Released in late 2010, Top Darts for PS3 was a detailed and addictive recreation of the sport with a distinct party emphasis. Now Top Darts on PS Vita is here and is arguably the most focused of the system's launch titles. Despite the very obvious temptation to toy with the shiny new inputs, developer Devil’s Details has limited itself to what works: touch. Almost everything in Top Darts is executed with a tap of that OLED display, resulting in a consistent experience free from the mistakes of some of its launch day counterparts. But while Top Darts is a smart release it does little to encourage prolonged investment, and subsequently stops short of achieving a perfect nine-dart game.
Darts is a notoriously difficult game to play, and so Top Darts deserves plaudits for toeing the line between accessibility and realism. You select targets by dragging the dart across the screen, and then motioning backwards and forwards to throw. Tossing tungsten with the touch screen feels remarkably satisfying, with the speed and direction of your stroke translating into the accuracy of each dart. Force the dart and it will fly above or over your target; tighten up and you’ll fall limply below. It’s a gratifying mechanic that accurately conveys the challenge of playing real darts without being uncompromisingly difficult to learn.
The amount of modes and rules on offer in Top Darts is exhaustive. Devil’s Details has replicated almost every popular variant of the sport, ensuring there’s something for almost everyone. Favourites such as 501 and Around The Clock are mixed up amongst less popular alternatives such as Cricket and Mulligan. There are also numerous arcade game types on offer, differentiated using a new 8-bit board and Bullseye-style 70’s game show presentation.
The arcade modes undoubtedly offer a fun twist on the standard expectations of the arrows format, and the inclusion of score targets in each mode encourages investment. It’s just unfortunate that even with all the content on offer, Devil’s Details didn’t invest the time into creating a really varied single-player campaign.
As it stands, the only real long-term career options are cups and leagues, but throughout these you’re limited to a single game type. It would have been easy for the developer to put together something really engaging that utilises the game’s full roster of core and arcade rules, but instead it leaves you to make your own fun. For those that demand some kind of progression to stay invested, Top Darts is a missed opportunity.
It looks fantastic, though. We doubt the game’s really pushing the upper boundaries of what Vita can do, but that’s a testament to the ambitions of the system itself. Multiple themed environments showcase the ability of the game’s artists, with detail crammed into every aspect of the surrounding scenery. Dust dances in the foreground, and shots leave cracks and holes in the board as each round progresses. The sound’s less ambitious but is appropriate nonetheless with ambient sounds such as the chatter of pub goers filling the soundscape.
Darts legend Sid Waddell appears in the commentary booth, adding a realistic flavour to the action. Unfortunately his range of phrases and quotes is limited, and while there’s some humorous dialogue on offer, there’s not enough to keep things varied over the course of a long session. If you get tired of Sid’s Northern chops, there’s always the choice of alternative male or female commentators to fulfil the role, but if you’ve reached the stage where you’re sick of hearing Waddell compare darts to a bag of chips then you may as well shut off the audio entirely.
The game features a number of customisation options. For example, you can change the appearance of your darts by combining different tips, bodies and flights. You can also use the built-in camera to create unique avatars, as well as super-impose photographs (or video streams) onto the back of the board. It really brings new accessibility to the old voodoo-like adage of tossing darts at the photograph of an adversary and is an outstanding novelty.
NEAR is also implemented, albeit in a limited manner. By using the social networking service you can drop portions of a diamond dart board into the world and share them with nearby players and friends.
Outside of that though, there’s very little to Top Darts. If you’re a fan of the pastime then you’ll probably get a few hours out of trying each of the modes and participating in a league or cup, but without a deeper campaign there’s very little incentive to return.
Asynchronous play attempts to add some longevity to proceedings, allowing you to compete with friends over a protracted period. As in real darts, you’ll take in turn to play shots, but matches can be played over the course of a week rather than a minute. There’s also the draw of direct online multiplayer if you’re after something a little more immediate.
Top Darts does a great job of replicating the feel of playing darts, but the campaign mode fails to encourage you to invest in its outstanding roster of modes. The presentation is appropriately simplistic but exceptionally detailed, and Sid Waddell does a great job of lending credibility to the game despite his limited dialogue. Sadly, without a wider sense of progression, Top Darts squanders its potential, missing the bullseye by a good couple of inches.
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