When you're making a video game of a sport like darts it must be hard to come up with ways to improve the experience year on year. You'd assume that the mechanic of throwing a dart into a board could more or less be perfected first time around, but PDC World Championship Darts 2009 on Wii is a solid attempt to give fans an improved experience, even if the casual player might not notice much of a difference.
The key things to note this year are dart weight, real life player averages and a completely re-built throwing system. The most important of these three is the throwing system, which while far from perfect does feel somewhat natural once you've got used to what the game wants you to do. You point the Wii Remote at the screen in order to target the area on the dart board you want to hit, hold down A or B to lock that target in place, and then mimic a throwing action with the remote, releasing the button when you want to throw the dart.
Initially this mechanic fell down at the first hurdle, with the aiming proving to be a real chore. The aiming reticule seemed to have a mind of its own, jutting about the on-screen board in a way that made every throw more hassle than fun. With a little bit of patience, a steady hand and some Wii Remote sensitivity calibration we managed to get past this and could then focus on the next problem: throwing the dart.
There's a tendency for Wii games to feel rather awkward at first as the action you need to perform rarely resembles what you'd do in real life. In PDC 2009 your throwing action actually has to have a resemblance to what you'd do in real life, which makes a change from the norm, but will also make the game hard for more casual players. There are numerous assisted throwing modes to help out novice gamers, but on its hardest setting you really need to have a smooth, straight action if you want to hit those important shots. The fact that you're holding a chunky Wii Remote isn't ideal, as it's nothing like a real dart in shape, but considering the tools on offer the developer has done well to create a fairly authentic experience.
The developer has claimed that dart weight makes a difference for the first time in the series, and to give credit where it's due, this is one of the more successful parts of the simulation on offer here. If you find yourself consistently hitting high of your target on the board, simply change to a heavier set of darts and your wayward throws will suddenly be landing lower on the board. Trying to alter your throw style in order to hit lower on the board is very hard, so it's great to be able to make the change by choosing a different set of darts.
Less important to the game as a whole, but a good addition for real fans, is real-life pro averages. While sounding like nothing more than some stats, this actually means that the pros in the game (including Phil 'The Power' Taylor) will compete at a level that matches their real ability. They're not robots, so won't simply hit their 3-dart average at every attempt, but they'll more or less finish a match with an overall average that is in keeping with what you'd expect if you follow the sport.
For a sports sim PDC 2009 includes the game modes you'd expect. You can take your player through a career, play in exhibition games for fun, practice alone (even using smaller doubles and trebles in order to improve), create your own game type and play against friends in one of the many included party games. We're not really up to speed on the various games you can play on a dart board, but there are loads on offer here that give you a break from the standard 501 tournament play.
The PDC World Championship Darts series has never been much to look at, but the 2009 edition does at least improve on what has gone before. Player models look more human, the boards look more realistic and the TV-style coverage is more convincing. The star of the show is once again commentator Sid Waddell, a man who could probably make a staring competition into one of the most exciting sounding sports on the planet. There's still a lot here that could be improved (the crowd doesn't look great), but darts fans are unlikely to be too disappointed.
If you want the most realistic darts game available for your Wii then PDC World Championship Darts 2009 is the best on the market. It's not perfect, with the aiming system causing a few headaches, but the throwing action required closely mimics real life and the game modes on offer should please anyone wanting to spend their spare time playing virtual darts. We'd still rather play a few games down the local pub, but if that's not an option PDC 2009 won't disappoint.