Like a Boss – Video Game Boss Fights
We video gamers know what’s coming at the end of a dungeon. We’ve trekked through the dark, dirty corridors, outsmarted mighty puzzles, defeated countless minions and feel it in our fingers that the end is near. What awaits us, guarding the final piece of epic loot? Why, it’s the boss of the dungeon, of course! The big bad guy who all other guys have been fighting for. The final challenge before you get out of this damned place. You’ve done all this before, you know what to expect, but this isn’t the only kind of boss you’ve faced.
Boss battles come in many different shapes and sizes. They’re essential to some games, they show progression and act as a way to give the player new powers or even essential items. They can also break up some games combat by making them think a little differently about how they approach this larger and more menacing enemy. So where have they gone? They’ve all but vanished in a lot of games. Many have abandoned these for other encounters, such as scripted events, turret sections, or just a harder experience, rather than an old school style “boss.” There are a few types of battles still around, but they’re dwindling fast.
Phases at the Ready!
One of the boss fights we still see today, seen in Terraria and World of Warcraft, are boss fights with different phases. What does this mean? It means at some point during the fight, the boss decides to mix things up a bit. One of the early bosses in Terraria shows this, as the Eye of Cthulhu decides to change from a flying eyeball, to form a giant mouth and do double the damage and attack more aggressively. While WoW has many bosses with phases, which can change the fight more drastically (I recall one fight with Malygos, a blue Dragon, that ends up with you riding your own dragon to defeat him). These bosses have tricks up their sleeves, they like to create unexpected circumstances to fight in, yet they aren’t all that common.
I always felt that these boss fights were some of the most fun. They keep you on edge and aware, at all times, that something might change. It keeps your reactions quick and your reflexes up to snuff for anything later on that might be even harder. Whether it be a higher tiered raid or just the next boss on the list. Sometimes it could be a bit clearer how many phases a boss fight is going to have, if any at all: Though sometimes the number of phases blends in with another rule found in boss fights. The mysterious and, quite common, Rule of Three.
The Rule of Three
This rule appears in many games, and it is quite simple. Damage the boss three times, beat the three stages of the boss and other similar sequences. The Legend of Zelda and Darksiders are the main examples here, as you typically do something three times before the boss finally gives up and dies. Though there are even some more recent games that follow this, without making every boss adhere to them.
The Witcher 2 comes to mind, as the first large boss encounter is defeated after doing something three times. It really is one of the most peculiar rules, but it seems to stick and is a very basic way to let the player know, even without the need for a health bar, how much effort it’ll take to down the monster or bad guy. It’s something most gamers just know in their hearts, and it’s been there for a very long time.
There are also what can be called “boss encounters.” They usually take form of a boss fight but act in a significantly different way. Usually, holding out against waves of enemies, with the “boss” being the stronger one at the end of the flood of expendable cannon fodder thrown at you. These can be long and get tougher as they go, but always have the boss as a weaker foe than you’ll be used to, balancing it so it doesn’t feel unfair to the player.
These, however, can also be mixed up with other forms of boss fights, with them spawning a much smaller amount of enemies to fight while they either recover, or just watch you scurry about avoiding the little ones, immune from damage. Either way, these encounters are very interesting and do change things, sometimes acting more as a lower level boss fight than the real, high profile enemies. The Witcher 2 also has plenty of these, and they can be just as fun as a normal boss fight.
There are of course many other types than these predominant ones. For instance, there are many games that require you to actually get killed or lose a boss fight. Jedi Knight 2 had this at the very start and even recent games, like Halo: Reach, have included this too. It can be cinematic and also a good way to explain to the player that at this point, they’re not ready for this.
Another would be surviving until a predetermined point in time, waiting for rescue at the end of a Left 4 Dead map or waiting for some other event to happen. This is usually quite similar to fighting off waves, but the enemies keep coming no matter what. Even Guitar Hero had their own boss fights and, let’s face it, battling the Devil at the end of Legends of Rock was pretty damned fun, mostly for the song that played while you did.
Sadly, the bosses of video games have all but vanished from some genres. Shooters in particular have almost entirely dropped them. I believe, and hope, that we haven’t seen the last of them. Especially when some games can do them so well. There’s just no other feeling greater than finally killing that very large, very powerful creature after countless tries. Gathering the loot together, moving on with the story, celebrating your victory. It’s all worth the trials and tribulations in the end.
Once these scheming bosses do come out of hiding, perhaps we will be completely unprepared. They’ve been gone much of this generation across certain genres, maybe purposefully. They could take us unawares, resulting in that glorious difficulty spike a lot of us miss and seek from older games. This certainly isn’t the downfall of the epic Boss Fight, but maybe it’s time for them to make a triumphant return to dominate us. So who’s up for some Demon’s Souls to prepare?