26 May 2008

Is there any way to kill the end-of-level boss?

I noticed that The Edge magazine has an article in a recent issue asking if boss fights are a cliché that should be wiped out.

My vote is an enthusiastic and wholehearted yes.

Last night I got to the penultimate battle of “Prince of Persia: Rival Swords”. After about half an hour of frustration and annoyance, I gave up. The rest of the game was great, but the last major battle (with the Vizier) exemplifies everything that’s lame and sucky about traditional “boss fights”, with some Wii-specific obnoxiousness added to the mix.

  1. You’re in a circular arena with no cover and no option to take a strategic approach.
  2. In the second stage, the boss is immune to normal attacks. The only way to harm him is to (a) run up a wall behind him, then (b) do a special “speed kill” combo.
  3. The arena is filled with floating rotating stone rubble that, rather than simply pushing you aside, for some reason explodes and does you damage if you touch any of it.
  4. To “enhance” the Wii version, they added extra swirling sand that swirls in the way so you can’t see what you’re doing.
  5. Because of 3 and 4, the frame rate drops in half.
  6. Either the timing is arbitrarily tighter for the final battle, or the frame rate drop affects the controls. Either way, it’s substantially harder to get the special attack to be registered properly than at any previous point in the game. This is particularly true because it’s a Wii port of a game designed for conventional console controllers, so the action you have to time to within a fraction of a second is shaking the nunchuck downwards.
  7. You have to do the almost-impossible-to-time special attack several times in a row.
  8. Once you do that, you’re still not done, there’s a third stage that requires an even more ridiculous combination of jumps and leaps between floating debris, then do another speed kill.
  9. Because the Wii is 16:9 and they didn’t rework the battle sequences to fit vertically, the flashing dagger that’s the cue to jerk the controller is sometimes offscreen. This is a problem throughout the game, but it becomes particularly annoying during this fight.
  10. If you die, you have to go back to stage 1 and do the whole thing again.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can see the final battle in all its irritating stupidity.

Now, there are video game boss fights that aren’t awful. Nintendo tend to do a good job of them. I had no objection to the bosses in any of the 3D Zelda games, because each time there was a strategy that you could work out that would make them pretty easy.

The first Metroid Prime had a couple of questionable boss fights, but after that they pretty much realized what they were doing wrong, and things got progressively better over the next two games in the series.

But in general, while I tolerate good boss fights, I never find myself wishing there were more of even the best ones. Almost all boss fights are lame pieces of arena combat where your abilities are crippled and then you’re given frustrating pieces of arbitrary crap to do, that has to be exactly timed and unnecessarily repeated.

I know there are people who love that sort of thing, of course. For those people, there are games like Shadow of the Colossus. For the rest of us… an end to boss fights, please.

© mathew 2017