255: Who's The Boss?

Who's The Boss?

Boss battles are a staple of nearly every genre of videogames. Andrew Webster explores the boss's impact on game design by talking to the developers behind indie titles Super Meat Boy and Boss Rush.

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Chris Cornell develops games now?!

Only a few genres need bosses:

2D side scrollers, platformers, RPGs, and...well. That's it.

Fighting games need to get rid of bosses, because they tend to just be really cheap and annoying to fight. They have to be balanced characters for competitive play, so they just make the fight hard by making them cheap.


I don't entirely agree here. I've said this before in the forums plenty of times, but I don't think most games need bosses. Almost all FPS's would turn out a better game if they just put you at increasingly disadvantageous positions against more and more enemies. Half the time bosses just feel intimidating, without being anywhere near as rewarding as finishing an intense battle. Not because they are necessarily any harder, just sometimes they feel out of place. I've always thought that bosses belong in RPGs, not straight up shooters.

For me personally, I love boss battles, however, it depends on the genre. Like Milky_Fresh said, I don't think boss battles belong in an FPS's either. I think they belong perfectly in platformers and RPG's. Some of my favourite boss battles are from the 2D Sonic games. Also, I like how boss battles can be hard in some games, I like the challenges they give me and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I defeat a boss.

I can't wait to fight against the bosses in Demon's Souls. No, really, I can't.

Is it just me, or does Super Meat Boy sound like something from a '90s sitcom made during the videogame hearings? I mean, Dr. Fetus? Kamikaze Squirrels? Turd racing for cryin' out loud? Don't get me wrong, it sounds like a creative and fun game, but after all of the recent discussions on this site about games as art, talking about Super Meat Boy so casually is almost like a tweed wearing college professor suddenly bursting into ebonics.

Edit: I just remembered what it really reminded me of; the "Lick My Love Pump" scene in This is Spinal Tap.

OT: I love a good boss fight, especially one that requires pattern memorization, instead of just extra whacking. Anyone remember the 7-Force or whatever it was called in Gunstar Super Heroes? I felt like a ninja with all the crazy dodging I was doing.

I enjoy a boss fight as much as the next boomerang waving do-gooder, but I'd have to agree with others in this thread - some games play just fine without them, particularly in any FPS.

Instance. Halo played nicely without any boss battles, just different types of enemies. Then Halo 2 added boss fights. And it just seemed like a bit of a cop out. The finale of Halo 2 involved chasing King Kong around and popping loads of matter at him. Halo 3's final boss? A ball. A metal ball. Bit of an anti-climax that.

The original Halo had a final enemy much more dangerous: a countdown timer. And a ridiculous space-road. You weren't avoiding fire from some predictable R-type thing - you were escaping asplodination, the final boss was TIME ITSELF.

Oh yeah, boss fights!
They represent the last challenge, forcing you to use all the skills you learned so far.
They're a great way to tell the player the level is over and all there's left is to fight against the bad giant thing that's waiting to be defeated.

They even have their own songs! Most of them plan to boil your blood during the thrill. How awesome is that?

Yep... I sure do like boss fights. As long as I don't take more than 10 tries to defeat the bastard. After that, it starts to get frustrating.

Bosses and sub bosses or lieutenant's changes the flow of the game and focus you and the developers to put to use the skills you have learned so far, the trouble is they don't always mix thing up or try and get you to use the tricks and techniques you have learned, Bosses have become more a arbitrary wall you have to hit your head on till you pass out or break it.

I will always hold dear my first memorable experience with boss fights in any videogame and I always expect today's bosses to be as epic and exciting as on this game. And I mean Zelda Ocarina of Time. Sure, before TLOZOoT there was Contra 3 with it's huge bosses in glorious 16 bit power, but Ocarina was the very first one wich made me struggle with amazingly epic bosses, out of all the bosses of that game, I can't really pick wich was my favorite as almost all of them are simply awesome.

The one I remember I struggled the most was Volvagia and Morpha, they were hard as hell back in the days. Today, the only few games that I think that delivered those epic moments just like Ocarina, and even more, were Shadow of The Colossus, Okami and the God of War trilogy. I don't want HUGE bosses, it counts a lot, but I want to struggle with them in an epic fight. That's why I hated Twilight Princess, the final battle with Ganondorf was very easy and very dissapointing compared to the whole game's bosses.

Best boss ever was that big fish thing in RE4. Yes, despite the quicktime events. Don't try to deny it, you're just lying to yourself.

I think bosses are a great part of games that is being pushed aside more and more. Punctation is really a good way to put it. You go further and further into some thing or other, and then you fight the boss and get release. Then, the mood lightens a little, but only until the threat of the new boss is made clear. To me, that works better when the boss is directly connected to the levels leading to it, or the other way round.

