darts video game; with a music score backing each player's walk to the dartboard square, a camera panning across the crowd and stage, and a bit of showboating to the crowd, all that's missing is some water-spraying and chair-shots.
Main play retains the split screen function of dartboard on the left, the thrower on the right, much like you'd see on the television. There are replays for good shots, and an out-of-the-blue cry if you manage three 60s in a turn. The player's throwing arm is rather jittery in following your own motions; perhaps a certain recently-released Wii remote add-on would fix that for next year's edition.
On the visual side of things, PDC 2009 suffers in some key areas. Aside from the general look of the game and the crowd, both barely updated from before (thus meaning the audience retains their cardboard-esque appearance), there are occasionally instances of objects passing through your character's hands and legs; when they pull their darts off the board, for instance. Pop-up occurs every now and then, too, just before players take their position to throw. Aside from this, the character models look fairly decent, if a little like shiny plastic, and it all runs at a stable framerate.
The voices and commentary excepted, there is very little in the way of sound in this game. There is one central theme that backs the main menu, and a variety of short entrance themes, and that's about it. Of course, there aren't any loudspeakers blaring away in the background during the real thing, so it makes sense not to have any here. Much like the graphical errs of the game, there is a sound glitch that speeds up the announcer's voice to resemble that of a chipmunk. It's not a serious problem; in fact, it's quite hilarious if you stumble onto it.
PDC 2009 offers a whole host of options as soon as you boot it up. Exhibition is a standard match for up to two players with adjustable rules, Practice (which should be your first port of call) offers a chance to get used to the controls and standard rules, and Custom Characters lets you create your own star darts player, with a highly limited selection of features.
The last three options are where the real meat of the game lies: career, the 'Play It Your Way' mode, and party games. Career allows you to take your custom creation or real-life player through the calendar to attend special events, rival matches, and, hopefully, end up with a boatload of trophies via an extremely simple but effective timetable system and saving feature. Play It Your Way takes the tournament and league-based features of career mode and allows you to customize them completely for up to four players. A good range of party games are also available for multiple players (one remote only if need be) and include the likes of standard 301, 501, or 701 play and 'Around The Clock', which is unfortunately poorly explained. Played correctly, PDC 2009 could last you quite a while, although there is nothing here to convert those that have no love for the sport.
Wii remote works as you'd expect, with good IR aiming and passable motion-detecting. Menus are easy to navigate and explore, although many modes are poorly explained.
Phil Taylor and co. have a moderate amount of shine and resemblance to them, pop-up and poor crowd imaging hinder things. Decent venue design helps with the authenticity.
An extremely limited soundtrack consisting of barely half a dozen themes, addition of good quality voice-overs helps hide the cracks.
Lots of options to choose from, and a robust career mode. Multiplayer choices are prominent, if entirely dependent on love for the sport in general, as there is little variety in the content.
Not so much a sequel as an upgrade to last year's effort, PDC 2009 sets out to satisfy fans of the sport, and pulls it off with only a few minor snags. Graphical glitches and sparse sound barely hold back a game that is highly accurate to its source material, and very rewarding to those that stick with it; this would be a considerable choice for those with a darts-loving dad this Father's Day.
You could say that...
Sounds like it's a bit of an improvement over last year's - good stuff. I wonder if they'll take advantage of Motion Plus for next year's edition, as you suggest. Might make things a bit more interesting...maybe even a mode that doesn't require the pointer aiming.