The MCRC’s been delayed for a bit, and for that I apologize. We had a few topics, especially one about active video game protagonists to discuss, but couldn’t get the government funding to conduct proper investigations. So we broke the nose of our handler with a witty rejoinder, and he eventually gave us the 10-90 IJ forms we’d needed. That’s what happens at the Metro City Reform Committee: we deliver beatings with words.
Perhaps it was dealing with weak government officials, or perhaps it was playing through Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, but we got to thinking about Boss Battles. They’re great aren’t they? One of the reasons to play any good action game, if you get right to it.
But something seems wrong in gamingdom. The boss battle and especially the LAST boss battle to occur in a game, is dying. I’m not entirely sure why exactly. It’s probably due to zombies, I mean; they’re in just about every game ever so of course it has to be them! Even if it’s not rooted in zombies directly, it’s definitely a plague occurring in games at about the same rate as the current zombification.
Think of several of the last games you’ve played, especially those you’ve beaten. Think about Borderlands, Alan Wake, Halo 3, and tons of others. Think about the complete letdowns of those finales (for Halo 3 I’m thinking about the Guilty Spark part, not the chase, that was cool), about how it seems a lot of modern games just don’t get how to make interesting final bosses, and many don’t get how to even do regular bosses. Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to games that are in newer or in more modern genres, but even in classic ones as well; a few of the worst battles I’ve recently seen occur in BCR 2.
We here at the Metro City Reform Committee want to help rectify this situation There’s not much that can be done for BCR 2 seeing as it’s already been released, but perhaps we can learn from their mistakes, make them a Goofus to the rest of gaming’s Gallants. Plus an in-depth analysis can be fun from time to time, at least when we do it!
Now we won’t look at the last boss battle in the game for those that do want to play it, so let’s look at one battle from earlier in the game shall we?
Behold! The great giant-robot-ape fight of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2! Or at least the analysis of it!
You see, when you start the game, you realize early on that one of the cooler things in it is that Spencer enters the battlefield with an entire team of bionically enhanced soldiers, four of them to be exact. But as the game progresses, you get transmissions from them as they’re attacked by something big. Something scary.
You keep moving along in the game, when suddenly, you’re attacked by . . . a GIANT ROBOT APE!!
OK, that’s cool. I mean, a giant robotic monster (actually labeled G.O.R.I.L.L.A. – an acronym which defies me) is a perfect concept for a boss. Besides, there’s a fine, noble tradition of fighting big apes in video games with mustachioed protagonists.
But watch the attached video above, it only takes 3 minutes. Heck, just skip the first thirty seconds and the last minute, just watch the middle. Go on, we can wait.
Finished? Alright, notice something? Like just how boring it looks? That’s because – surprise! It is.
There are several fundamental problems here, so we’re going to look at each one, but since this is Metro City, we won’t just criticize, we’ll offer some solutions to these problems!
1) You have to jump.
Throughout the rest of the game, every level and every other boss is designed to accommodate players who are playing the game without jumping, and only using the swinging arm. You get an achievement for this, and there’s a difficulty level that restricts jumping entirely. But here, in order to dodge that weird “blindly waving in the dark” hand attack when it’s on the ground, you have to jump as there’s nothing to swing on. Guh? How did they miss this? Or was it intentional, so that if you are playing without jumping, you have to take hits?
If it is, that’s both kind of messed up, and a cheap way to make this fight highly aggravating.
Is that so hard? Now you don’t have to jump, and you can still dodge the attacks. It allows you to retain your, you know, focus on the whole bionic arm thing of the game. Plus, if you want to make the big mean ape seem smarter, just have his arm wave attack attempt to hit you at heights that match where Spencer is at the time. A later boss (and the best boss in the game) does exactly that in a similar scenario, so it can be done!
2) The attacks do very little damage and have huge delays between them.
The sad thing for me watching the video, is that I know that this is the boss on “Hard” difficulty. I know because that’s what I played on, and each hit reduces 1/5th from your life bar. So you can take five hits. There is also a 3 to 5 second delay between his attacks. Now, these factors would be acceptable for a boss battle if you couldn’t regenerate your health.
In the video, they don’t have the HP regen ability equipped. If you read my review or played the game, you know that you’re probably never taking the ability off because it’s too good. Other bosses in the game compensate for this by either doing more damage, or attacking you much more quickly. After all, if you take repeated hits, the regeneration won’t kick in fast enough to save you. This robo-ape however, despite looking threatening, is widdle kitten who just wants to pway with you!
In fact, if you upgrade the ability, and there are two upgrades to it in the game, I’m pretty sure this boss actually cannot kill you. Even if you didn’t move Spencer at all and he just took every attack. Even on hard.
In general, the health regeneration power-up in this game probably needs a major nerfing, but that’s a game wide issue, not just this boss battle. As for the ape, well it’s pretty obvious, increase the damage, or increase the attack rate. Or both. It doesn’t take an utter genius to figure this one out.
3) Has a very limited number of attacks in a static pattern.
“OK fine” you say, “it’s a boss where you dodge until it opens itself up for counter attacks, and we’ve all been there, not a big deal”.
