The Boss Battle Ban: A Modest Proposal

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Have you ever noticed something about boss battles? How practically every game has them, and they practically always suck?

Take Borderlands. I love Borderlands more than anybody. I want Borderlands to marry my daughter. This is a game with great, fluid unpredictable game play. I’ve probably put 50 hours into it so far. I’m going to put in 50 more.

But right towards the end of every level, something happens. You get the telltale signs. The music amps up. You start stumbling on a lot of unguarded ammo caches. The boss is coming. And the gameplay is about to go all to hell.

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And there he is! Some guy with a million hit points and crappy AI! He’s so robotic and repetitive that after three minutes you know exactly what he’s going to do and when he’s going to do it. You hide while he reloads, you jump out, pop him in his vulnerable spot — they always have one — then you jump back in. Then you listen to his three lines of canned dialogue. Then you do it again.

Half the time you make a stupid error when he’s got like two hit points left, and yay! There go another 20 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. The other half the boss runs into a clipping problem and gets stuck in a wall, in which case you jump on the exploit and waste him in like 30 seconds, and you can get back to actually enjoying yourself.

(In Borderlands this happened to me with Krom, who got stuck with his turret turned around, and I sniped him out of existence in about a minute. Quite a contrast with Mothrakk, a fire-breathing moth-dragon who’s the boss for a side-quest. For while there I was spending more time with Mothrakk than with with my girlfriend.)

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Why do otherwise brilliant game designers go back to the boss battle again and again and again? Who ever thought this was a good idea, ever? Has there ever been a good boss fight in the history of gaming? (Ever notice how there are no bosses in Halo? That’s part of what makes it so great.)

So that’s it. I’m imposing a moratorium. Until somebody can point out to me one good boss battle, anywhere, in any game (except Shadow of the Colossus), I’m banning them.

Up up up! I don’t want to hear it. Banned.