Boss Battles Roundup 3


bowser

 

The “boss bat­tle” is one of gam­ing’s old­est tropes, and it rears its unpre­dictable head in a wide vari­ety of AAA games, whether it belongs there or not.  I asked the Ontological Geek staff to respond to four ques­tions about the nature and pur­pose of boss bat­tles, so we could try to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of what they are, why they exist, which games han­dle them well, and which games han­dle them poor­ly.

The four ques­tions I asked every­one to answer are:

1. What role ought a boss bat­tle fill?
2. Name (and explain) a game which uses boss bat­tles well, and why.
3. Talk about a game which uses boss bat­tles poor­ly, and why.
4. Analyze a par­tic­u­lar boss bat­tle and explain why it works or does­n’t work.

Hannah DuVoix

What role ought a boss bat­tle fill?

The ques­tion of the vir­tu­ous boss bat­tle boils down to the kind of game to which it belongs. In prac­tice, there are gen­er­al­ly two kinds of boss bat­tles: ludo­log­i­cal check­points and nar­ra­tive high points. It’s hard to say when the dis­tinc­tion arose, though it’s a safe bet that the for­mer pre­dat­ed the lat­ter.

Ludological check­points are the kind of bat­tle typ­i­fied in Zelda games; you get an item or tech­nique in a dun­geon, use it against the boss. Advancement in the game is con­tin­gent on pro­fi­cien­cy. You can­not con­tin­ue on in the game unless you have proven apt enough to get past the enemy in the last room of the level. To return to Zelda, apart from the­mat­ic dif­fer­ences, any of the boss­es in Ocarina of Time can be swapped out for any other. There is no real rea­son, for exam­ple, that Gohma must be the first boss you encounter, as opposed to later on in the game. The boss­es’ inter­change­abil­i­ty is due to their role as tests for the play­er rather than hav­ing much nar­ra­tive sig­nif­i­cance. Even in cases where the boss­es aren’t inter­change­able, ludo­log­i­cal check­points focus more on pro­fi­cien­cy in game­play and the player’s skill.

Narrative high points, though they may require pro­fi­cien­cy with cer­tain items, are cen­tered in chal­lenges that are sig­nif­i­cant to the nar­ra­tive. You con­tend with this boss at this time because your agency as a char­ac­ter and the boss’ agency as an opposed char­ac­ter inter­sect at this point. You fight Kai Leng in Mass Effect 3 for very spe­cif­ic rea­sons each time you meet him. Though Shepard must be lev­eled up enough and employ some strat­e­gy to defeat him, the Kai Leng encoun­ters, for exam­ple, are more focused on the story of Shepard bring­ing right­eous jus­tice to the mur­der­er of Thane (sob).

I’m not about to make a moral judg­ment on which is the supe­ri­or kind of boss bat­tle. First, I don’t think a real answer exists. Second, to attempt an answer would be ter­ri­bly unfair to a sub­stan­tial por­tion of qual­i­ty games. As with most things in life, it is best to acknowl­edge that both kinds of bat­tles can be excel­lent in their own way.

Name (and explain) a game which uses boss bat­tles well, and why.

Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal:

I’ve been a gamer since I can remem­ber, and I’ve taken on many boss­es in my day. But the gym lead­ers of the first two gen­er­a­tions of Pokémon (which are the only ones I played con­tem­porar­i­ly) will always hold a spe­cial place in my heart.

Though nom­i­nal­ly gov­erned by the story of a young boy (or girl, thank you Crystal) try­ing to be the best like no one ever was, the pac­ing of the GSC gen­er­a­tion was dri­ven entire­ly by the play­er, how far ze had come up to that point. And what bet­ter way to test the play­er than pit­ting hir against gym lead­ers, six­teen in all. Each of these gyms is struc­tured like a maze that forces you to con­front sev­er­al train­ers as you made your way to the leader. These mazes them­selves often posed a bit of a chal­lenge (I remem­ber not very fond­ly Saffron City’s end­less tele­port­ing tiles), adding an addi­tion­al level to the chal­lenge you faced each town.

