First posted on 15 September 2011. Last updated on 15 September 2011.
Say what you will about MTV's Daria—the animated series has a definite place in the annals of television history that is recognized by both critics and fans. Originally conceived as a spinoff of MTV's Beavis and Butt-head, Daria quickly emerged as the voice of a disaffected youth generation, through her quirky subtlety and brutal but honest commentary on pop culture and modern life. Moreover, Daria had become the poster child for DVD music licensing. It was revealed that the DVD release for the series had to be delayed for nearly a decade due to the fact that none of the music used on the show was licensed ahead of time for subsequent home video release—a costly lesson that other television studios since learned, quickly. Despite the show's popularity, few licensed merchandise was ever released: a few books, a shirt... and, oddly enough, a computer game called Daria's Inferno.
Released in 2000, Daria's Inferno follows Daria Morgendorffer into her dream, inspired by Dante's Inferno, where she must look for Ms. Li's pilfered possessions—which consist of a pencil, a hall pass, a copy of Winnie the Pooh, a disciplinarian award, and a mascot head. Daria must sink deeper into her dream to locate each item, collect it, and then return it to Ms. Li, so that she can escape eternal detention. Aiding her in her quest are her best friend Jane and Jane's brother Trent, who serve to parallel Virgil from Dante's original epic poem and help to guide her between levels. In her dream, Daria cannot die, but if her irritation meter fills up, she is ejected from that part of her dream and must return to it before she can continue on with her quest.
If you are expecting more than another tired licensed game, then Daria's Inferno may not be for you. The truth is that Daria's Inferno is a casual adventure that will take you only a few hours to complete, and that includes the times that you may waste getting kicked out of a level and having to reenter it. In addition, the puzzles that you need to solve to complete the stages are incredibly easy, even if you have never seen the show. Having that said, though, the puzzles will ultimately be easier (as if this is even possible) for fans of the show, since they usually reference some peculiar factoids from the show's first few seasons (for example, being the 10,000th customer in the Doo-Dad Store in order to receive a needed item). Finally, for being based on a show known for its sarcastic humor, the game is really not that funny. There are a few clever lines scattered here and there (mostly in the Sick Sad World commercials), but the humor just does not hit home the way it does in its television counterpart. It almost feels like the writers have been trying too hard, such that the humor feels ultimately a little forced.
Sadly, there is more for gamers and fans alike to be disappointed about in this game. The biggest disappointment is the lack of sound balance. More often than not, the ambient sound effects are about twice as loud as the in-game dialog, which can lead to missed clues or jokes. In addition, if there is a soundtrack to this game, then the sound effects have made it impossible to be heard. The few tracks that can be easily heard are merely short loops lasting only seconds, which can quickly get on your nerves. Further, while far from unplayable, the game's control scheme leaves much to be desired. The walking controls are fairly sluggish, often leading to cheap deaths while trying to get away from the enemies. This is particularly true when the sluggishness is combined with questionable hit-box detection, which frequently freezes Daria in her tracks despite the fact that not a pixel of her sprite has made contact with whatever obstacle has stopped her. Finally, there is little to no variation in the game. Each dream consists of maze based levels wherein the only goal is to navigate through the maze while avoiding enemies so that Daria can reach whatever puzzle solving item she needs. Simply put, the formula gets old very quickly.
The game, fortunately, redeems itself on a few fronts. First and foremost, the game looks great. The character sprites are well polished and move fluidly (the only exception is Daria herself, who looks a little rough around the edges and can be a little choppy). There are plenty of Easter egg references hidden in the game to keep fans of the show chuckling. The addition of the Sick Sad World in-game hint system, which contains most of the game's humor, is also a welcome bonus. In addition, the developer has put into the game as many characters as possible, including random background characters, with their original voice actors. While perhaps not a difficult feat, it makes the game feel a little more like a labor of love and a little less like a cheap cash-in. In this regard, the developer has succeeded in trying to make the game feel like a Daria episode, even if this is achieved by cut scenes and ending credits which mirror those of the television show.
It pains me to write this, as I am and always have been a huge fan of Daria—the bottom line is that Daria's Inferno is just not a very good game. The puzzles are too easy, the play time is ridiculously short, and the humor simply does not compare to the television original. I do not quite know what I had expected from the game, but I know that it had not delivered. Perhaps the in-game Daria says it best when she muses, "Is this some computer geek's idea of a good time?" No, Daria, it's not.