Boss Battles or no Boss Battles, that is the question…

Boss battles have been around since the dawn of time. Whilst man was just learning to spark that historic first flame, Doom guy was wielding a big fudging gun to eviscerate a Cyberdemon. When Colombus was discovering and declaring the American islands, he was also secretly levelling up his skills in anticipation of a final fight with a Colossus.

It’s just gaming genetics, you have the dangerous threat of an antagonist(s), that must be vanquished at all costs.

Such as…

Colonel Radec.

KZ2 Radec

My god you were my supreme nemesis all those years ago, you brought nothing but wholesome, perpetual agony. You caused me unparalleled frustration with waves upon waves of your relentless minions that endlessly spawned. It left me incredulous, and with a bitter taste in my mouth. But through perseverance, I finally bettered you and doomed you to a deadly fate. It was an enjoyable campaign that ended with a poorly designed boss battle to try and give a good campaign a pseudo-epic conclusion.

But unfortunately Killzone 2 is not the first game to follow the trend of sticking a rather cheap battle, at the very end of a game, to make you earn your victory.

I just don’t know why a final boss needs to become an impenetrable fortress of invincibility. I’ve even known games that have a regular human become the equivalent of a walking tank. Just a regular human, made of flesh and blood like all of us. But they’ve suddenly morphed into a bullet-sponge capable of staving off the effects of a nuclear bomb, with but only a scratch to show for it.

Take Driver 3 back on the PS2 for example; an average game, nothing more. When I reached its conclusion, I was required to finally gun down Tanner’s long-time enemy, Jericho. Now as I’ve stated, humans are humans, and they should only be able to sustain a small amount of damage before booking a one-way ticket to the afterlife.

Driver 3 Jericho

He. NEVER. dies.

But Jericho channelled his inner Terminator and wanted to make Skynet proud. I pummelled him with everything I could muster and nearly drained the Earth’s entire supply of ammunition in doing so. Seriously, if aliens are really watching us, then they would’ve known to invade during this fight as we wouldn’t have been able to retaliate.

Rinse and repeat, carbon copy, rinse and repeat etc. It’s another one of the classic, clichéd methods of presenting a boss fight. Another lazy trope that developers think is the perfect way to defeat your evil foe, yet simultaneously undermining their intelligence by demonstrating how stupid they are.

Yooka-Layee is one of the latest games to use this tired and tested formula with wealthy honcho, Capital B; yes, he was a bumblebee. He spent the entire game attempting to destroy you with one ‘brilliant’ scheme after another, to no avail. But after doing the same monotonous cycle of actions, taking away increments of health, the evil genius fell.

As I recall, the Sly games, utilised this method for ALL of their bosses. From Dimitri Lousteau the Nightclub Iguana to the firework-popping Panda King, they all had set sequences to work out, memorise, and actualise. It’s a staple of platforming bosses e.g Ratchet & Clank, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro The Dragon etc.

If all of this wasn’t bad enough, THEN you’ve got the bosses that possess multiple health bars and even multiple forms. Think you’ve won? Nope. Super Saiyan form incoming. Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts are very much guilty of this. Don’t get me started on the Adamantoise….what the hell was that about!? 1 hour and 27 minutes to conquer an enormous, immobile turtle.

FFXV Adamantoise

One hour and twenty-seven minutes.

Over 5, 000, 000 HP.

Another detrimental effect of these showdowns is that you can turn even the most monstrous looking foes into the most metaphorically, puny creatures imaginable. The Hive Mind, from Dead Space, was well over 100ft tall, and had the most disgusting, vicious, flailing limbs imaginable. They looked they had enough force to crush a Boeing 747; yet I defeated it with not even a hint of damage to Isaac. To overcome my oversized opponent, all I did was move left and right every few seconds, to evade its tentacles, and then shoot the weak point in its mouth. FINITO. Congratulations player, you’ve defeated our super-duper-pooper monster without really having to bat an eyelid.

I’d faced much worse enemies during the game; whereas this end of game behemoth was nothing more than a massive tree with a twitch.

DS Hive Mind

Swiftly moving on, hack ‘n’ slash games boast a formidable array of combo’s, insane set-piece events and artistically, stylish bosses brimming with testosterone. These bosses also happen to have powerful attacks that will effortlessly deplete your health bar with just a couple of sneezes.

At least it feels fair, fighting games on the other hand…HA!

Uppercut, teleport, punch combo, ULTRA COMBO……”I’ve got you now you little…SHAO KAHN WINS”. I hate you. Die.