It also rewards you for learning to play the game, which is Game Design 101. Well, it should be.

One of the reviews for Saints' Row 2 I read praised it for having boss-like end levels for the gangs. It didn't pull it off that well (in fact, the final levels in the first Saints' Row felt a lot more like boss fights) but it goes to show there's still unexplored ground in this. How would YOU design a boss for a free-roaming action game?

Bosses are good when done right. I'm a big fan of the Metroid series; lots of variation in small bosses, a few big bosses who pull out all the stops and require both scanning/puzzle solutions as well as rapid fire reflexes.

Final bosses are becoming dangerously cliché. A final boss followed by a playable denouement? Better. See: Super Metroid, Metroid Prime 2, Metal Gear Solid 3... I'm trying to think of more, but essentially, a section of lower-key but still intense play - ideally with a slight taper off, followed by a few moments of complete freedom - should follow a final boss. Just feels wonderful.

That's why I hated Twilight Princess, the final battle with Ganondorf was very easy and very dissapointing compared to the whole game's bosses.

My personal opinion is that Twilight Princess and New Super Mario Bros Wii both failed in the boss departments. The hardest part of TP is getting through those endless caves with the enemies, where even the slightest nick of health can prove fatal later in the caves when the game starts throwing some really nasty enemies at you.

NSMB on the other hand was probably done that way so the game could be completed by most players, but harder options for longtime players such as myself would have been loved (Endless version of last boss perhaps? That was epic the first time i got to it).

Some games need bosses and some don't, even in the same genre. Metroid Prime could work without bosses, but bosses work in it very well. The same goes for any fantasy/sci-fi FPS where you can explain why the boss can take a bazillion rockets and not die. GTA, Call of Duty, Battlefield really don't need bosses as there set in more realistic worlds where everyone is made of paper.

What makes for a good boss is really tricky, it needs to be able to scale in difficulty accurately to suite the skill level of the player. It's also got to intimidate the player (Or subvert that and play the "Adorable but oh-so-deadly" card) and that's usually done by making them big and loud (Bowser, Ganon), or similar to the player (Axel Gear - Rocket Knight Adventures).

The Random One:
How would YOU design a boss for a free-roaming action game?

It's only worth trying to even put a boss in one if the environment and situation can support basic boss rules. Weak points, tons of health etc. If it was specifically for Saints Row/GTA style worlds, then the only boss style you can get away with is the "Puzzle boss". Slap the boss in a big protective thing like a Tank/Chopper and have the player have to slowly work there way towards (the boss/mcguffin that will defeat boss) while avoiding getting killed by the boss. Very little direct confrontation with the boss itself.

A game were bosses hav been used wrongly: Battletoads. Far too easy compared to the levels and the Last One was really disappointing

I think big boss enemies and glowing weak points are a bit silly in the context of many modern games. Mass Effect 2 springs to mind. I love boss battles in certain kinds of games though, and they can definitely provide some of the most memorable moments of intensity.

I think my favourite solution is a best-of-both-worlds scenario in which there is a unique battle that is not more intense just because of enemy numbers but due to the specific circumstances. This provides a keystone for the experience, but doesn't have to feature some kind of excessively grandiose beast/machine or outrageously durable human. I'm thinking of the entrance to Nova Prospekt in Half Life 2, which has you breaching an enemy fortification while hounded by deadly aerial threats. It's not a "boss fight" per se, but it serves the same purpose.

I think boss battles in any genre can be justified if A. There isn't a pattern that can be memorized. and B.In order to win you have to play better than you've ever played before. Any boss fight becomes easy as pie once you memorize a pattern and there's a certain appeal to fighting a single guy who challenges you to try and pull of risky maneuvers that you've never had to try before, and prevents you from using "safety" strategies to whittle him down.

Given the article graphic, I was hoping for some mention of Shadow of the Colossus, which is, arguably, nothing but boss battles with all the fodder between removed.

One thing that sticks with me about that game was how inevitably, one could not use a single tactic to defeat a colossus. In the context of more conventional boss battles, this is also often true, a contrast with the usual minion which is is defeated by some singular (or eat least simpler) tact.

A boss battle, properly handled, thus represents an real test for all the separate tactics one has learned. Of course handled poorly, it breaks the tactical patterns too much and seems out of place with too steep a learning curve. I can think of examples of failure in this latter regard in stealth play that suddenly decides when its boss-fighting-time to abruptly go full melee, even though the prior play actively discouraged such engagements.

ALternately, there would be other extreme: the success where the boss is a fluid organic escalation of the minion battle such that gameplay simply transitions without pause or experience of the common "oh, here comes the boss fight" moment.

Which brings me back to SotC - which pulls off much of that fluidity without a single minion, where the seamless movement through the environment is the preparatory experience.


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