Posted on July 06 2011 by Nathanial Rumphol-Janc
It should be noted, of course, that this is entirely the opinion of IGN writer Scott Clarke. He argues that while gaming has evolved heavily over the years, the one constant that still dominates games are Boss fights… and most of the time they are so forgettable it breaks down to mashing one button on an obvious weak spot and calling it a day.
To be fair, that’s exactly what Zelda is like most of the time, so it hits home. It hits home even more than that though, considering how “big of a deal” boss fights are in our favorite gaming franchise, let alone how staple they are in our other Nintendo favorites like Metroid and Mario. He has a very good point in boss fights being pointless most of the time.
Even after all of these years little has changed. We all know the drill: after hours of play, refining and developing skills, our hero (or villain) comes to the end of their quest. The arena door slams shut, locking in the protagonist. The lights go down, the music swells and they are confronted by their nemesis. Some poorly-scripted banter usually ensues and then the fight begins.
In the context of the current generation the very concept of the traditional boss fight feels increasingly out of place. It takes only a cursory look at a game’s credits to show that developers employ an ever-expanding arsenal of artistic and technical techniques to enhance the immersive experience of a game. As games integrate gameplay and narrative in more intuitive and creative ways, why must we still be exposed to the archaic boss fight structure in nearly every game?
To be honest, I understand his sentiment. Even if I hold the examination just to Zelda… what is the real point of fighting these big bad bosses anyways? Outside of the “final boss”, all the others seem rather pointless. They usually have little to no storyline implications (seriously, Ghoma, is there even a point to your existence?), and the fights are absurdly easy compared to other much more creative portions of the game.
Though, is he really calling for them to end or calling for them to simply see a massive overhaul? Bosses exist in practically every single game, but wouldn’t it be great if the same time, effort, and people who created such a fantastic world with great quests, and really neat puzzles also put the same effort into creating bosses? This goes way beyond Zelda, as every game falls onto that crutch. Most games bosses are completely forgettable. Scott Clarke even listed Ganondorf from Twilight Princess as one of his most dissapointing boss fights this generation. I completely agree, the fight itself was a joke. Throw as many “samey” phases at me that you want, it doesn’t really change anything. Puppet Princess Zelda? Oh hey we’ve seen that before. Oh were playing tennis again? Cool, I’ve done that before and it’s not any harder now than a decade ago.
The bosses in general tend to lack creativity and effort – that’s what really is upsetting the writer it seems.
At best, a final boss fight usually boils down to the game forcing you – after spending 10-20 hours learning a number of skills/mechanics/movements – to button mash the one move that the boss is weak against. Boss fights rarely feel like a genuine culmination of skills and strategies learnt throughout the game. In most cases the charm and atmosphere of the preceding game is forsaken for boss fights. They are often in total contrast to what makes that particular game great and rarely feel like natural extensions of the narrative. GLaDOS would kill me if I didn’t single her out as the only possible exception.
I don’t think boss fights have to go, but I do think games in general have to stop using them as a crutch. It’s okay if you don’t have boss fights – that isn’t what makes a game great. Even in a game like Zelda, I don’t love the series because of it’s bosses. They are all pretty forgettable with very little creativity. “hit weak spot with dungeon item, slash away, rinse repeat”. Bosses should be the most compelling part of a dungeon, and a final boss fight should be the most fulfilling offering in the entire game.
Tell me, when is the last time you felt that way about any boss fight in any game? I can’t even recall a single one that felt like “one of the best parts of the game”. I don’t think they are essential to gaming anymore, and it may be time to overhaul the entire concept of boss fights. What do you think?