The fighting genre is frantic to say the least. It requires you to be able to think on your feet, have mental stability, all-the-while having good dexterity. But these skills alone won’t be enough to defeat the last character in a story mode or arcade ladder situation. This is the case with Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken and virtually any other fighter out there.

As a Mortal Kombat guy, I thoroughly enjoyed MK9. Only an idiot would think Shao Kahn, in an arcade ladder, would be a cakewalk. He’s undisputedly one of the biggest villains in gaming history, and extremely powerful. But boy, this sucked copious amounts of horse manure. Eating soup with chopsticks would’ve been easier than this fight.

The difficulty is par for the course as far as an arcade ladder goes. You’ll near-enough coast through every fight, lapping up the adulation of your invisible fan base (yourself) as you embrace your newfound, god-tier skills. Then getting to the final fight and being reduced to tears. It’s the equivalent of having boxing matches against drunk hobos for a few matches, and then all of a sudden sticking a steroid-filled, Mike Tyson in the ring with you.

Tekken 6 had Azazel; a massive, crystal, dinosaur that could perform unblockable front flips.

Tekken 6 Azazel

Remember, it does front flips.

Street Fighter 4 had Seth, who looks like a poor man’s Silver Surfer, and he could effortlessly annihilate you and second-guess everything you tried to throw at him.

SFIV Seth

Then we come to Shao Kahn; the evil leader of Outworld and the voice of Mortal Kombat himself. To sum up just how much of an arse he is, he will openly taunt you saying that “you suck”, and allow you to attack him. Free of charge.

Even on the easiest difficulty he’s tougher than a two-dollar steak, so you can imagine what he’s like on the hardest difficulty.

He has temporary invincibility, meaning you can attack him, but you risk him attacking you halfway through YOUR attack, which is very unfair to say the least.

Then his spamming…Shao Kahn has more spam than a man eating spam, whilst talking about the Monty Python sketch about spam, then sending the sketch as email spam to random people…as spam.

Any excuse to mention Monty Python.

His bombardment of immobilising, mid-height spears and hammer throws are bad enough, but his unblockable shoulder charges? Jesus christ…I kid you not, if the sadist really wants to, he can just hit you with 5 consecutive shoulder charges without you being able to do a damn thing about them.

This can easily take you from full health to less than a third full in just a couple of seconds. Oh, I nearly forgot about his delightful x-ray attack. Once he’s inevitably cheated his way to a full special bar, then he can unleash his x-ray attack. This’ll do around 50%+ damage and pretty much end the round too. Mr Kahn can also take solace in the fact he is the proud owner of a double health bar. Yep, on top of his cheating antics and shenanigans, he can also sustain double the amount of damage as a regular opponent.

Sadly, the only way to beat him is to fight fire with fire, by repetitively, abusing your own attacks. You cannot go into this battle thinking you can beat him like everyone else you’ve fought, because that would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Long story short, F-U Shao Kahn.

Whether they’re calculated and strategic bosses or whether they’re just down right repetitive and boring, boss battles are just an annoyance and very rarely leave a good taste in your mouth.

Hypocritically, boss fights are a necessary evil to progress a narrative and also provide a much sought-after moment of carthasis. If done right, a rarity, then a boss battle can even be enjoyable.

One of my favourite franchises ever is Metal Gear Solid. Over the last two decades it’s given us some of the most fascinating and innovative situations in all of gaming.

Psycho Mantis. How do you kill a psychoanalytical being with supernatural powers? Solution? Unplug your wired controller from port 1 and plug it into port 2. Rarely has a concept so extravagant and outside of the box been demonstrated.

MGS1 Psycho Mantis

So, do you play Castlevania?

The End? How do you kill a grizzled, legendary marksman with a penchant for stealthy combat? Solution? Either overcome him on the battlefield naturally, kill him in a cut scene earlier on in the game where you have a tiny window to snipe him, or better yet…fast forward your in-game clock a few years, put the game back on, and see that he’s died of old age. Genius.

MGS3 The End

These are just two of many well thought-out bosses across the franchise. They all contribute to the story and feel like worthwhile adversaries. They don’t feel cheap, they don’t feel tacked on and they fulfil a specific narrative function.

