It has been six long years since teens Daniel Lara and Joshua Holz graced the internet with the phrase, “Damn Daniel, back at it again with the white Vans.” Since then, the bite-sized video platform it was originally posted on, Vine, has died; we now live in a seemingly perpetual pandemic; and time keeps chugging on like a coldblooded locomotive. We live in an era where jokes emerge and expire within hours, and being hyper online is now a base level expectation for anyone on social media. You’re expected to see everything and possess a scorching hot take so luminous you would die for it, all while instinctively knowing the expiration dates of each hourly batch of discourse. Whether positive or negative, nothing lasts for long on the internet.
Why, then, am I writing to you about Damn Daniel? For the past two years, a small development team has been quietly resuscitating the meme like a squad of well-trained necromancer lifeguards. With the recent beta drop of Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure, they have breathed life into a charming, but somewhat buggy rhythm and role-playing chimera that serves as a love letter to memes of past memories.
Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure opens with a cutscene of the titular Daniel waking up to find out Dark Daniel has stolen his Vans and taken his place on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. It’s up to you to retrieve the prized kicks and put the world back in balance before Dark Daniel strikes with his chaotic ways. Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure is full of little touches that cement it as a goofy, thoughtful period piece of 2010s internet heritage.
You play from Daniel’s first-person point of view at the end of a long day of school. As you start walking through a house that doubles as a Damn Daniel art gallery and features fanart made by community members, outrageously funky drum and bass fills your headphones. Interacting with the environment often triggers Daniel’s internal dialogue, each quip effective at fleshing out his character and the wider fictional world. In one puzzle, you have to find out the code to the esteemed Vans vault. If you take a close enough look at one of your paintings, you find that the password is hidden inside, and is “1738.” When you input those numbers, a phantom shout of Fetty Wap’s “Remy Boyz, yah-ah / 1738, ayy” echoes throughout the home.
But that isn’t all there is to this quest to reclaim the Damn throne. If you sit down on a living room chair, you can enter Battle Mode, which teleports you into a pocket world weaved out of SNES-style pixel gradients – almost like you’re fighting in the endless background of an Earthbound battle. You stand off against a zany cast of characters ranging from Boogie Bot and Impterns to mirrored Daniel himself. When you challenge an opponent, Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure does a complete 180 with its design style. A character-themed groove comes on, a crowd forms around you, and the rhythm game elements finally take the stage. Fights are turn-based, and you can select whether to attack, defend, or use a spell for each party member.
The twist hits when you pick your move, for a scrolling set of Guitar Hero-style inputs float down the screen in sync with the erratic soundtrack. Your combos and rhythm precision decide how effective your attack, heal, or guard is. Patterns are unique to each foe and change with each musical bar, so even the longer battles feel lively. The RPG and rhythm systems walk on a tightrope of tension in tandem, creating a style of play that I’ve never seen and can’t get enough of. From both a mechanical and conceptual standpoint, Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure is so playful and charismatic that it’s hard not to smile all the way through.
There isn’t too much in the Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure beta, but it’s a phenomenally amusing start to a meme-based project that transcends time. Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure transforms Damn Daniel into something fresh, funny, and more than a lost meme. It is 2022: our attention spans are shot, we are online more than ever, and e-jokes are on a supercharged treadmill going 250 km/h, but Damn Daniel has aged like fine wine. And this development team is taking that vintage bottle and transmogrifying it into a new, bizarre form. I love that Damn Daniel: White Vans Adventure is a celebration and a reminder to slow down and laugh at the things you truly find funny. Through its design and pure existence, it shouts a message that life is short and cringe is dead. Wholeheartedly enjoying things (old and new) is the eternal wave.