Further, each of these gyms was spe­cial­ized to dif­fer­ent types of Pokémon. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing ample oppor­tu­ni­ty for them­ing that makes each town feel unique and mem­o­rable, the gyms give you the chance to test your reg­u­lar party against var­i­ous types, which is very use­ful on your way to become a Pokémon Master. The chal­lenges are designed to make you bet­ter at the game, which is pret­ty much how boss­es ought to work in games.

Talk about a game which uses boss bat­tles poor­ly, and why.

Smash Bros. series:

As a series, the Smash Bros. games have always been an odd­i­ty. The con­cept was fresh and orig­i­nal (in the 90s) and has already been per­fect­ly exe­cut­ed (in the GameCube days). Now Nintendo is stretch­ing the last orig­i­nal thought it’s had in over a decade as far as it can go. What does this have to do with boss­es, you ask? The fact that there are new boss­es com­plete­ly divorced from any pre­vi­ous Nintendo IP when the game’s core con­cept is a grudge match between all its pre­vi­ous IPs (and some from Sony and Sega).

Since Melee, the SB games have fea­tured Bowser, who it could be fair­ly argued is the orig­i­nal boss char­ac­ter as a playable char­ac­ter. They also have Ganondorf, whose pre­vi­ous appear­ances right­ly go down in boss bat­tle his­to­ry. I remem­ber fond­ly the times in my child­hood I spent fight­ing Bowser and Ganondorf. I do not, how­ev­er, recall from my youth con­fronta­tions with Duon, Galleom, or Tabu. The imple­men­ta­tion of new char­ac­ters in a game designed to ele­vate old char­ac­ters miss­es the point some­how.

Analyze a par­tic­u­lar boss bat­tle and explain why it works or does­n’t work.

The End – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

The End is an ancient, pho­to­syn­the­siz­ing (Just go with it. It’s Kojima, after all) sniper who Snake must chal­lenge in his coming-of-age quest to sur­pass his men­tor, the Boss. The Metal Gear Solid series has always had an excep­tion­al finesse with regards to boss­es, and the End is per­haps the per­fect exe­cu­tion of an MGS boss. Or any sort of boss, for that mat­ter. Snake’s throw-down with the End is the exem­plar of the game­play over­haul attempt­ed in the third Metal Gear Solid game, and embod­ies every­thing I love about the series.

The setup is sim­ple: You and the End in a for­est. Neither of you know for cer­tain where the other is, and your job is to find and defeat him before he does the same to you. You have tech­nol­o­gy you can use to find and track him (heat/night vision gog­gles), and he has a bird that spies on you. You can each either opt to track the other down and capture/kill at close range, or you can engage in a rootin’ tootin’ snipe hunt. Oh, and you both need to eat to stay alive.

This bat­tle is the most intense boss expe­ri­ence I’ve ever had, and it is unlike any­thing else I’ve played. Unlike the other set piece bat­tles in the game, no music plays. The game pro­vides no extra ten­sion through the sound­track because it doesn’t need to. You are engaged in a duel of equals, per­fect­ly matched, and you must hunt or die. Framing the con­fronta­tion in this way not only per­fect­ly cap­i­tal­izes on the sur­vival sys­tems of Snake Eater, it serves as the ulti­mate test of your Snake-skills. Snake is a survival-badass and a nerves-of-steel sol­dier. The fight with the End gives you the chance to prove that you are, too.

Matt Schanuel

What role ought a boss bat­tle fill?

Ideally, a boss bat­tle ought to serve as a cul­mi­na­tion of a sequence – bring­ing to full the the­mat­ic, aes­thet­ic or mechan­i­cal aspects of the pre­ced­ing sec­tion of the game. The boss bat­tle most fre­quent­ly serves as cli­max, but I’m uncom­fort­able with man­dat­ing that a boss bat­tle should always serve that pur­pose. Boss bat­tles occa­sion­al­ly serve as denoue­ment to a cli­max – see the Yevon con­flict after the clash with Jecht in Final Fantasy X, which is sans con­flict and impos­si­ble to lose, and thus does­n’t have the cli­mac­tic mechan­i­cal expres­sion as the pre­vi­ous fight, nor the emo­tion­al and dra­mat­ic res­o­nance, and so serves as a falling action rather than a peak.

