Daria’s Inferno

This past week I enjoyed a little blast from the past: Daria’s Inferno, a 16-year-old video game based on my favorite TV series ever.

Yes, I really did this.

Daria's Inferno on CD-ROM

Somehow I wound up with, apparently, the game CD and case in original shrinkwrap

For what it’s worth, I found this product delightful. The key, here, is that I am a pretty big fan of the show. I have difficulty imagining many people who don’t fit that description giving any thought to this game, particularly long years after it was released. But just in case, well, I would agree with generally negative online reviews that the game doesn’t have much else going for it.

I didn’t care. This was a Daria video game… probably the only Daria video game that will ever exist… and in that regard I think it was mostly awesome.

In some ways I was reminded of one or more Sherlock Holmes video games I’ve played, in that I found a great deal of fun in merely exploring the character’s world. Finding everything in the Baker Street flat, exactly as it should be. Recruiting the services of the Irregulars, or Toby the sleuth-hound. Etc.

Much of the fun in Daria’s Inferno is like that, I submit, except taken even further. This basically was an interactive episode of the show, as much as probably any video game adaptation has ever been.

Some of this was a happy coincidence of styles and contemporary technology, I think. By the late 1990s, CD-ROM games were probably right at the point where re-creating the clean (and cheap) animation style of Daria was the most natural thing in the world. Several years earlier and it would have been a blocky, pixelated affair. Several years later and the game studio would certainly have put in more visual flash and sizzle than the show ever possessed.

Cut-scene from Daria's Inferno

Actual game cut-scene

On top of this, of course, the game was produced while the show was in production and with the direct involvement of people who worked on it. So, Daria not only looks like Daria, she sounds exactly like Daria. She is Daria!

Beyond this, yes, the game as a game could have been better. In a way I was more disappointed by the rare missing element from the show—where was Stacy?—but gameplay drawbacks are plentiful.

The online criticism is generally valid, here. It’s an easy game, and rather quick to play through. By 2000, movement within the game should not have been so clunky. Puzzles could have been considerably more clever. Interaction with the game-world was also a bit light, honestly. I think of the bountiful scenery descriptions and conversations in Sierra or Lucas games, and how this might have added much humor to a game that was entertaining but mostly lacking in the real humor of the show. Granted, in Daria’s Inferno there really aren’t any text windows; every comment from Daria and every conversation are spoken in the characters’ actual voices. Either the space on a CD-ROM or the game budget only went so far, I’m sure, but maybe this design approach was a losing trade-off.

Game scene from Daria's Inferno

Mr. Dimartino electrocutes Kevin & Britney… even though set in Hell, the game IS still Daria’s dream, after all.

Oh well. I’m still very glad I picked this up, and delighted that it worked. (Credit to the fine people working on Sheepshaver, by which means an emulated vintage Mac environment ran this game quite well within OS X El Capitan.) For a fan of the show, this game does deliver. Beyond the basic fact of it being an authentic Daria game, I think it rises to the level of very good by virtue of details like:

  • Daria’s real opinion of the clubs Mystic Spiral plays in. We see her visiting these divey bars semiregularly on the show, and in retrospect it’s kind of an odd oversight that the fastidious Daria makes almost no comment on these places’ grossness. Daria’s Inferno sets this right!
  • More interaction between Daria and Andrea then we got in five seasons and two TV movies. This is also, happily, one of the more inventive and amusing scenes in the game.
  • The end credits feature extra “alter egos” never used in the show credits, plus an extended version of Splendora’s “You’re Standing on my Neck” theme music. If nothing else, fans should load up the game just to click on the “credits” button and check this out.

For all its shortcomings, this game left me wanting more. Money well-spent.

The credits!

Love those end credit alter egos, always.

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