Well it wouldn’t be if you had to worry about what those attacks are, but there are only two and they’re both telegraphed and easily countered without even moving Spencer from the center of the screen. If you jump and duck the hand wave, you’re golden. On top of that, the pattern never changes, even as you do damage, so once you memorize the first attack wave, you’re set for the duration of the battle. This is insane, especially if you consider that basically this is a pair of hands battle. You can do anything with a pair of hands. Having only a chop and a really lame raver wave is just . . . well, pathetic. What’s even worse? You fight this boss again later, and he only changes one thing in his pattern adding another karate chop attack after the first. That’s it.
Ever play Mischief Makers on the N64? The first boss of that game is a giant dragon that attempts to punch out the protagonist, Marina Liteyears from the background of the arena. Not unlike the giant ape that attempts to smack Spencer from the background of this arena.
The dragon, called Migen Jr., tries punching Marina repeatedly from both sides while mixing up which side the attacks are coming from constantly. It also occasionally goes into the background and spits fire when it’s not punching you. At most, you are waiting for a second or less between when attacks occur, and you have to try and counter or grab his hands when they come at you. You are always involved in this fight. On top of all this, the battle has three distinct stages to it, and as it progresses the pattern changes, by the end, Migen Jr. tries to fake you out by using feints with his hands. If you want, check it out here.
I say just look at this game, or heck look at Super Smash Bros. and its Master Hand boss, or double-heck, look at your own hands and imagine attacks!
Poke with a finger, punch, slap, tickle, scratch, grab, push, etc. It’s so easy a fourth grader can do it! Have the gorilla go into background and throw stuff at you. Have him put both hands on the sides and try to clap you to death. Also remember, it’s a robot, so you can have it use laser eyes or missiles or any other such nasty stuff! There are a ton of ways to do this, and if you had more mobility on the screen with the trees I’ve suggested, then you have even more ways to be creative.
As to the escalation and pattern issues; change it up every time you do damage to the ape, at least flipping the rotation. If you really want to get creative, you can have him destroy parts of the stage as he takes damage, so you have less room to work with. There are tons of ways.
I’m not saying that the fight has to be as hard to read as Mike Tyson in the original Punch-Out . . .
. . . but mixing up a boss fight adds a lot to the experience, and makes it truly memorable. Besides, if you’re going to foreshadow a boss as being a threat, then you’re sort of obligated to deliver on that promise. To do anything less is very, very lame.
So What’s The Point?
Aside from an awesome kid’s movie featuring music by Harry Nilsson?
OK, maybe we’re being too harsh here. It is just a simple boss in a simple videogame after all.
Except this is part of a general trend in gaming. Now it doesn’t seem to hit certain genres very hard, if you play spectacle brawlers like Bayonetta or God of War, you’re often treated to some spectacular boss battles. But in several others, and especially in shooters, boss battles seem to be following a downward trend.
Remember the last “boss” of Gears of War 2?
Yeah that was lame. You fire a gun at an enemy, that by all appearances should to be a huge threatening monster boss, three times and it can’t even hurt you. It’s a glorified cutscene, so why didn’t they just make it one?
This trend has hit plenty of other games as well. Though it can work occasionally, such as in Modern Warfare, it usually ends up highly disappointing. Heck, even the last Bionic Commando (the 3D one) suffered from a “boss” that was essentially a cutscene. Actually, I take that back, it was worse. It was a QTE. It’s kind of scary that this trend of awful bosses might start to blend into 2D gaming, where they are simpler to make better, seeing as you don’t have to worry about a whole extra dimension and all.
Not every game needs a final boss, and in many cases it would be quite silly to include one. In fact, it’s kind of nice when developers can figure out ways of creating a solid climax that doesn’t need a health bar popping up on screen, because after all, it’s been done and novelty can be good for the soul.
But if you are making a game, especially an action game, and you are going to include bosses think long and hard about how they’re going to be implemented. Besides if you’re going with a concept as cool as this. . .
. . . it should never, ever get turned into something boring.
So let’s propose a new bill shall we?
The “Better Bosses In Gaming” Ordinance of 2011 aka “Robo-Amy’s Law”.
Developers of digital entertainments featuring protagonists in an action or adventure genre can at certain points along their narratives encounter singular opponents who have greater meaning to the player and/or the protagonist than lesser foes. These opponents, hitherto known as “bosses” shall endeavor to feature the following traits:
- Firstly, they shall be tests of the accumulated knowledge of the player and abilities of the controlled character up to the point that the boss is encountered.
- They shall have as many different attacks as reasonable, but a simple equation shall be that they will have a number equal to the methods the player character has accumulated thus far in the adventure, or a minimum of three.
- As they take damage, the enemy will show a change in their behavior, or manipulate the environs to aid in their goal of defeating the hero.
- The boss shall be able to kill an unwary player who is using any items or power-ups allowed to them by the time the boss is encountered. It shall be expected that the player will do all in their power to avoid this death, so in all likelihood the damage done should be higher than average for the level the player is on.
- If the boss is the last such encounter in a game, it shall not under any circumstances be allowed that the player character can defeat the boss in less than one minutes time, without moving their character’s position, or both.
- No final boss fight shall simply be a “Quick Time Event” or include such “QTE”s without at least including a phase of gameplay during the encounter that meets all of the aforementioned conditions.
Developers shall abide by such laws under the penalty of their cars being wrecked by one person(s) known by the name Michael Haggar.
Shall this occur they may attempt to seek restitution from this person(s), though in all likelihood, shall receive a piledriver instead.
From the council members of Metro City, U.S.A.
Anyone want to second it?
As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the “California Literary Review,” who still haven’t decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional “Missile Command” high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to “follow” him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas