Who doesn't love a good boss fight? The dramatic culmination of the skills you've acquired up to that point, the vicious satisfaction of figuring out the enemy's weakness, the euphoric triumph felt for overcoming an imposing challenge... all glorious feelings and ones that every gamer should experience.
Unfortunately, most boss fights have absolutely no interest in delivering these sensations. Instead, they are clearly the result of tired game designers placing a stumbling block in the player's path with all the grace of a drunk uncle collapsing in front of a speeding motorbike.
As a gamer it is likely you will experience far more bad boss fights than good, along with all the frustration that goes with them. But take heart! If you are struggling on a boss for any of the five reasons listed in this article, know that the fault lies not with you, but with the game designer who allowed these sins to infest their work. As for these game designers, please read on for some semi-serious ideas how to ensure your next game avoids the pitfalls mentioned in this article.
Now then, let's move on to the first sign that the developer was having a bad day at the office.
5. Bullet Sponge Boss Pants (He Absorbs Your Attacks For Eternity)
The ultimate form of apathy in videogame design - a boss whose only challenge springs from the obscene amount of hit points you have to deplete before it has the good grace to die.
There have been many egregious examples of this throughout gaming. The final boss of 2001's Star Trek: Elite Force springs to mind - a Lovecraftian monstrosity that took so long to kill gamers everywhere gave up on simply shooting it and assumed there was a trick to beating it. There wasn't - the only trick being played was on us by a vengeful development team who had apparently grown to hate their future customers.
RPGs are notorious for this too - who could forget Final Fantasy XII's Yiazmat? A dragon that drastically limits the amount of damage you can inflict with a single attack halfway through the fight, whilst already sporting the game's biggest life bar? Sadism in polygonal form. Or, for an RPG developed on the western hemisphere, look no further than Diablo III and its Butcher. Virtually impossible to lose if you chose the high-defense Crusader class, this "fight" amounts to nothing more than 15 sodding minutes of standing still and draining the Butcher's absurd pool of health points drop by tedious drop.
Developers - please ensure your boss takes no more than 10 minutes to beat. Our future sanity depends on it.
4. Hey, I Just Remembered I Can Kill You Instantly!
Picture the scene: You've been locked in combat with a tenacious foe for minutes that have stretched into hours. Each move you make is coldly calculated to inflict the maximum damage with the least risk. You feel as if you have become one with the machine , a fusion of nerve-endings and circuitry with one objective - to fell the beast standing between you and your goal. You are unstoppable, relentless, undeniable...
Until you are instantly swatted by a blow that would shame One Punch Man.
This happens in so many games (Mr. X in the RE2 Remake, Mass Effect 3's Banshees, every bad Souls-like) and it is always terrible. The idea is to introduce an added element of tension in the fight, but it never does. No-one reacts to being hit with a one-hit kill move with "Oh ho, I shall endeavour to counter that in our next skirmish, worthy opponent!" Instead, their reaction is more akin to someone who has slammed their shin on the guest bed at a friend's house after stumbling back from the toilet in the dark - a sharp, murderous rage at being betrayed by a challenge they had come so close to completing.
To all video game developers: as Nancy Reagan once almost said, "One Hit KO? Just Say No!"
3. That One Move.
A variation of the last entry, but no less irritating. This is when the challenge for a boss derives solely from one incredibly cheap move. Examples include any RPG boss who virtually wipes out your party with an impossible to avoid supermove (looking at you, Necron! Most overpowered naked blue git since Dr. Manhattan...) or a fighting game final boss who repeatedly spams the same overpowered move again and again and again until you want to sellotape the developer's fingers to the arcade cabinet and demand they beat the game using nothing but their tongue.
However, out of all the exemplars of this detestable practise, one sits atop his bastard throne made from the twisted remains of broken controllers and crystallized vitriol spewed by every gamer unfortunate enough to face him - Mizar, of Jet Force Gemini infamy. What should be a straightforward boss fight is made legendarily infuriating by his discount Palpatine attack - a continuous lightning blast that drains your health at a ridiculous rate if you don't psychically deduce the random movements of his arm. The ill will and hatred caused by this one move created such a karmic backlash that Rare, the game's developers, spent the next 20 years sinking into irrelevance until the release of Sea of Thieves, by which time the gaming public were ready to forgive.
But we will never forget.
Developers, please test each and every move your boss uses. You can judge its level of unfairness by counting the amount of money placed in the swear jar after testing.
2. Send In The Goons
Remember that iconic scene in The Phantom Menace where Darth Maul steps out of the lift, "Duel of the Fates" starts playing, he ignites his double-lightsaber and you immediately realise the heroes are in a world of trouble? That's how you establish a threat. However, too many game designers seem to look at that scene and think, "Hey, wouldn't Darth Maul be even more threatening if he had a swarm of generic henchmen to help him?" The answer is no, he would have looked like a prat and the climactic fight would have been reduced to Liam Neeson and Ewan MacGregor tediously fending off battle droids while getting in the occasional opportunistic strike at Maul.
Why do developers do this? Why establish the big bad guy as the ultimate threat, only to immediately depict it as utterly incapable of getting the job done without employing a goon squad to irritate the player to death?! The Icon of Sin in the recently relased Doom Eternal (seen above in his Doom 2016 incarnation) is the perfect example of this - a world destroying, storeys high monstrosity that would be an utter cake-walk if it wasn't for the parade of demons it sends the player's way.
Developers, this is pretty simple: if the only way to make your boss challenging is by swarming the player with additional enemies during the fight, something has gone badly wrong. Go back and try again. Your audience will be grateful you did.
1. Forget Everything You Have Learned
So, remember back in the introduction to this article when it mentioned that a good boss requires the player to bring all the skills they have learned to bear in one final test of mastery? A bad boss does the exact opposite, forcing the player to adopt a cheesy tactic they will use once for this fight, then never again.
Even the best games can fall prey to this - the final battle in the otherwise excellent Borderlands 2 ditches the game's entertaining running 'n' gunning in favour of making you wait in one specific spot to chip away at the boss' weak point. Trying to play the game normally just results in being stomped on and incinerated, so you're forced to hide under a bridge and wait until the boss flashes its chest at you like it was a horny socialite taunting the homeless.
Developers: Cheese is fine on toast, with wine and even in 9:00 p.m. sitcoms, but never in games. Please make sure your testers are using more than one tactic to beat your boss.
These are just some of the ways game bosses have infuriated gamers over the years. If you have any other pet peeves regarding boss fights please let us know in the comments, and thank you for reading!