Name (and explain) a game which uses boss bat­tles well, and why.

Shadow of the Colossus has been described as “just boss bat­tles,” but that isn’t quite fair; the game’s six­teen sec­tions are intro­duced by explo­ration through des­o­late and pri­mor­dial loca­tions that prompt reflec­tion and which cul­mi­nate in clash­es with titan­ic crea­tures that exhib­it a slew of dif­fer­ent ideas and tem­pera­ments. The mechan­ics for deal­ing with the colos­si are based around climb­ing and problem-solving, and the game becomes an exer­cise in strat­e­gy and endurance, which suits the game still atmos­phere and slow pace.

Talk about a game which uses boss bat­tles poor­ly, and why.

Any time Assassin’s Creed throws a tougher oppo­nent at the play­er than an elite guard, it becomes inef­fec­tive. It uses the same com­bat sys­tem and tools that usu­al­ly allows you to feel like a pow­er­ful assas­sin (com­prised of pow­er­ful coun­ters and instant kills), but to make it more chal­leng­ing, it just makes it so your most pow­er­ful tools don’t work. It does­n’t tell you that before­hand; you just fail when you attempt to use them. As a result, it feels unusu­al­ly con­strained, and like some­thing you just sort of slog through to get to the other side; not a very effec­tive cli­max.

Analyze a par­tic­u­lar boss bat­tle and explain why it works or does­n’t work.

Dead Space has large­ly inef­fec­tive boss encoun­ters; it pits you against mas­sive crea­tures that don’t project the same sort of too-close-for-comfort ter­ror that the game excels at. The stand-out is an encounter with a hulk­ing, but still man-sized, ter­ror that end­less­ly regen­er­ates. That sense of pow­er­less­ness, that one is being relent­less­ly hunt­ed, is pow­er­ful. The encoun­ters are stretched across two dif­fer­ent chap­ters, and the final solu­tions are always using the envi­ron­ment to elim­i­nate the crea­ture. It takes a cue from sci-fi/horror pre­de­ces­sor Alien, and it’s played out to great effect; this sequence is the game’s most ter­ri­fy­ing and breath­less, and prob­a­bly the best mechan­i­cal expres­sion of the sort of hor­ror that the game attempts to depict.

Tom Dawson

What role ought a boss bat­tle fill?

The func­tion of a boss char­ac­ter is that of a mark­er, a mile­stone for char­ac­ter or nar­ra­tive pro­gres­sion. Some are imbued with great power, requir­ing an equal­ly pow­er­ful play­er char­ac­ter to defeat them, while oth­ers derive impor­tance from their plot rel­e­vance or emo­tion­al con­nec­tion to the play­er char­ac­ter. The game could be a side-scrolling plat­former or a story-driven RPG, but the boss char­ac­ter will nor­mal­ly appear at the end of a sub­sec­tion of the game, whether that sub­sec­tion takes the form of a level or the con­clu­sion of a quest line. Bosses are a sym­bol of growth, either in char­ac­ter lev­els, play­er skill or char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and defeat­ing them is a demon­stra­tion of that growth. The same logic applies to option­al boss­es (Ruby & Emerald Weapon of FFVII are great exam­ples) in that they exist sep­a­rate from the script­ed pro­gres­sion of the game, but are still a hur­dle to be over­come when the play­er feels they have grown strong enough. To beat a boss demon­strates pro­gres­sion in a way that ever-increasing XP bars can­not, and in addi­tion to pro­vid­ing a chal­lenge they rein­force to the play­er that char­ac­ter growth is tak­ing place.

Name (and explain) a game which uses boss bat­tles well, and why.

Blue Dragon. For no rea­son other than that every boss bat­tle, every sin­gle one, has this boss theme. What more needs to be said?

Talk about a game which uses boss bat­tles poor­ly, and why.

