Con-soul Searching: Change Boss Hogs
I had a problem on the last boss fight of No More Heroes 2. Even though I had no problems beating every other boss in the game, I had to fight the final boss 33 times before I beat him. Y’all, that ain’t right. At the time of this writing, I am having a similar problem with the final boss of Persona 3; tune into the next podcast for that epic story. I have heard people raise this question over the last few months and I scoffed at it before, but now I realize I need to look at things a little closer. Should games still have boss fights?
Why do we have boss fights in the first place? Like many other aspects of video games, they are a leftover from the arcade days. Brawler games like X-Men and TMNT had boss fights at the end of each level to keep us pumping in quarters. By design these enemies could kill you in one hit, had shields to protect them among other aspects to make them super cheap. Developers pushed the limits of cheapness in order to make more money. All the while, the bosses you had to fight seemed to break every rule of human limits and reality. Other than robbing your change, it wasn’t a big deal back then. Reality was a luxury that had no place being in arcade machines that let you beat up enormous robots and rip out human spines. In fact, it was accepted as the way games were; but what about now? I’m sure you have noticed this but we don’t play games in arcades anymore. Sadly, arcades are all but dead (everywhere except Japan) and some younger players have never even seen an arcade machine. So why has the money stealing, boss fight survived long past its initial purpose? I’m not sure if you should refer to it as tradition or an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
Uncharted is a game based in reality. Nathan Drake is the descendent of an actual historic figure. Nathan embarks on an adventure that delves into aspects of human nature. The game seems like a story you could hear about on the History channel; until the zombie creatures show up. Most annoying of all, the game ends with a painfully tedious boss fight. I have heard others complain about said boss fight so why was it put into the game? The cover and shooting mechanics that had worked so well up to that point were compromised for the encounter and lead to me shouting at the screen. I wonder if Naughty Dog ever stopped to ask if a final boss was needed? I think we are conditioned to expect a boss at the end of a game. If there isn’t a final encounter, we feel the game is anticlimactic. For example, the final fight in WET was an extended quick time event. Many complained it was a poor way to end the game, but would it have been better to go through a long battle where the enemy has an unrealistic amount of hit points and some move that can kill you in one hit?
Penny Arcade Adventures episode two also comes to mind. I beat that game in one sitting, as I did the first. By the end of the game I thought things we ramping up for a final boss encounter. I remember thinking, “I don’t wanna fight this thing; maybe it will just die on its own.” Much to my surprise, it did. Be careful what you wish for I guess. After the credits rolled, I felt a strange a mix of joy and sorrow. I was relieved not to fight the boss (as I had wished) but the game left me with an unfinished feeling. Feel free to tell me how crazy that sounds? One moment I can’t wait for the game to be over, the next I am disappointed the game is over.
I don’t feel boss fights should go away, but I think they need to be retooled a bit. The traditional quarter munching enemy needs to fit with the story and game mechanics and most importantly not feel cheap. It has to be a nightmare to design games. Imagine trying to make a boss rewarding to defeat without adding in one hit kills and such. Super Metroid has one of the most epic final encounters ever with Mother Brain rising out of her chamber with a mechanical body. No More Heroes 2 has a guy with a triple, teleporting, homing punch. Go to YouTube and watch videos of both fights then tell me how to make we can make all boss fights awesome.