In my experience, the world of darts could do with some better PR. When I think of the sport (or would you call it an activity?), what comes to mind are memories of basement dartboards (often velcro) for the kiddies, watching crusty regulars throwing a few while downing pints at the local pub, or those wide-eyed maniacs you’ll occasionally come across on late-night sports channels. Darts and I have always been like ships in the night – we always passed each other by without making much of an impression.
Until now, that is. If my early introductions to darts had been anything like Top Darts, with its congenial settings, customisable bits, and colourful commentary, I suspect I’d be a regular supporter – if not player – by now.
For the tutorial, you’re plonked down in a cliched but still cozy bar called Morrigan’s Irish Bar, complete with books laid half-open and some lilting traditional guitar. It is there, at Morrigan’s, where you are taught the ins and outs of all things darts: scoring, dart board layout, strategy, and even some of the terminology - like Diddle for the Middle, the darts version of tossing a coin to see who goes first.
To throw a dart you hold the Move controller like you’d hold, say, a javelin – with the bulbous end facing towards the telly. To zoom in on the board you press the triangle button with your ring finger, and then lock in by pressing the move button (the middle one). The trick, then, is to throw your dart while maintaining your line, and then to release the move button at the end. Like regular darts, don’t be surprised if your initial attempts are completely rubbish. There’s a certain amount of drift that the game tolerates in the early levels, though in later levels it is much less forgiving.
Once you’ve completed the tutorial, you’re on your own to play one of twelve different games, including classics such as 501 and Around The Clock, as well as several other novelty games - including Cat and Mouse, and Mayhem. Or, if you’d prefer, you can take part in a tournament and play in a league.
There’s a wide range of kooky characters you’ll come up against – and you’re encouraged to create your own as well, thanks to a range of preset character ‘frames’ with hair, clothes, and occasionally sunnies and facial hair, into which you insert your face via the Move camera. If you like, you can also customise your darts; I was pleasantly surprised to be able to add purple skulls to my dart ‘feathers’.
The personality continues with the commentator, who I imagine as a character out of Gangs of New York - complete with green bowler hat and gammy leg. He’s full of slang, snide comments as your dart sails over the board, and generally keeps things going.
While the graphics of the pub interiors are quite dated, I was surprised to find myself astonished with the boards themselves. I know – they’re dart boards, how difficult is it to get one right? But the textures are lovely, and so is the feeling of the board ‘aging’ as play goes on, as more and more holes are left around the triple twenty band. There are also some interesting custom boards that are fun and challenging to play.
While Top Darts is completely playable solo (though extended darting with the Move controller can result in a sore arm), it’s highly enjoyable when played with a group of up to eight players. I can testify the game held up well after a bout of ‘seasonal activity’ with friends last Saturday night, leading me to think Top Darts could be the perfect post-Christmas dinner game.
(Top Darts is available now via PSN.)