Due to the nature of open-world game design, which gives play­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to wan­der away from script­ed sto­ry­lines and dick about at their own pace, boss char­ac­ters in such games are often under­whelm­ing. They lack an inbuilt aware­ness of pac­ing, as the play­er may face them at level 5, 15 or 372, and as such devel­op­ers strug­gle to find ways to make boss char­ac­ters a chal­lenge to tougher play­ers with­out being a night­mare for younger ones.  Skyrim is a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad offend­er, given the myr­i­ad ways for a play­er to grow stronger through non plot-based explo­ration, allow­ing for those who have lev­elled up sig­nif­i­cant­ly to trounce sup­pos­ed­ly fright­en­ing ene­mies. The final boss, Alduin the World-Eater, is such a triv­ial threat to a suf­fi­cient­ly lev­elled play­er that my char­ac­ter had no need to fight with tac­tics or strat­e­gy; I sim­ply stood in one spot, trust­ing my max-strength enchant­ed plate armour to pro­tect me while I rained arrows on the foe.  This turned what ought to have been an awe­some spec­ta­cle into just anoth­er day at the office, vast­ly less­en­ing the impact that per­form­ing such a leg­endary feat should have had.

While an argu­ment could be made that Alduin’s defeat was intend­ed to be impres­sive from a nar­ra­tive rather than mechan­i­cal stand­point, thanks to the afore­men­tioned open-ended story struc­ture it car­ries lit­tle weight to play­ers who’ve wan­dered the world doing their own thing and large­ly for­get­ting about the main quest line. The bat­tle stands as the end of just anoth­er quest rather than as a great chal­lenge over­come, and for a game’s final boss the expe­ri­ence is deeply under­whelm­ing. The same applies to almost every other boss char­ac­ter encoun­tered; the player’s abil­i­ty to become a walk­ing tank sub­verts both the nar­ra­tive pur­pose of and mechan­i­cal abil­i­ties of boss­es, leav­ing them as noth­ing more than named mooks. With so many sto­ries to jug­gle, Skyrim dilutes the impact any one of them can have, and with boss­es being nei­ther a test of skill nor of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance to the blank slate main char­ac­ter they inevitably become unim­por­tant.

Analyze a par­tic­u­lar boss bat­tle and explain why it works or does­n’t work.

Batman: Arkham City is for the most part quite weak in terms of boss bat­tles. As many of the Dark Knight’s more icon­ic ene­mies are no more super­pow­ered than he is, they are often con­tent to allow their thugs to do the brawl­ing for them, reduc­ing bat­tles with big-name crim­i­nals to just anoth­er in a string of mul­ti­tudi­nous brawls. Those who are pos­sessed of greater skill or abil­i­ties, like Deadshot or Bane, are dimin­ished by their stu­pid­i­ty or even by bypass­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a fight entire­ly. However, one exam­ple stands above the rest as an almost per­fect amal­ga­ma­tion of the best fea­tures of boss bat­tles, and that’s the face-off with Mr Freeze.

As con­fronta­tion begins the first instinct is to fol­low the estab­lished method and twat him in the face. Unfortunately Freeze, as the play­er quick­ly learns, is too pow­er­ful for Batman to tack­le head-on (or even with a swift boot to the back of the head) and will require adop­tion of ele­ments from both the stealth game­play and the gadget-based com­bat. By lur­ing Freeze near to an inter­ac­tive scenery object, Batman can use one of his won­der­ful lit­tle toys to turn the envi­ron­ment against his foe and then put in a few swift boots while Freeze is stunned. However, he can’t fool Freeze twice with the same trick; the vil­lain will sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly knock out attack options as they’re used, forc­ing the play­er to adapt their strat­e­gy on the fly. Unlike more tra­di­tion­al boss fights the empha­sis is not on repeat­ed­ly exploit­ing a weak spot, but on patience and obser­va­tion. By using the scenery to your advan­tage, and tim­ing attacks well, Freeze will even­tu­al­ly fall in a fash­ion much more sat­is­fy­ing than a sim­ple punch-up.

