Harley Quinn is one of the most recognizable faces in comics media, despite being relatively new to the scene. She first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, and has gone on to become far more than just Joker’s girlfriend, although her relationship with him, his influence, and her life before him have been frequently explored aspects of her character. We’ve seen her be a henchperson, a criminal, and an antihero. We’ve seen her in comics, we’ve seen her on television, and we’ve even seen her in two big movies largely centered on her. Unlike most comic characters, though, she’s been in video games since the earliest days of her existence. It wasn’t until 2001’s Batman: Vengeance that we really started to see a glimpse of how well she could fit into a game’s narrative. Rocksteady’s Arkham series built upon her character further, and now they will be giving her a starring role in the upcoming title, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. Harley deserves even more, though. Harley Quinn deserves a game in the style of her recent television show.
It’s not that I’m not excited for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, to be clear. That game is already shaping up to look pretty amazing and Rocksteady has certainly proven that they can be trusted with games set in the DC Universe. It also has what appears to be a very over-the-top premise, and a colorful cast of characters. I am excited about all of this. I can imagine a game that blends humor with grit, and I can imagine a very engaging story.
Harley Quinn, which debuted on DC Universe, has been a show that leans more heavily on the humor and does spend a lot of time examining how the non-violent, personal qualities of Harley’s life interacts with the rest of it. While that focus would have to be shifted more toward the action side of the equation for a game, the rest could still be present. And what could potentially result would be a game unlike most of the ones that come out today, and would complement the Suicide Squad game nicely.
For one, it could adopt a different spirit from the Arkham games. Part of what makes the show great, beyond the clever juxtapositions, is that it isn’t afraid to take things to absurd levels. So many things that would seem like “too much,” on paper, are proven to work in execution in this show, and the fictional world itself isn’t allowed to interfere with the idea of “fun.” In the first season, Harley demands that Gotham make a highway in her honor. Later, toward the shows climax, characters are engaged in a high speed, violent chase, on this highway which is full of loop-the-loops and Mario Kart-esque design elements. It’s wild and it’s aesthetically appropriate. It also says “strap in, because anything can happen.”
We’ve seen games in a similar style with varying degrees of ridiculousness. The Devil May Cry franchise holds very little back, and leans on the trappings of multiple genres, as it brings together very strong, stylistic choices together into a single identity. Deadly Premonition is a game that isn’t exactly good by conventional means, but it is beloved for the way it does basically anything it wants. No More Heroes is another game that breaks convention and refuses to be easily defined.
I imagine a Harley Quinn game working well if it was made in a style similar to something like Lollipop Chainsaw, so long as it stayed true to itself. Lollipop Chainsaw is a hack-and-slash game that blends comedy and horror. Its campaign features a well-paced story, huge characters, memorable encounters, and tons of style. The players also get to see how the protagonist’s roles as a high school cheerleader, girlfriend, and middle sister of a loving family of zombie slayers fit together. While the game’s action could have used some work, the rest of this collaboration between James Gunn and Suda51 feels like a pretty good proof-of-concept for a game based on the Harley Quinn television series.
The other thing that Harley Quinn does really well is characterization. It gathers together villains indiscriminately from all across DC Comics and makes them coexist as part of the same villain society. This means we get to see forgotten nobodies like Kite Man, whose power is having a kite on his back, run in the same circle as the Joker without one of them necessarily pulling spotlight from the other. The writers know how to emphasize the best and worst traits of its characters, and aren’t afraid to kill off big villains or humiliate fan favorites. This means that, once again, that the hypothetical gamer for this hypothetical game, would be primed for surprise but would still rarely know what to expect because all the familiar characters have been reinterpreted.
It’s just nice to see games be games and fun be fun. I can get down with grim and gritty, and I can get down with bombastic. There are a lot of games out there, and an unfortunate number of them involve war buddies shooting their way through crumbling urban environments. The trailer for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League and the recent announcement of Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition have me selfishly longing for more games that just want to say “rules be damned,” and do cool things. I think a game based on the Harley Quinn show, which seems to have the same philosophy, would be a natural fit, so long as it wasn’t created as a mere cash-grab.
Writing Team Lead