Dart games have traditionally been pretty plain affairs. Pub Darts on WiiWare was as basic as it could get and left us with a bland and forgettable taste in our mouths. Developer JV Games may not have left the best taste among WiiWare connoisseurs after some beginning duds in Frat Party Games: Pong Toss and Incoming!, but their latest, Dart Rage, is a pretty tasty morsel.
Where Pub Darts fumbled and Dart Rage shines is in the controls. Both get it right by asking you to hold the Remote like you would a real dart, but that's about it for similarities. Instead of having you hold a button to lock in your aim and then thrust the Remote forward with little effect on toss strength like in Pub, Rage ditches the lock-on mechanic altogether and goes for an au naturale throw. The cursor is now one big hourglass-shaped reticule that demands a steady hand. The shape is essentially your power meter; depending on how forcefully you thrust the Remote forward the reticule fills up from the bottom, and where the meter tops off is where your dart will land in relation to your aim. An overpowered thrust will send the dart flying much higher than intended and vice versa; since your aim isn't locked in, the game demands steady and determined throws.
It's much trickier to get the hang of than a mere lock-on, but it's also that much more satisfying when you nail a high-scoring shot. The problem is that it sometimes feels too loose and the thrust meter doesn't always match up with your arm movement; a light toss will sometimes be interpreted as much more powerful and mess up your shot. Generally it won't be too much of a problem, but when it happens during crucial moments it's both maddening and confusing.
The four games on offer are X01 ("regular" darts, playing to 301, 501, etc.), Cricket, American/Baseball and Poker. A standard board is used for X01 and Cricket with the latter two each getting their own special kind. The variety is welcome, and while Pub Darts included five games they all used the same board and did little to set them apart. Here there are multiple settings to play in, e.g. pub or lounge, although they essentially boil down to a few different wall colors and maybe the odd wall decoration here and there. Each game can be played with up to four people or AI in turns or in a split-screen Vs. mode, which adds a bit of urgency to the rounds as you race to the target score. It's a welcome addition, especially for single-player gamers looking for that competitive feel.
The AI will certainly put up a fight too. Higher difficulties are ridiculously accurate and will nail triple 20's like nobody's business whereas lower ones will still nail the clutch shots but with less frequency. It's a little cheap sometimes when out of nowhere your lower-level computer opponent(s) blue-shell your score and burn down the board in one round, but so it goes.
You’ve got to hand it to JV Games for sticking to their thematic guns with the presentation. However curious the “rage” nomenclature may be, they’ve gone ahead and dressed up darts into, well, something very much its own thing. The music is weird butt rock of the highest order and the announcer is, well, his fake enthusiasm reeks of ‘tude, and missing a shot will elicit dudebro insults straight out of 1989. It's aurally very annoying, but luckily you can mute the music and announcer. There's loads of neon sprinkled across the interface too, even going so far as to shoot little sparks out of the scores. All in the name of “rage,” we suppose.
It's certainly an interesting approach to darts, but the presentation is all window-dressing and doesn't address the larger longevity concern: there is only a limited amount of games on offer with no way to just mess around with the dart board. You'd think free play would be standard in dart games at this point since they require very little extra work to implement and would open it up to virtually any dart game. If your favourite one isn't included then you're simply out of luck.
The new throw mechanic may take some getting used to and come with a few technical hitches, but it's ultimately a wise choice for translating the real-life act of throwing darts into a video game. The "rage" aspect can be downright annoying at times and the few games on offer ultimately limit the longevity if you aren't enamoured with what's on offer. That being said, Dart Rage is miles better than its downloadable competition and worth a go if you're down with flinging fake metal spears.