Aaron Gotzon

It could be said, not at all inac­cu­rate­ly, that boss bat­tles are the appen­dices of gam­ing: ves­ti­gial remains of pre­vi­ous evo­lu­tion­ary iter­a­tions; in this case the big black soul-sucking boxes that used to be ubiq­ui­tous in every self-respecting shop­ping mall and pizza joint in the coun­try (that is, before we all appar­ent­ly up and decid­ed to do away with malls and eat-in pizza, to make room for…Stars Buck, I guess?).  However, like its bio­log­i­cal cousin, the boss bat­tle still some­how man­ages to retain a few use­ful func­tions.

Like the “rule of threes” in oral com­e­dy, there are some design tropes that are long­stand­ing because they are effec­tive, and (per­haps more impor­tant­ly) unique to the medi­um they’re serv­ing.

Consider a lin­ear game which presents a nar­ra­tive with a clear through-line – pret­ty pop­u­lar these days, what with all the The Biolast of Infinitely Shocking Us get­ting such high praise.   Boss bat­tles are tests of the skills we’ve had to learn to get far enough in the game to come face to face with the King or Queen of the bad’uns, and strive to push us father than we’ve hereto­fore been pushed; strate­gi­cal­ly or mechan­i­cal­ly.  This pro­gres­sion often nec­es­sar­i­ly match­es the nar­ra­to­log­i­cal arc, and helps to enforce it; the action and inten­si­ty (con­flict) crest­ing and falling but always main­tain­ing a net gain of iner­tia until the cli­max in which the arc is resolved, and a brief winding-down peri­od for clo­sure.

Punctuating key stops along the jour­ney facil­i­tates the wavy line a com­fort­able nar­ra­tive has to draw.  Each stop along the way intro­duces a cru­cial ele­ment, devel­op­ment, or obsta­cle, and the process of over­com­ing and mov­ing for­ward is illus­trat­ed by the game­play build­ing inten­si­ty up to a dis­crete point of reck­on­ing.  Consider Chrono Trigger (sort of a proto-Mass Effect with its episod­ic struc­ture, ensem­ble cast, and empha­sis on mul­ti­ple end­ings); each boss fits per­fect­ly with the rel­e­vant episode’s them­ing and rep­re­sents a unique threat to the main char­ac­ters’ rather per­son­al, reflec­tive jour­neys of self-actualization as well as the cen­tral quest arc – that of using time trav­el to pre­vent the apoc­a­lypse.

About mid­way through Chrono Trigger, the heroes find them­selves in a remote cav­ern in the mid­dle ages star­ing down a pair of twin enti­ties, Masa and Mune.  The first seg­ment of the bat­tle has your team fight­ing them as an oppos­ing army of two.  My fledg­ing gamer brain react­ed very strong­ly to the sec­ond phase of the bat­tle, in which they fuse togeth­er into a burly, threat­en­ing form, and dif­fer­ent, tri­umphant music begins to play.  Admittedly, at the time I was quite dis­ap­point­ed, think­ing that I was fac­ing the final bat­tle all too soon.  As good design would have it, this was sim­ply a very effec­tive dra­mat­ic phase of the game’s ongo­ing action, and though there was a quiet moment to fol­low (Chrono Trigger is very very good at these), the worst and best were both yet to come.

Back to BioShock Infinite for a moment:  many peers I respect think that there are seri­ous prob­lems with Infinite, most­ly in terms of the (VIOLENT) nature of the game­play dis­re­spect­ing and dis­tract­ing from the story it’s try­ing to tell.  I feel like that’s valid, though we all have very dif­fer­ent ideas of what Infinite is about, which I think is rather the point.   Consider the end­ing or the title.

