Maybe Shorter Boss Fights Would Be Better Boss Fights

Maybe Shorter Boss Fights Would Be Better Boss Fights

Since their inception, video game bosses have been all about challenge, action, endurance and repeated death. But what if there was a shorter, better way? The sad passing of Eli Wallach this week had me watching The Good, The Bad & The Ugly for the 1000th time last night, and the one scene that slapped me in the face - like it does every time I watch it - is the film's final showdown between the three principal characters.

It is, I think, the best final showdown in cinema history. There's such a sense of climax, of heart-gripping tension. You really feel in the pit of your stomach that this, this is it, this is the moment that shit is going to go down and an hours-long story is going to reach its conclusion. And then it happens, and it's all over in a matter of seconds, and you exhale, and mutter "oh man that was badass".

It's exactly the kind of feeling (if not means of combat) video game boss fights want to invoke. That yes, you have come far, but this here is the very end of your struggle, and it's going to really mean something, and the bad guy is going to meet his end.

Yet I've never come close to feeling the same way about a game's boss fight as I have Leone's masterpiece. All I ever seem to feel is a sense of dread, then lots of frustration, then a very brief washover of relief before the inevitable disappointment at a sucky closing cutscene.

Granted, a lot of this is due to the fact that I am not a "challenge" gamer, in that I don't look at a game like Dark Souls or Mega Man or whatever and think, fuck yes, boss fights! A chance to test my mettle and my skill! I tend to be more pedestrian in my tastes, and when I do play action titles, I suffer through boss fights like a small child in a dentist's chair.

So for me, a satisfying conclusion to a game wouldn't come from fourteen minutes spent rolling around hacking at something's weak spots. It would come from something that had the guts (or smarts) to let things like score, writing, pacing and restraint carry the day, keeping your interaction to a bare minimum.

And yes, I know, those are all cinematic traits, and would shelve gameplay at the expense of something less interactive. For some this would be heresy.

But would it really be so bad? Less is sometimes better and more memorable. I'll take Wario Ware over almost any other party game. I think the "falling leaf" challenge in Point Blank is the pinnacle of light gun gaming. Sometimes a single act of interaction can be as important (and enjoyable) as minutes or hours spent toiling.

And if the end result is enjoyment and the sense of conclusion the end of a journey should provide, it shouldn't matter how long you spent smashing buttons to see off the game's villain.


    My favourite boss fights were probably the ones from Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. Each one is pretty same-y, but the fact that they play out as a reaction based shoot out is pretty bloody cool in my books.

      Until you figure out they were all timed...

        Hahaha, of course they were timed. They're an emulation of Westerns where the protagonist is honourable and relies on skill.
        Without the timer you'd just have two rather nice fellows standing in the street patiently waiting for the other to draw. Timer keeps the pacing tight.

          There is no reaction when you know the precise moment to fire. Yahtzee pointing this out in his review, he counted the first draw (usually died) then on the second try just pulled his gun at the right moment and won all of them.
          It also goes against one of the characters who is rather dishonourable throughout the whole game but when someone calls him out he suddenly obeys good sportsmanship?

          Randomising the time would add a bit of skill as you're waiting for the right moment rather then already knowing it.

          and in Call of Juarex: Gunslinger you have the option to pull your gun early and just waste them. You also have the option of dodging after you draw.


            But honestly, it was just a nice change from how most characters present boss battles.

              I came here to say your first one, but this comment of yours, too.

    This short boss fight as you put it took 6minutes of dialogue before the 2 second boss fight no thanks lol

    But destiny sure is in a dire need for shorter boss fights the spider tank took like 30 minutes and that giant eye took like 40 if you didn't die due to the seemingly impossible strength of the lvl 8 aliens helping it

    Last edited 27/06/14 12:20 pm

      That's ridiculous, 30-40 minutes! Is that how they were designed, or were you under-levelled or something?

      I think 10 minutes is a good maximum length for an enjoyable boss fight, as long as you're not doing the same thing the entire time. If at any time you start following a repetitive pattern that requires no real strategy just so you can chip away at it's health, that's a bad boss fight.

        Same thing happened to me. The spider boss took 4 restart due to team annihilation to finally break it. That itself took almost an hour. Giant eye was easier since my team got more experienced in boss fight and focus on reviving instead of doing damage.

        Everyone was at beta max level which is level 8 and the mission was supposed to be for level 6-8. It is very hard if your team have no teamwork but it is still a long boss fight. I think I spent 2 hours doing that mission only.

        I was maximum lvl with decent guns must have be Enya the squad weren't any good I mostly had 3x as many kills and revives every time I played maybe the long kill time was just their noobness shining

          I had one of them drop in as a random even on the open explore map.
          Solo killed it in 20 minutes with OK gear but at the level cap (8).
          I am not hard core or anything, it was just pretty standard...find the weak spots.
          Blast the yellow bits on the legs and the armour falls off, the head tips foward and hit the 'brain' for MASSIVE damage. Shoot the weapons (the rocket launcher was a good target) for bonus damage (the rocket launcher for example would score 3 or 4 hits, so 3 or 4 times the damage...with the upside that after a while the thing would drop off and the Devil Walker had no missiles.
          The big eye? Shoot it dead center.
          Yeh, they were not epic or silly. Challenging, yes, but once you worked out a strategy beyond pew-pew-pew reload they were OK.

        100% agree about your bad boss fight.

        Personally I think the perfect boss fights have always been in old school JRPGs. I remember trying some of the bosses from FF8 (first i played) and how they kicked my arse (maybe i was under leveled). Other games like legend of legaia or Legend of the dragoon were always amazing at the time.

