Although darts is often played professionally by large, often balding men who sweat more than heavyweight boxers, there's something about the game that appeals. It's so simple yet so hard to master, meaning the guys that can regularly hit the treble twenty and close on a double under the most severe pressure deserve respect. Touch Darts on the DS from SEGA is perhaps the closest you're going to get to real darts, and you can play smoke free before the July 1 England smoking ban comes into effect.
A darts game lives and dies by its controls. With little more to it than a dart being thrown at a board, if this most basic of mechanics isn't nailed perfectly the whole game would fall down. Thankfully the guys at Full Fat have struck a near perfect balance between fine control, ease of use and depth of skill. Throwing a dart is as simple as pressing the screen with your stylus, drawing down the screen and then pushing up. The speed and angle of this motion determines the accuracy and it feels remarkably accurate and fluid.
At first things aren't easy. You'll probably be throwing a few 20s and the odd 5 and 1, and hitting any specific numbers around the board will be rather tricky; hitting a double to check out and win a leg is even harder, with anything approaching consistency seeming a long way away. But this is the beauty of Touch Darts; it pulls you in and keeps you there, throwing darts like there's no tomorrow. Before too long you'll be hitting the treble 20 and checking out like a true pro, yet the pressure of a big game can easily cause silly mistakes.
Game modes on offer initially seem rather substantial, with a career mode that sees you going through the various tournaments and competing against an increasingly hard line-up of 'hilariously' named players. This does get rather challenging, but by the end you'll have thrown so many darts that hitting the big scores and essential doubles will be second nature; even the cries of anguish from the on looking crowd will do nothing to prevent you from hitting on your next attempt.
To add variety a Challenge mode offers a number of darts-based skill challenges over five increasingly hard difficulty levels. Many of these are pretty dull in truth, but the score challenges, check out challenges and round the clock challenges are all great fun and really tough. At the hardest difficulty you'll need to hit trebles and doubles without even thinking about it, with even one slip up being costly. At times the computer AI seems a little robotic, but every challenge is doable if you're at the top of your game.
Both the Career and Challenge mode offer numerous rewards for progression, although new flights for your darts and trophies are hardly must-have items. The real joy comes from personal satisfaction and achieving something that you had thought to be near impossible. Few DS games have so effortlessly combined the touch screen and stylus in such a brilliant way, making Touch Darts an incredibly hard game to put down. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it'll be the only DS game you play... until you've clocked it all in under a week.
This is where Touch Darts disappoints. Once you've won every tournament and ticked every challenge, that's pretty much all the game has to offer. Now, had a fully functioning multi-DS multiplayer mode been included Touch Darts sessions could have been a regular occurrence, but for some reason the developers have limited multiplayer to hot swapping a single console. This might sound doable, but throwing 3 darts takes less than ten seconds, making swapping back and forth annoying in the extreme.
If you're after a game to show just why the DS has been such a huge success, look no further than Touch Darts. Its perfectly tuned gameplay is hard to resist and if it weren't for a lack of true multiplayer we'd probably be looking at the best sports game on the handheld. Sadly, Touch Darts is a game that you'll love for a week and then forget about. A real missed opportunity.