Following a disappointing debut on the Nintendo Wii last year, PDC World Championship Darts is back for the 2009 season. Development duties have been handed over to Rebellion for the sequel, and the result is definitely a step in the right direction. While the game's graphics are still rough, the controls and gameplay are much improved, which makes the experience considerably more enjoyable overall.
PDC 2009 is based on the Professional Darts Corporation's tour, and you can play as any of 18 top professionals, including Phil "The Power" Taylor and Raymond "Barney" van Barneveld, or create a custom character. You can customise almost every aspect of your player, including his name, personal details, preferred checkout, physique, clothing, and dart type, as well as his throwing style. There are a decent amount of options to choose from, but there’s nowhere near the amount of depth seen in the customisation modes in other sports games.
The Career mode spans seven PDC tournaments: the US Open, UK Open, Las Vegas Desert Classic, World Matchplay, World Grand Prix, German Darts Championship, and the World Championship. You can also play single exhibition matches, practice sessions, and custom tournaments with up to eight human competitors. Single exhibitions are fun if you want a quick game, and playing practice sessions in the pub offers a casual environment in which to simply kick back and hone your skills. Once you're confident, however, you'll want to take to the Tournament mode and start winning some titles. This mode is the most substantial and rewarding in the game, and while the competitions are just variations of the same standard tournament structure, different locations and opponents keeps things feeling relatively fresh.
Last year's game had two controller options--one that used both the Wii Remote and the Wii Nunchuk, and one that used just the remote. The former, which required you to maintain your aim with the remote while throwing with the analogue stick, has been removed this year. The latter is now much more intuitive, thanks mainly to the circular redesign of the power gauge. You aim by pointing the remote at the screen and holding down the A button to lock on. Gripping the remote like a pen, you then motion it towards the TV like you'd throw a dart. After some practice, the timing and power required to get the gauge into the sweet spot becomes intuitive. The overall experience is much improved and feels more natural and responsive than before.
PDC 2009 has abandoned last year's three-tiered difficulty level, but there are three different levels of throwing assistance available. Maximum assistance makes it easier to hit scores of 140 and 180, while turning it off means you have to be deadly accurate with your throws. The system works by adjusting the amount of precision required when throwing, and the greater your assistance the more likely you'll land the dart close to your desired target. While the practise mode allows you to hone your craft in the local pub, the overall difficulty level is easy, with onscreen aids that will help newcomers familiarise themselves with the controls.
If you have friends over, you'll definitely want to dip into the 18 four-player party games on offer. 'Half It' is a new minigame, in which you have to try to hit individual numbers, doubles, trebles, or the bull's-eye. Darts that hit the target are added to the score, but if you miss with all three shots, your score is halved. The other party games are varied enough to keep you busy for some time, such as Killer, Cricket, and the always-fun Around the World, where you need to hit every number in numerical order. These games are all fun to play, and with a total of 18 on offer, there’s a lot to keep you occupied. Other multiplayer options include eight-player tournaments and two-player single matches, and no matter how many of you are playing you only need one Wii Remote because you always take turns to throw.
Sadly, the graphics don't hold up to other sports games on the Wii. Player models have been improved, but they still look like they're made out of clay, with no detail in the skin or face. For some reason, players' wrists look swollen and angular, resembling transplanted cankles. The dart boards are more detailed, but the colour used for dart shafts and dart board wires is the same, so it's sometimes hard to tell where your dart has landed. While the overall presentation is marginally better than it was last year, the menus and loading screens are drab and hard to navigate because the interface is poorly designed.
Real-life commentator Sid Waddell does a fantastic job of bringing excitement to the game. His thick Northern English accent might be difficult to understand for some, but he has a genuine passion for the game and offers insights as well as a host of classic comments. Expect to hear such gems as, "I'm licking me Geordie lips at this one," "Cream in the cheese," and possibly the best call in the history of darts, "He's swinging like a donkey with a belly full of vindaloo." Sound effects are also notably improved, with pub effects such as the clinking of glasses and cutlery in amongst atmospheric chatter and laughter. The music can be repetitive, though, as every player walks in to "Chase the Sun" by Planet Funk, rather than his own theme song.
PDC World Championship Darts 2009 has some notable improvements over last year's game. The controls are more responsive, and the sound effects are more accurate and convincing than before. However, the game is still plagued by some of the same problems as its predecessor. There are plenty of different modes and party games here, but a Wii remote is still no substitute for the real thing.