Devil Darts Review
Although many people dismiss it as casual entertainment, the game of darts requires a considerable amount of skill, and serious games even require some strategy. Still, darts is one of those athletic activities, like team sports and running, that often doesn't translate well onto an electronic device, especially a handheld with limited a small screen and limited input options.
The first thing that you'll notice when loading up Devil Darts the first time is the quality of presentation. After the status bar indicates that game has finished loading (the load time can be a bit lengthy, especially the first time you load it up), you're taken to the main menu, where you can select opponents, set game options, and start the game. This screen has some spooky background music, and the entire game has the stylish, tongue-in-cheek feel of a graphic novel from an obscure, independent art studio. (The game was originally developed on the Mac by software engineer Jason Kravitz, who enlisted the aid of two graphic artists to revamp the graphics for the Pocket PC version.) The comic book approach suits the game well--after all, how silly is it to play darts in Hell?
Before starting a game, you'll need to select your opponents. You can select up to three (from a collection of six), and the game presents several computer-based "devil" characters you can play against. These characters look as good as what you'd find in pretty much any modern comic book, but they're not just eye candy--all are ranked on a percentage basis according to two factors: accuracy and strategy. The quality of these two values ranges from middling to quite good, allowing you to have a nice mix of skill levels in the game. You can also play against yourself or another human opponent (networked play is not supported).
Two modes of game play are offered, cricket and oh-one. In both, you're given a certain number of points initially and the player who hits 0 first wins the game. Both play a bit differently and have subtle rule variations you can adjust via the game's options screen. If you're not familiar with either, suffice it to say that both require a lot more skill and strategy than simply seeing who's better at hitting the bullseye.
The most interesting parts of the game are the control method and game play. The dart board itself takes up the largest section of the screen. You throw a dart by first selecting the horizontal posiition of your player (represented by a graphic below the board), then selecting the thrust and angle of your throw by pressing down twice with the d-pad (You press down to select thrust and down again to select the angle; visual indicators are displayed for each). Since you score by hitting certain areas of the dart board, control is essential here. I found the input method to be fairly intuitive but probably more difficult than throwing a dart in real life. Since the game doesn't accept input from the stylus and makes you quickly press the d-pad, I found there was a "twitch" factor that sometimes made throws almost seem like a matter of luck than skill; I didn't quite feel like I was in charge. I'm fairly adept at throwing darts in real life, but I found myself struggling a bit to throw the dart where I wanted it to go. I would prefer a stylus-driven gyroscope input method like the one used in ZioSoft's golf games (which is borrowed from the terrific interface used in the Links games on desktop PCs) or perhaps something like the
proportional, box-shaped batting control algorithm Hexacto uses in Baseball Addict.
The greatest thing Devil Darts has going for it is the amount of effort that went into making it a game, complete with its own little mythos. Great electronic games from Pac-Man to Ultima aren't just about game play and graphics--they're engrossing because each exists in its own little self-contained universe (80s trivia quizzes often ask the names of the ghosts—hardcore players knew each one by heart.) Devil Darts is proof that even simple games can benefit
from such treatment. Most games in this category have dry graphics, a stale atmosphere, and a limited amount of what some reviewers refer to as the "fun factor." The "fun factor" is at work in the game Black Jack Pro, and it's present here as well. Although there's really no mention made of exactly how you ended up in Hell and are playing darts against demons, it's still an engaging concept. In addition to the graphics, music, and sound effects, many features are included to make the game more satisfying. For example, you're treated to an animated segment below the dart board whenever a player throws a dart. You can even customize the background of this section of the screen with one of several photo-realistic backgrounds. If you need help, a pop-up screen will give you an adequate overview of the input method and game modes. There's lots of speech, too--an announcer will give verbal confirmation of different plays (a visual indicator also appears in the top left corner), and when selecting opponents, they'll grunt silly catchphrases when you select them. These elements make the game enjoyable and make waiting for your turn (which you'll do a lot in a game of four players) less tedious. Overall, the game is presented with a flair and virtuosity you used to see only in console-based games and some of the better coin-op games. Black Jack Pro and Gangsta Race also have this quality, and I'm glad to see it appearing more and more in Pocket PC titles.
It's not for everyone, but Devil Darts is a well-implemented game that has a lot going for it. It could be improved in a few areas—the throwing interface could be improved, and it would be helpful to have some sort of training mode available to help newbies learn the ropes. I haven't mastered the controls yet, but the other aspects of the game are so well done that I'll dive back into Hell many more times to go up against those devils. The game’s Web site does a great job of showing off the game’s artwork, including screen shots. The game of darts may not be the most exciting subject matter for a Pocket PC game, but Devil Darts is a pretty decent attempt at making it interesting. B+
Devil Darts supports most MIPS and ARM based Pocket PCs. A demo is available, and the full version can be purchased at for $14.95.
Allen Gall is a freelance game reviewer and the games editor for Pocket PC FAQ. If you have a game you'd like Allen to review, you can e-mail him at allen@Pocket PC FAQ