Harley Quinn’s first video game appearances are in The Adventures of Batman & Robin games across the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Sega CD consoles in 1994 and 1995. All three versions of the game differ greatly in game mechanics (the SNES version is a platformer, the Genesis version is a run-n-gun, and the Sega CD version is a racing game) and story. The common element for all three titles is that they are placed in the Batman: The Animated Series canon.
The Super Nintendo version of Batman & Robin has Harley Quinn appearing in the beginning cut scene, simply to introduce The Joker on his television broadcast. During gameplay, Batman encounters her at the entrance to The Joker’s funhouse, where she welcomes him and promptly runs away. Batman does not interact with her further for the rest of the game.
In the Sega Genesis version, Harley Quinn appears constantly as a mini boss throughout the first level. First, she appears in a vertical blue and red tank. When Batman is able to damage the tank significantly, Harley pops in and out like a whack-a-mole, lobbing grenades. Afterwards, she flies around on the screen, still sitting on the tank’s command chair, bombarding Batman with bombs. Her appearance as a mini boss in the first level is her only appearance in the game, and she is sans any dialogue; however the battle with her is drawn out, with multiple forms, giving her first “true” outing in a video game some weight when compared to her - more-or-less - cameo appearance in the SNES version.
The Sega CD version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin has cut scenes in the style of The Animated Series. Batman meets Harley Quinn in a cut scene at an amusement park, where she taunts Batman from an exploding popcorn kiosk before taking off in her car and crashing into a funhouse. It is her only appearance in the game, and just as in the SNES version, the player doesn’t directly interact with Harley (ie.,. via a boss battle).
Harley Quinn makes an appearance as a dual boss along with The Joker in the Game Boy Color game, Batman: Chaos in Gotham City. At the boss stage of the Museum level, she and The Joker juggle bowling pins from the top of the screen as Batman repeatedly jumps over a dog. Eventually, Batman will land enough blows on Harley that both she and The Joker will surrender. (He waves a white flag.) She has no dialogue and makes no other appearances in the game. Chaos in Gotham City, released in 2001, was extremely late in the Game Boy Color’s lifespan, as the Game Boy Advance would be released a few months later, thus Harley Quinn’s onscreen depiction appears the most dated, graphic-wise.
It is in Batman: Vengeance, also released in 2001, that Harley Quinn makes her first, most fleshed out appearance in a video game, both in regards to representations in cut scenes along with the player overtly interacting with her during gameplay. Harley makes her appearance immediately in the game’s opening cut scene, where The Joker is explaining the tail end of his newest caper, initially in the background of a wide shot of The Joker’s briefing room, but then in three-fourth shot adjacent to him. She has no dialogue in this scene, but she is still given prominent framing, depicting her in the classic one-piece red and black jester outfit as in The Animated Series.
In the cut scene after level two, after negotiating the rooftops of rocket launcher-armed henchmen and piping hot steam vents, Batman happens upon a time bomb with a woman tied up next to it. Batman rescues the woman as the bomb detonates. Batman questions the woman, who states that The Joker had taken her hostage and took off to a bridge in Gotham City. Batman confronts The Joker at a construction site at the bridge and defeats him, as he plunges into the water, presumably dead.
At this point in Batman: Vengeance, Batman and Robin take turns attempting to thwart the activities of other iconic Batman villains, such as Mr. Freeze who has broken into a chemical plant and Poison Ivy who commands an army of vicious plants.
After level nineteen, Batman heads to Gotham Gasworks and encounters both The Joker and Harley Quinn. Harley Quinn reveals that she was the woman Batman had saved earlier in the game so that she could trick Batman into going to the bridge to witness The Joker fake his own death. Through these various still-frame cut scenes, Harley Quinn is depicted in medium, giving her the best, most detailed video game depiction yet (in tandem with her depictions in the console versions of Batman: Vengeance, which of course have superior graphics, voice acting as well as altered plot).
Armed with her giant wooden mallet, Harley attacks Batman, and they fight among the gasworks' pipes (She can kill Batman in two hits!), though the battle is not as fleshed out as her battle in the Sega Genesis version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin. Of particular note during this battle, Harley Quinn is given the uncommon honor of actual voice-dialogue, as she taunts Batman, “Take a break and stay a while, doo-da, doo-da.” By the early 2000s, voice acting was common on PC and console gaming, but on handheld systems it was still rarer. In Batman: Vengeance, all the other characters (protagonists and antagonists) are mute save for textual dialogue, with the occasional audible laughter from The Joker and grunts and groans from other characters. Harley Quinn is the only one with true, audible dialogue.
After dispatching Harley Quinn, Batman heads off to stop The Joker in his blimp full of toxins.
Since Batman: Vengeance, Harley Quinn has become a mainstay component of Batman video games, coinciding with her exploding popularity. The games that came before Vengeance were on the reserved side of giving Harley gameplay prominence, but this could be expected in that she was still a newly introduced character in the Batman mythos. In terms of the shift of Harley Quinn’s video game representation, Batman: Vengeance is the key title that illustrates her transition from a minor character to a major antagonist.
Nicholas Diak is a pop culture scholar of industrial and synthwave music, Italian genre films, and Lovecraft studies. He contributes essays to various anthologies, journals, and pop culture websites. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, The New Peplum: Essays on Sword and Sandal Films and Television Programs Since the 1990s. He can be found at nickdiak.com.