Today’s entry is once again by the wonderful Jenn and Jerod Mackert, the fine folks behind Guy Gardner Colon Warrior (which you should definitely be reading, if you love to hate terribad ’90s comic books).
For the uninitiated, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” was a Nickelodeon program that ran from 1990 to 2000, and focused on a group of kids in a group called The Midnight Society who would take turns telling a different scary story each episode. It was a pretty successful show, and considering how every episode was a brand new horror story, it seemed like a no-brainer that a videogame would eventually be made based on the license. And indeed, one was released in 1994, right at the height of the show’s popularity, though it seems like it wasn’t released to much fanfare, and from what we can tell, seemed to mostly just be a pack-in with certain PC purchases. Which is a shame, because Are You afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse is actually a pretty good game for its time.
In the game, you play as siblings Terry and Alex, who are visiting their uncle in an unnamed city. Their uncle just happens to live across the street from an abandoned theater that used to headline the world-famous magician, Orpheo back in the 1920s. Since Terry is super into magic, she decides that they need to sneak over to the theater and just break on in. Alex is hesitant, but ultimately an accessory. They manage to get into the building, only to run into Orpheo himself, who is somehow still alive because of a horrible curse, and is excited to have two people to try his newest magic trick on. At this point, brother and sister are separated and Terry has to find her brother before midnight, or Orpheo will perform his magic trick on them both, which turns out to not be a good thing at all.
At about this point, the actual framing of the game is exposed: you are an initiate of the Midnight Society, and the game is the story you’re telling to become an official member. Playing the game is actually how the story is being told, and if you solve the mystery of Orpheo’s curse before midnight, you’ll impress everyone enough to gain membership.
The gameplay is very similar to Myst, which was fashionable at the time. You move around the theater in first person view, checking out points of interest and grabbing items to help you later. There are actually way more things to look at than collect, which adds a lot of ambiance that could have easily been ignored in favor of saving time. A lot of the items you look at even have animation and jump scares, and while they’re pretty laughable 11 years later, we’re sure some kids jumped out of their seats back in the day. Even something as mundane as the menus have a lot of personality, mimicking old theater posters. Whoever was in charge of the visuals on this game deserves some credit.
Since the game is aimed toward younger players, it’s not super difficult, which is actually kind of a relief, if you’re familiar with the ‘90s adventure game genre. There aren’t too many ways to mess up permanently (at least as far as I know), and even at the end of the game, when you need to present five of Orpheo’s possessions to win, there is a way to turn back if you happen to have not found them by this point. There are actually a few ways to “die” along the way, but they’re handled pretty well; every time it happens, the game takes you back to the campfire, where the Midnight Society seems pretty disappointed that your story just kind of randomly ended with your character getting attacked by a mummy or falling into limbo. The group offers you some hints on how to tell the story better (i.e. not screw up in-game), and they give you a chance to revise your story from where you left off. It’s a pretty clever way to let you make a mistake and justify trying again, and the Midnight Society’s hints are actually pretty insightful. We’re sure this was added to help younger players, but honestly it’s a welcome addition in general, since adventure games of that era were often obtuse and would leave you in unwinnable situations with no warning.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Tale of Orpheo’s Curse is a fun, classic ‘90s adventure game that won’t take too long to beat (we checked out a walkthrough on YouTube since my copy is long gone, and he took less than two hours, though he knew exactly what to do), and is surprisingly well done considering the apparent lack of advertising for the game. Unfortunately, this same lack of awareness makes the game pretty hard to come by these days. Copies can be found on eBay for about $15-$20, which is not terrible, plus it seems to be the most legal way to obtain the game, since it has never appeared for sale digitally on any sites like GoG. If you don’t feel like grabbing a copy for yourself, we’d recommend at least taking a look at it on YouTube, since it does have a lot of personality and tells a pretty good story for what it is.
- Released: October 24th, 1994
- System: PC
- Developer/Publisher: Viacom New Media