Monthly Archives: April 2010

The unfunnest game

A charmander would solve this, I bet.I’ve reached the point in FF XIII where I’m fighting a giant bulbasaur boss monster, and about 10 minutes into the fight it kills me, which means I have to start over, which means I probably won’t start over.

Boss fights are curious mini-games tucked into nearly any other kind of game. Whatever other kind of game you were playing–racing, rpg, fps, twitch, hell, someone’s probably tried to to insert a boss battle into Klondike–at theoretically dramatically appropriate moments, a solo opponent of significantly greater difficulty appears in the game, and you must defeat it to continue.

Bosses come with their own strategies and patterns that are unlike the strategies and patterns you’ve learned to employ so far in a game. And the way you learn these new patterns, (which you will not be using again, so their mastery is siloed into a singular 5-minute portion of the game), is by failing a few times.  No matter how far you proceeded into the battle, your penalty for failure is starting all over again.

In short, a boss fight is a fairly difficult mini-game inserted into a larger  game that prevents your progress in the larger game until you play it correctly. And I hate them.

Boss Fights I’ve Liked

That’s a bit effusive. I don’t hate them per se. I enjoyed the pudding out of Shadow of the Colossus, which was a game of boss fights. It was good and fun, even though I had to consult the Internet on how to play the back half of the game because I didn’t have the patience after running wildly and dying repeatedly, unable to discern how to flip the colossus over onto its back so I could climb the nearby cathedral of trees and leap into its mouth and stab it in the special spot on the underside of its tongue. Six times. Ok, maybe I’ve got issues with SotC too. But I liked it.

Boss fights in World of Warcraft are fun too. They are fun because you choose to engage them, and they do not impede your progress when you choose not to. This is excellent implementation.

But Most of the Time They Suck

When I don’t like it is when I’m playing an entirely different sort of game, something exploratory and adventure- like y Legend of Zelda, and I’m expected to shift gears into puzzle/twitch mode after five seconds of tense introductory music. And I can’t continue with the game I was enjoying until I’ve bashed my way through the mini-game I hate.

I enjoy a good rant, but I also need to offer a solution after I’ve complained for 500 words. In this case, however, the solution has already been implemented, thanks to every gamer’s friend, Shigeru Miyamoto, who added the “Super Guide” to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This feature plays the game for you if you die too much, neatly solving the problem. I want it included in every game with boss fights. Because I would turn it on, go get a sandwich, and come back when the fun starts again.

I understand I’m not everybody, and the mastery of boss fights appeals to many gamers. But Square, who puts an enormous amount of detail into their story lines,  has learned that some players might want to skip their beloved cut scenes, and they have a mechanism for that. It can’t be too far of a leap to understand that  the story-oriented among us might like to skip an occasional combat scene as well.

It might help more of us get to the end of the content after all.

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