Notwithstanding how effec­tive­ly it man­ages its gameplay/story seg­re­ga­tion oth­er­wise, clear­ly it flirts with a boss struc­ture but man­ages to either fall total­ly short or dodge the issue.  Like Andrew Ryan in the orig­i­nal BioShock, there are major ene­mies who are built up mon­strous crea­tures who through chance or fate are vying for the chance to quite thor­ough­ly ruin your day.  This time around there are at least two, and these are dis­patched Ryan-style in unsat­is­fy­ing (albeit rather shock­ing) cutscenes.  Where Infinite real­ly fal­ters, though, is in its final engage­ment.  Unlike BioShock, which placed less empha­sis on com­bat than its baby broth­er, Infinite bor­rows against itself by giv­ing us every rea­son to be jazzed for a swash­buck­ling grand finale in the sky, only to turn said finale into a frus­trat­ing wave attack/tower defense at the very end.

This isn’t to say Infinite is weak­ened because it lacked real boss­es; it weak­ened itself by fol­low­ing the well-worn pat­tern of pac­ing which leaves holes for boss­es, and fail­ing to fill those holes in an effec­tive way.

So, to sum up, boss­es are one of the ear­li­est per­sist­ing gam­ing tropes; they’re even man­ag­ing to sur­vive their slow dis­en­gage­ment from the strict “level” struc­ture.  They’re not going away any time in the fore­see­able future.  Interestingly, though I could think of sev­er­al exam­ples, Infinite being the most egre­gious, of boss bat­tles mak­ing a game weak­er by being weak or poorly-designed expe­ri­ences in and of them­selves, I find myself hard-pressed to imag­ine sce­nar­ios in which the boss struc­ture would be nec­es­sar­i­ly unwel­come.  As we’ve dis­cussed before, fight­ing gigan­tic demons and fac­ing our fears by two-way proxy is one of the biggest rea­sons peo­ple turn to gam­ing.

So fac­ing down the Koopa Bros. ulti­mate attack might not just be fun, it may in fact rep­re­sent one of the most impor­tant cor­ner­stones of videogames.

Bill Coberly

What role ought a boss bat­tle fill?

Boss bat­tles, used cor­rect­ly, func­tion as nar­ra­tive or mechan­i­cal high points of the game — either a show­down with a par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant vil­lain or at least a way of show­cas­ing the game’s mechan­ics.  In order to real­ly be a boss bat­tle, and not just “an impor­tant encounter,” it feels like the fight has to have slight­ly dif­fer­ent rules from the rest of the game, while still being rec­og­niz­able as the same game.  Think of the boss fight at the end of FTL as a good exam­ple of what I mean — none of the other fights feel quite like that, but it’s iden­ti­fi­able as the same game, extrap­o­lat­ing from the same rule­set.

Name (and explain) a game which uses boss bat­tles well, and why.

I’d like to say Kingdom Hearts here, but I haven’t actu­al­ly played it in a mil­lion years, so I’m not sure if that’s just nos­tal­gia speak­ing.  Less face­tious­ly, I’ll return to FTL, up above.  Not every­one enjoys the boss bat­tle at the end of FTL, but I find it to work very well as a test of the ship you’ve built through­out the game.  It checks in turn to make sure you have a response to every major form of attack — reg­u­lar weapons, cloak­ing devices, board­ing par­ties, drones, etc. and then gives you a bit of time to restock and repair in between each major stage, while main­tain­ing FTL’s omnipresent time limit.  It also func­tions as a nice inver­sion of the usual direc­tion of the game — usu­al­ly, you are mov­ing to the right on the map to some des­ti­na­tion, flee­ing the Rebel fleet, where­as here you are inter­cept­ing a ship which is itself try­ing to get to the right.  In the end of FTL, your roles are reversed.

Talk about a game which uses boss bat­tles poor­ly, and why.