        But I think the first rule ALWAYS needs to be does a "boss fight" fit this game and most of the time that is a resounding no and that leads to horrible bosses like in deus ex.

      That's weird. I went in seven or eight times during the alpha, and it never took that long. Even my first run had the spider tank down after fighting it for about 20 minutes. Sepiks took about 40 minutes that time due to frequent wipes - those freaking captains killed me more than the boss, By the time I'd got decent heavy weapons, hit level 8, and got most of my weapons upgraded, the whole run (3-wave room + spider tank + orb) took about 40 mins. Maybe I just got lucky with the matchmaking...

    My favourite boss fight of recent memory is the Belfry Gargoyles from Dark Souls 2, just an updated Bell Gargoyles from the first.

    Also the Executioners Chariot, because of the two separate stages of the fight made it particularly interesting.

    Both of those fights took me several tries to finally beat them, and the final Belfy Gargoyles fight in particular lasted quite a long time for me, which just ratcheted up the tension and made it intensely satisfying when I won.

    I can't imagine that fight being nearly as fun if it were short. The gameplay itself was so much fun that even though I had to retry it many times, I enjoyed it each time. Perhaps bad boss fights should be over quickly, but I want good ones to last for a while.

    I wouldn't be against the idea as long as you get that payoff. I wouldn't want the big boss fight to be quick and painless if it felt like killing a random enemy,
    The boss fights I generally don't like are the ones that take ages to complete and is just the one precise timed action over and over again

    It's hard to make it satisfying because you're engaging in the story not watching it. Fable II had a final boss that a lot of people complained about. It was the climax of the story but because they were in control of the character it just felt like a regular morality choice. No different to a QTE or selecting an option in a menu. After all, in a game you're generally going to win a Mexican standoff. You either quick draw and win or you try again.

    I'm with Mark. I tolerate boss fights and rarely enjoy them. I'd much rather ther heresy he described.

      +1. I remember Enslaved's bossfights being enjoyable (read: not so annoying). I recently finished the Oni boss in TR 2013 (on normal), man I had to take a breather after that one, so much frantic dodge spamming. It was kind of annoyingly satisfying in a way, though.

    Shadow of the Colossus and the Call of Duty series stand exemplar to me when discussing the range of treatment in boss fights. The former presents a boss fight as something to be relished, a punctuation to the traversal of the character through a trying land; the latter, more akin to The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, offers a period to the act and a resolve for the character. Both allow for narrative progress and resolution in a way most fitting to their games' design and context.

    I prefer the thrill of the fantastical and stamina draining boss fights of Shadow of the Colossus and its ilk; Dark Souls, Monster Hunter, Metroid Prime. There's a certain reproducible exhilaration to facing down a gargantuan foe that hasn't been matched by the slow-mo resounding gunshot perpetuated in games like Call of Duty or Sniper Elite V2.

    For me, Metroid Prime and one of the Calls of Duty had two of the most memorable boss fights; one had me confused in appreciation of its cinematic pacing and questioning the worth of the anti-climax, while the other was some kind of heathen trench-running space squid that had me terrified and losing all kinds of skin tooth.

    The best boss battle I've ever fought was playing The Devil Went Down TO Georgia against Lou in GH3. Don't think I've enjoyed a boss battle that much before or since...

    Last edited 27/06/14 1:21 pm

    The End.

      Yeah, aside from the The Pain, Snake Eater's bosses were awesome. The End was definitely something to look forward to, but the fact that you could avoid that boss fight altogether through a number of ways was even cooler.

    The 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog bosses are still some of my favourite bosses. While you occasionally had a somewhat longer boss that you had to wait out (e.g. Lava Reef Zone 2 boss), I never really felt like they were some kind of extended chore that I had to sit through. They can still be potentially challenging to some people (particularly without Super Sonic or without the right shield in Sonic 3K) but at the same time if you knew what you were doing then you could actually beat the boss relatively quickly and weren't forced to sit through a tonne of annoying pro-longed cut scenes or scripted actions).

    I think it's from playing against those bosses as a kid that left me kind of impatient with a lot of newer bosses that aren't necessarily difficult, but can be moreso tedious due to a very small window of opportunity to attack OR that just drag on due to a cutscene every 2 hits where the boss changes their tactics or requires several small steps just to get ONE hit (not allowing for more than one). Funnily enough, one example that springs to mind there is some of the Lego game bosses or even some of the later Sonic games.

    I always kinda thought the shootout in 'Once upon a time in the west' was slightly superior. Slightly! Man with the harmonica is so mysterious, feels like more of a payoff. Also the shot selection in Once's shootout builds so nicely. But ahh whatever, theyre both amazing!

    I loved the boss fights in Swords and Sworcery! They were short, but only if you lived.

    Shorter and more dynamic and challenging bosses would be great. Just bumping up the HP of the boss does not make it any harder or funner.

    And if the end result is enjoyment and the sense of conclusion the end of a journey should provide, it shouldn’t matter how long you spent smashing buttons to see off the game’s villain.

    Question was already answered.

    Depends on how epic the boss fight is. Long boss fights in action games work for me, Kingdom Hearts 2 is a perfect example because the fight was fun (for me, opinion may not be wide spread) and that thing went on for the better part of an hour, not counting the boss gauntlet leading up to it
    Here, have a TV Tropes link because I am feeling evil

    For the long fights to work though it needs variety (See above), challenge but not frustration (looking at you Sonic Adventure 2) and a great theme/score for the music (looking at you Mystic Quest). If it doesn't have these things then keep it short.

    There was one like that in Baldurs Gate II. You could fight the end boss normally or you could learn his true name and command him to die. Learning his true name was really hard.

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