Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hero of the Week #13: Joker

Real Name: Unknown
First Appearance: Batman #1 (Spring, 1940)
Group Affiliation: NA
Gaming Credentials: Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988); Batman (1989); Batman (1990); Batman: Revenge of the Joker (1991); Batman: The Animated Series (1993); Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994); Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000); Batman: Chaos in Gotham (2001); Batman: Vengeance (2001); Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003); Lego Batman (2008); Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (2008); Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #333

In a week that saw the release of what's already being touted the 'best Batman game ever', how could you possibly look past the lead antagonist for "Hero" of the Week?

The Joker has been a cultural phenomenon for decades, but was most recently reinvigorated by the Academy Award winning performance of the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Mark Hamill successfully leaps out of that long shadow, however, to reprise his critically acclaimed take on the clown prince of crime from the 90's Animated Series, delivering a more traditional take on the character when he gets the plot rolling in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Fans who favoured the PS3 version of the game will have the added treat of being able to play through as the Joker himself, in what I would describe as a rare advantage for the Sony version of a cross-platform title, in this generation.

It's interesting to think about what the Joker has to offer in a video game, let alone one that's so specifically attempted to live up to the prestige of the brand. In a medium where interactive elements have inherently demanded a succession of difficulty, you wouldn't necessarily expect the Joker to lead as many gaming titles as he has. Previous generations have let the killer prankster get by on the kinds of gimmicks that have typified the character's more friendly appearances, but with modern video games preoccupied by the advantages of realistic simulation and technology erring to favour the visceral, a skinny clown isn't what you'd expect for an ultimate showdown.

Arkham Asylum will live and die by it's story, I would imagine.
Plenty of lip service has been played toward capturing Batman's iconic role as a supreme martial artist and astute detective, but at the end of the day, it's the characters and plotlines that will sell an identity for the game. In 2009, the Joker had to be a part of that image, but I wonder if his role as puppet master in a 'house of horrors' game will hold the title of 'greatest appearance' for very long.

With it's moody art direction and reasonably faithful recreation of the iconic world of the comics, this is definitely a far superior affair to any film tie-in The Dark Knight could have produced. In Arkham Asylum there can be no doubt that there's a pointed design to the experience, which can provide as much as any new release comic book or "graphic novel" with a greater chance for interaction.

Unfortunately, often times there's more to Batman than fighting and detecting.
Certainly, the dynamics of the relationship between Batman and Joker go much deeper than simple cause and effect, which is how a physically unimposing character has maintained his role as the Batman's arch-nemesis. It will be very interesting to see how the game can explore this, particularly when taking control of the character. Here's hoping Arkham Asylum delivers a more involving experience with the Joker than the Green Goblin play-through of 2002's Spider-man.

If you haven't already, check out 1up's rundown of the Batman titles of the past.
Glancing through a catalogue that includes the promising all the way to the justly maligned, I can't help but ruminate on the past and present. There've been a lot of Batman games said to have topped the others, but Batman Forever stands out in my mind as a release to make the most significant switch from revered, to maligned. Granted, digitized beat 'em ups have suffered this fate on a whole, but it makes me wonder further what the future might hold for Arkham Asylum, and if, and how, future generations can improve on the mould.

Preferably with a version that doesn't give the obnoxious emo kids a cypher to channel their whiney teen angst and rebellion through. Buncha chumps!

Secret Wars on Infinite Earths: The Comic Book Fight Club is updated with varying consistency, promising a feature fight for every Friday on the calendar (even if sometimes they're late). The site acts as an information resource, discussion site, review blog, and a Generation Y-hating good time.

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Originally posted: http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9002297

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