I was a lit­tle sur­prised nobody men­tioned Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so I guess I have to.  The boss bat­tles in DXHR are a par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious exam­ple of shoe­horned boss fights that exist because some­body real­ized videogames are sup­posed to have boss bat­tles in them.  I said above that boss bat­tles should tweak the rules of the game while still being iden­ti­fi­able as the same game, and this is where DXHR fails.  HR’s boss fights devolve into clum­sy fire­fights, devoid of the strat­e­gy and patience that char­ac­ter­izes the rest of the game.  Jensen, the play­er char­ac­ter, remains just as frag­ile as he is in the rest of the game, but the ene­mies become sub­stan­tial­ly more capa­ble of tak­ing bul­lets.  Normal ene­mies in HR die very quick­ly, and the game’s mechan­ics assume this through­out.  It’s not designed for lengthy fire­fights, and it shows — not a sin­gle human being enjoyed those three sec­tions.  Though Matt did per­form a pret­ty great read of them here which attempts to explain why they might not be com­plete­ly unsal­vage­able.

Analyze a par­tic­u­lar boss bat­tle and explain why it works or does­n’t work.

The Siren fight in BioShock Infinite is the most annoy­ing thing I have sub­mit­ted myself to in a very, very long time.  She flies around unpre­dictably, inex­plic­a­bly rean­i­mat­ing dead ene­mies, all the while war­bling the same three bars of the Lacrymosa from Mozart’s Requiem in a dis­tort­ed voice.  She comes from the “bul­let sponge” school of design, where rather than mak­ing ene­mies behave in more inter­est­ing ways, they just have tons of hit points.  Further, her abil­i­ty to rean­i­mate ene­mies means that there are near­ly always a zil­lion min­ions around here tak­ing pot­shots at her — and since these min­ions A, don’t stay dead, and B, don’t always drop ammu­ni­tion, they are noth­ing more than pesky annoy­ances.  Further, you have to do this boss fight three times, with no sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences between them other than the envi­ron­ment.

This might be for­giv­able if there was at least a strong nar­ra­tive com­pul­sion to fight the Siren, but there isn’t — she’s flown into a mind­less, vicious rage sim­ply because that’s what women do, right?  There’s no rea­son to fight her once, much less three times.  It’s prob­a­bly the game’s nadir, both in terms of the nar­ra­tive and any sense of swash­buck­ling fun you might have been hav­ing.


3 thoughts on “Boss Battles Roundup

  • jama

    Now Nintendo is stretch­ing the last orig­i­nal thought it’s had in over a decade […]”

    I regard Nintendo as one of the strong­holds of cre­ativ­i­ty in the whole videogame indus­try, far from what you are accus­ing them of being. They have been by far the most busy in the con­sole sec­tor to inno­vate with input devices (dou­ble screen, touch­screen, motion con­trols, tablet in recent years). They intro­duced new or rehauled old IPs (Nintendogs, Big Brain Academy, Wii Sports and Fit, Kid Icarus Uprising, the Super Mario Galaxies, Metroid Prime series, Kirby Epic Yarn…). That aside, I would argue that ‘orig­i­nal thoughts’ are not only about re-inventing a genre or intro­duc­ing new IPs, but just as equal­ly can be about mak­ing (small) tweaks to exist­ing game­play mechan­ics or chang­ing the artis­tic direc­tion of a game. I find that Nintendo does this in an abun­dant fash­ion too.

    What makes you say that Nintendo has had no orig­i­nal thought since the incep­tion of the Smash Bros. series?

  • Robyrt

    It seems like there are two car­di­nal boss fight errors: pac­ing and test­ing the right skills. A prop­er boss fight is nei­ther com­plete­ly triv­ial nor unnec­es­sar­i­ly long, and adds a new wrin­kle to what the play­er has been learn­ing recent­ly with­out suc­cess or fail­ure being total­ly reliant on the new wrin­kle.

    Depending on the con­text of the game, the rote Big Boss Fight fea­tures — a bul­let sponge, peri­od­ic expos­ing of weak points, a pow­er­ful attack forc­ing the play­er to move around the arena fre­quent­ly — can be either total­ly inap­pro­pri­ate or com­plete­ly jus­ti­fied. The “Ghost Mom” boss who was the source of so much frus­tra­tion in Bioshock Infinite would not be dis­so­nant at all in Gears of War, where the play­er already has to avoid fire from weak­er ene­mies, pump stronger ene­mies full of a half-dozen sniper rounds, and exhaust their avail­able ammo as part of nor­mal game­play.

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