The Evil Within has certainly helped to revitalise the mainstream, third-person, survival-horror genre in recent years. I think a huge part of its success has been its memorable boss battles. My favourite one being The Keeper. A big brute of a man in an apron, with a safe for his head.. The confined nature of the environment means he’s a constant threat. If you do manage to put him down, then he’ll re-emerge from one of several safes laying around. He’ll be reinvigorated and hound you once more, so kill him again; better to be safe than sorry.

EvilWithin The Keeper

How safe do you feel? Ok I’ll stop now.

One final case for the b word.

From Software. A fiendish company. Sickos. I love them.

Demon’s Souls. Dark Souls. Bloodborne. Border lining sadomasochistic, From Software have revelled in delivering these punishing games. There’s no point in naming bosses here. But due to the nature of the beast, the gameplay is accustomed to having a boss or two. The refined, methodical gameplay means that any deaths are your own fault. I’ve sadly learned this lesson the hard way, many times. But these bosses demand patience, they demand respect and demand you to begin a swear jar.

DS2 Demon of Song

So pretty, isn’t it?

But the feeling of satisfaction you get when one of these nightmares falls because of your blade, or bare hands if you’re crazy enough, is immensely satisfying.

The Verdict

I understand the concept of a boss fight, regardless of where it takes place in the game or what genre it falls in. But more often that not it doesn’t provide fun, nor does it feel satisfying. For every cool premise, another hurts the reputation of these encounters. I hate the difficulty spike of a boss, I hate the repetitive nature of them and the fact that they feel artificially tougher, just because. So I’d probably say that, I’m not a fan, but I’ll still do them of course. Why? Because I’m a gamer.

Comment below and tell me your boss stories!

– Andy.H. –

I'm a nerdy, tattooed 24 year-old. I'm a lifelong wrestling fan, I've been playing video games since before I was born, I'm a football fanatic who's in a relationship with Liverpool Football Club, I love many sports, a whole variety of TV and Film (especially Red Dwarf) and this bio probably doesn't even cover half of it. Soooo yeah. Read my writing you beautiful person who took time out of their day to read this.

One thought on “Boss Battles or no Boss Battles, that is the question…

  1. There’s definitely an art form to boss design. Make them too weak, and they aren’t memorable or lack presence. Make them too strong, and they just become a chore and not fun. I have similar feelings about Seth and Shao Kahn.

    I’m a big fan of the Mega Man games, but god damn the amount of times they are spoiled by an absolutely horrible last boss. Dr Wily in some of the classic entries, and even moreso Sigma in the X games.

    It’s funny that you love the Souls games, though. While I really enjoyed the more “realistic” combat those games gave (especially in 1-on-1 sword fights with knight type enemies), the one thing that keeps me away from them is how frustrating I found the boss fights. Demon’s Souls was an experience I loved, but Dark Souls was more a chore than something I enjoyed, and I’ve not returned to the series since. Similarly, I absolutely loved Nioh’s gameplay – until I reached the second boss which too me so many attempts that when I finally beat it, I stopped and sold the game because I didn’t want to deal with another one like it. I really adore the kind of realistic sword-play simulation, but when you introduce massive beasts like that it becomes a lot of tedious memory work and constant scrabbling to stay alive.

    On the other hand, though, a good boss fight can really make a game. Something that feels so memorable and exhilarating is often the thing I enjoy most about gaming. My favourites include:

    Devil May Cry – Challenging but perfectly doable. The original game really threw me with it’s difficulty in my teens, but once I played more I found it to be one of the most satisfying experiences in my gaming history. 1, 3 and 4 all had really fun bosses, that could be toppled with ease with a little practice. Plus, there were difficulty settings so you could easily find the best starting point depending on your skill level.

    Yakuza – Playing 6 at the moment, and the series manages to make one-on-one fist fights with big rivals feel like amazing showdowns. They have a ton more health than regular guys, but rarely have that feeling of being inhuman or overpowered.

    Gunstar Heroes – An oldie, but a great one. So many boss fights and they all have their own distinct patterns and ways to defeat them. Some are easy, some are harder, but they are all fights that feel that they are fair and are satisfying.

    Zelda – Almost always does great boss fights. Ocarina of Time really blew me away when I was a kid (for many reasons), but fights like Gohma, Bongo Bongo, Phantom Ganon etc really gave so much variety to boss fights. Pretty much every one had it’s own trick to work out, and were mostly easy once you knew how.

    (Wasn’t so keen on Breath of the Wild, though. Felt like it lost a bit of it’s usual boss mentality, and they were less varied and more spammy. Plus, breakable weapons. Ugh.)

    Like

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