What do you think makes a good boss battle?
Challenging the player to everything they’ve learned through the game. The best boss fights force you to really make use of everything you’ve learned and improved at, difficult but in a fair way. A final test for your understanding of the mechanics.
Alternatively, a boss fight can be well used to cap a major story beat and completely flip around your expectations of how the game can work. Yoko Taro arguably has a weaker track record with this, but Hideo Kojima and his past teams have all shown great understanding of making boss fights a fresh experience contrasted with normal gameplay.
What games have the best boss battles?
Character action games (like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, God of War to a lesser extent), action-RPGs, rogue-likes, Souls games and soul-likes, 3D platformers (there’s usually one super good fight to find), and the odd puzzle game that really knows how to use its premise.
Conversely, what makes a bad boss battle?
A lot of games have a bad habit of making fights last too long and turn them into battles of endurance. It’s never fun, unless the fight has enough going on that you can justify the length. The last Vergil battle in DMC3 goes on for awhile, for example, but there’s a lot you’re keeping track of. A platformer with a very simple boss with a very simple pattern you have to wait through before you can hurt them is very, very dull.
Also, you risk at making fights that turn expected mechanics on their head into unfair nonsense that takes one out of the game.
Also, fighting games are SUPER bad about bosses. The idea is to make them skill games, fine enough, but they let these boss characters use a lot of cheap tricks nobody else has that more than likely frustrate newer players rather than encourage them to become better at the game.
What’s the worst boss you’ve ever fought?
Yellow Devil and all Mega Man variants suck. They’re not impossible, but they’re there almost entirely to drain your resources and waste your time. I also feel survivor horror games generally have bad boss fights because they’re either relatively easy or just there to make the later parts harder after dealing with them. RE4 manages to have some fun ones with cool designs, but 5 completely shit the bed. Silent Hill 3’s final boss is also really dumb and the game would have benefited from just not having it there at all. That story’s conclusion really didn’t need a last battle.
No More Heroes 2 has a lot of very frustrating bosses, as the team tried to use gimmicks to make said fights fresh. Nathan Copeland is an especially awful battle because once the conveyor belts start, the fight suddenly becomes trying to survive turrets as you fight with the camera.
Tekken easily has the two worst when it comes to bad skill gate fights with Jinpachi and Azazel, but only if you ignore the absolute insanity that are SNK fighting game bosses. They are all bad and despised with no exception.
There’s more, but it would be hard to pick them out between the boring ones and the stupidly badly designed ones.
What are your favorite boss battles?
Clover and Platinum games tend to have a mix of forgettable bosses (especially in b-tier releases) and super memorable fights that test your skill. All the DMC3 Vergil battles, Azel in GOD HAND, and most bosses from Viewtiful Joe 1 and 2 qualify as some of the best I’ve ever played. I especially remember the Alaster and Fire/Ice Leo fights. Grasshopper Manufactor also really sells the fights in the No More Heroes series well, with stand outs including Henry, Shinobu, Bad Girl, and Jeane in 1, while 2 has great fights with Margaret Moonlight, Kimmy Howell, and Ryuji. Notable these fights have the least amount of gimmicks in them (Ryuji starts with a motorcycle clash and becomes a regular fight quickly after).
Sonic and the Ratchet and Clank series also have some memorable bits. Up Your Arsenal’s last fight with Dr. Nefarious is blood pumping stuff, while Sonic Generations’ modern Sonic boss battles all manage to be both flashy and satisfying to complete for letting you show off your skills at controlling speed and making snap decisions (outside the poor last battle).
Complete flips that stick out to be include The End from MGS3, turning the game into cat and mouse trickery for a battle of minds. Anubis at the end of Zone of the Enders is shocking because he is not only impossible to beat, but shows such incredible powers that you can’t even begin to comprehend how they function within the game you just played.
The Kirby games also have a few fights like this, with Miracle Matter in 64 being a personal favorite for forcing you to think about how to use and combine your powers. Because you have to hit the right eye with the right power, you’re forced to think out your moves and not just survive patterns to make your move.
I really love Bleed 2’s boss fights, all 20+ of them, because they all have a different challenge or twist to them that start adding up and eventually lead to three back to back marathons that test every single skill you have.
Oh, and the Sephiroth battle in KH2 is all time great stuff.
And why do you like boss battles?
I generally find story the most important thing to me in a game, but a good boss fight is basically the ultimate way to engage a player with the design and mechanics. The more action oriented a game is, the more likely it benefits from a good challenging boss. They can also show you different sides to the functions of the game or create story moments that burn themselves into your perspective and not just you through your player character’s perspective. Anubis in ZOE isn’t incredible because of what he means to Leo - because Leo has absolutely no idea what it is or who is piloting it. Defeating it doesn’t matter to his goals. But to the player, that fight completely flips your entire perspective of both what’s actually happening in this game world and what this mech you’ve been controlling and outfitting could possibly do. It leaves you wanting more both for play and for narrative. ZOE would genuinely be a lesser game if that last fight wasn’t in there.