Any passersby may mistake the humor of the original Daria as nothing but overbearing cynicism. It certainly seems like the makers of Daria’s Inferno sure did.
Daria didn’t become one of the most cult-driven spin-off success shows of all time because of sarcasm. Well, okay, sarcasm helped a bit, but the show remains tightly put together with characters that have, and try to hide, the subtleties of our environment’s effect on our personalities. There was also a lot of commentary on the directions and priorities of society that, when watching through the lens of today, feel like a fruit cake mixture of hilariously dated and woefully relevant.
One of the themes explored in a handful of episodes was the idea that the more things change, the more they stay the same because of how scary bursting out of a shell can seem. Daria’s Inferno reminded me of that idiom within 5 minutes and never, ever let go.
Developer Hypnotix, who apparently rode that hot MTV train until a cave-in locked them all away forever, performs what I like to call a Character Celebration here. Within the context of a loose plot, the characters from the show are just given individual spotlights that very lightly tie to said trashbag plot thrust. Inherently, I’m not opposed to this approach.
With fun characters and a well constructed construct, other games based on properties have made this work. South Park games are making a killing off of it currently, but in that example, there is effort beyond the first layer. Too harsh you say to compare a modern series to an adventure game from 2000? Line Daria’s Inferno up against the 1998 South Park then. I’d still pick South Park.
Daria has fallen asleep during a lecture on Dante’s Inferno, giving the players an isometric angle to navigate her through screens of her own imagined hell. Jane comes intermittently to offer advice, Trent rides his Trent Mobile to swirl you into each successive hellish layer, and everyone else kind does their thing. You’ll meet up, maybe interact, maybe still have a laugh, then move on down the slide made of rocks.
My main issue is that Daria’s Inferno has such straight-forward, vapid writing from a time when Daria was hitting its peak in the same production quality. Seasons 4 and 5 of the show were dazzling monuments to how writing can add dimensions to a character, and this game crawled forth right between both seasons. Instead of feeding off that energy, Daria is just played, dare I say, straight as a sarcastic know-it-all that offers nothing to any conversation she’s a part of.
The bad writing knocks on with every single character too, turning this Character Celebration into one where only cardboard cutouts with voice boxes actually showed up.
To be fair, the voice boxes are pretty great because of the returning actors and actresses from the show. That goes well with the looks-like-the-show-if-you-squint cartoon graphics, which are both appreciated in tandem.
Then the gameplay shoots out the other knee because of…where to start? Levels themselves are ghost towns except for what you need to avoid or move forward with, hit detection is wildly varied, and puzzles are, even for the time, moronic in composition and braindead in solution.
Maybe if these few areas you go to were designed to just be puzzle-fests filled with reference after reference, I’d have less of a problem with the overall construction. That idea can never be though because Hypnotix decided to place an unwieldy number of homing enemies inside of the isometric environments to compound how little you feel in control of Daria’s movement. Their straight pathing will deviate if they smell your blood and ram into you like it’s a New York sidewalk. You’ll be flung back to the beginning of the level each time Daria is too “irritated’ by other people, and never will you feel closer to her than in that moment….
Puzzles can have multiple layers, but Daria’s Inferno never allows any of them to breathe long enough to be challenging or even engaging. I’ve picked up a larger coin, I’ve found a slot, insert coin, puzzle done; so many are constructed like that with the answer sometimes within the same screen as the question. Again, some complexity can be added with defensive weapons such as a fan for perfume spraying mall clerks, but not to enough effect to make them feel worthy as gameplay additions.
At the finish line, Daria’s Inferno is set up to be a member of the Fashion Club when I was hoping for something a little more Mystik Spiral. Something overall too concerned with what the world would see of its physical blemishes and not willing to fight the system and change up the beat when needed. With not one but two properties basically handmade for this genre falling flat at once, the failure here feels absolute and unsatisfactory even in the flop.
Dante’s Inferno, at least, went on to something a little…different. We can only hope there’s something left for Daria in the interactive space that Daria’s Inferno hasn’t torn asunder.
Daria’s Inferno Score: