Why Boss Fights are rubbish

Mark Green says giant killing is most game's weak spot

This opinion column originally appeared in Nintendo Gamer magazine.

After some consideration, I've decided that my original manifesto idea for this month - the thing where in-game menus are two options deep and the highlighting rolls over from top to bottom and you can't work out which of the options you've actually highlighted - is probably a fraction too narrow.


So for Nintendo Gamer Nintendo Gaming Manifesto point six, let's talk about something bigger. Much bigger. Namely: bosses. And my colossal, roaring, charge-attacking, ground-tremoring, one-giant-vulnerable-eyed hatred for them. It's not just me, surely? Does anyone actually savour the chance to spend 15 minutes locked in a room with the physical manifestation of a game's inability to finish a level neatly and consistently? Victory over a boss brings relief and a sense of accomplishment, sure - but so does finally, tearfully forcing down an unexpected lump of pasty gristle, and I don't see anyone putting that in a game. (Perhaps we should just be thankful we're not PS3 owners: Final Fantasy XII's ultimate boss has 50 full health bars and takes a real-life week to beat. Faced with that ordeal, you'd want the option of just sitting down and talking it out like grown-ups.)

Bosses cheat, they blithely swat away most of your hard-earned moves (the excellent TV Tropes site calls this "Contractual Boss Immunity"), you can't save mid-battle if it's time for bed, and they're often unrelated to the level or even the entire game. The ever smart-alecky Kid Icarus Uprising even openly mocks the absurdity of its surprise Kraken monster in chapter eight.

Bosses should sit down for a training session with those from the irresistible Bit.Trip Runner: they're pure, unflashy extensions of the levels. Tough, yes, but not designed so 80% of your time is spent trying to stay alive while searching frantically for weak points, like a doctor trying to locate a boil while the patient swings at them with a cutlass. (Note that, of course, I haven't beaten Bit.Trip's rock-hard final boss. Because nobody has. Oh, you've seen him off, have you? No. You haven't. Nobody has.)


Or go the Resi route and let us buy our way out of boss battles with an air-punchingly awesome one-hit-kill rocket launcher. That saves you dying and having to sit glaze-eyed through the pre-battle cutscene again, complete with the boss's apparent short-term memory loss: "Haha, we meet at last!", "Er yes... are we not counting the huge battle we fought five minutes ago then?"

What I really want, though, is fewer big, angry basts. No one likes a grumpychops, after all. And I'd prefer to see levels end with the gameplay we paid for, rather than force us to play skipping-rope with a giant flailing tail, or wade through long sequences of quicktime button presses like I'm trying to call an international phone number with a tricky dialing code.

Next month's manifesto point: that infuriating thing where the loading bar doesn't provide a true mathematical indication of exactly how much loading time is left. Or, more likely, not that.