So, I was really enjoying Sonic Generations; the Sega blue skies, the raft of nostalgia, the relative return to form of my favourite gaming mascot…..then the last boss happened. Well, actually, the last two bosses happened to be precise. I wouldn’t say that the horrifyingly poor design and subsequent frustration of these encounters ruined my experience with the game, but they certainly left an unpleasant taste in the mouth and invariably tarnished my otherwise pleasant memories of the previous 6-8 hours of gameplay.
The fact is, love them or hate them, boss battle have become an intrinsic aspect of videogame design and despite their overall prevalence waning slightly in recent years, are still a core tenant of the gameplay experience for many of the world’s leading developers (can you imagine a Zelda game without boss battles?). The thing is, by naturally bookending a gaming narrative, they more often than not represent your final experience with said game, and in a more immediate respect, close out any particular stage you may be playing through.
Their power is therefore great – they can make or break a stage, heck, they could arguably make or break an entire game (they often prove the most memorable aspect of many peoples gaming experiences). Should they continue to be such a fundamental facet of game design? Well, despite my recent disappointments at the hands of Sega, I’m inclined to say, yes. They provide a unique challenge, are often the visual centerpiece of a stage/game and do a great job of providing variety to games that could potentially grow otherwise stale.
Simply put; don’t remove boss battles, just make them better. Don’t have them for the sake of it, and perhaps most importantly, do not build the mechanics around the spectacle, but instead, build the experience from strong, well implemented gameplay (nobody wants another Jedi vs Star Destroyer fiasco). Basically, try to do it like this……….
Brash Games’ top 8 boss battles – (not in any particular order)
1)The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3)
It’s amazing how often the end of a videogame disappoints. All those hours put in only to be faced with an absolute wet fart of an ending (far too many to reference to count), but not Metal Gear Solid 3 though, oh no, sir! After hours of fantastic gameplay and arguably the most compelling tale of the Metal Gear series to date, everything finally comes to a head against ‘The Boss’ in one of the most beautifully set and downright theatrical battles of all time. It’s OTT, it’s melodramatic and yes, of course it’s self-indulgent, but hey, Hideo Kojima has been pulling off this kind of outrageous storytelling for years, and this is where it all comes together in its most perfected form. Oh, special mention to ‘The End’ too. Not everyone’s cup of team I’m sure, but come on, an hour long sniper battle that doesn’t even happen if a) you have the foresight to cap him earlier in the game or b) save the game and patiently wait for him to die of old age. Now that is ballsy.
2) Ganondorf (Twilight Princess)
It may not be the most beloved entry in the Zelda series, but there is no doubting the quality of the multi-tiered finale against the dastardly, Ganondorf. Personally, I loved just about every aspect of Twilight Princess (it really is a truly fantastic game), so as you can imagine, that brilliant final encounter did carry additional weight, but even if you found the previous 20-30 hours a bit of a slog, at least it went out with an almighty bang. It may not be narratively dramatic but from a purely technical standpoint just might be the strongest entry on this list and beyond that, there is the sheer scale and challenge to take into consideration – four forms, a chase across Hyrule field and a genuinely epic sword fight round off what is surely the greatest boss battle in Zelda’s illustrious history.
3) Bowser (Super Mario 64)
Looking back at the industry’s first tentative steps into the world of 3D, it’s amazing (and disappointing) just how many of the games you remember so fondly from your childhood are absolute turds by today’s standards. Whereas 16 bit era games (Super NES titles in particular) almost look as good today as the day they were originally developed, PSOne / N64 era games often show the signs of an industry coming to terms with a changing technology. Mario 64 really should be one of those games, but hey, we’re talking about Nintendo here. Not only did they nail just about every aspect of 3D game design on the first attempt, but in many respects, they perfected it. That’s never more apparent than in Mario’s battles against a now hulking Bowser. The mechanics are born out of the core experience and the challenge is built around that all new 3D space – it’s a boss battle that manages to encapsulate all the positive aspects and potential of 3D game design via the most basic of concepts, namely, by throwing a dragon by its tail.
4)Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
Everyone remembers Psycho Mantis, right!? Of course you do. Not only home to some very cool art design (isn’t that the case for all Metal Gear bosses?), but more importantly, home to one of the smartest, most subversive ideas in videogame history. Not only could this guy seemingly read your mind (well, your history of games played on the PSOne anyway), but he also seemed impervious to your attacks. Of course, as we all know, in the end, it was simply a matter of plugging the controller into the second slot and breaking his apparent mind control over you, but heck, what a great idea. It should be noted too that, while this would have been a great idea today, this all happened at a time when the majority of folk didn’t have internet access. You couldn’t just look this up; you had to figure it out for yourself….or wait until the game felt sorry for you and informed you via codec. Brilliant.
Resident Evil 4 is one of the greatest games of all time. From its then groundbreaking over the shoulder viewpoint to its perfect pacing, and of course; its array of first rate boss battles, Resident Evil 4 is arguably the perfect action/horror game. Now, anyone claiming this isn’t horror, for one; let’s not be silly. And, two; just check out the boss battles; demon midgets (is midget the correct term?….oh, it doesn’t matter – he was a demon), chainsaw wielding beasts and of course, Capcom’s very own take on Nessie. A very angry Nessie at that. In a game full of fantastic boss battles, Leon’s boat based skirmish against the nefarious Del Lago effortlessly rises to the top.
6) Glados (Portal)
Ok, so, I’ll be honest, part of this decision came down to what happened after the battle – yeah; that song! A truly spectacular game which somehow, in this day and age no less, came out of absolutely nowhere, happened to be outrageously well made and managed one more shock when it arguably delivered the greatest credits sequence of all time (check out “Still Here”, well, here funnily enough). Fantastic song aside though, Glados proves a surprisingly layered nemesis and a heck of a lot more interesting than the more generic hulking behemoths that we have become accustomed too over the years.
In a game made exclusively of boss battles, it’s still that first encounter with one of the mighty Colossi that leaves the most lasting impression. Sure, many would argue a case for the flying Phalanx, but that first time I came across Valus after tearing across the otherwise empty plains of the Forbidden Land on my trusty steed, Agro, proved a truly unforgettable experience, and to date, one of my very favourite gaming moments of all time. The sheer size, the grandeur and the bizarre sense of melancholy that accompanies each defeated foe all combine to create something truly unique and strangely moving – this is an unforgettable boss battle in a game of unforgettable boss battles.
8) Mike Tyson / Mr Dream (Punch Out!!)
Man, how many hours did I put into this game on the NES? Essentially a game of boss battles built into the context of a young fighter moving up through the ranks of professional boxing; each opponent was both visually and technically unique, creating an experience built upon classic boss battle requirements – namely skill and pattern recognition. Other than the laughably bad, Glass Joe, just about every opponent in the game is capable of knocking you on your ass on your first attempt. Tyson/Mr Dream (depends on which version you play) however; jeez, that guy will take your head off for the 100th time before laughing in your face. It’s an extremely unforgiving battle made no easier for the exemplary Wii remake. But hey, while taking on Tyson/Mt Dream can be one of the more infuriating gaming experiences around, with eventually victory comes that ultimate sense of accomplishment.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why this has been a top 8 rather than a top 10 list, well, the truth is, I just kinda ran out of puff to be honest.
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