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.