Into the Fray

Into the Fray: Where Have the Bosses Gone?

Written by James Pope

The boss battle… its one of the most epic moments of a gamers childhood, you’ve battled your way through countless trooper class enemies and mini bosses to get to this one moment. It’s a moment where your palms get sweaty, where your grip tightens on the controller in your hands, this is what you bought the game for, the feeling of victory that you knew awaited your patience and dedication. Whether it was Ganon, Bowser or even Dr. Robotnik you knew the goal… Chase down the villain and put him to sleep for good, or until the next game released.

In today’s gaming world the boss battle is becoming more and more cliché and developers have moved in different directions when it comes to giving its players closure and that sense of accomplishment. While series like  Infamous and God of War stay true to the traditional boss battle format, more and more games like Heavy Rain accomplish their goal by telling great stories and providing climactic endings.

It has been said that the boss battle was born out of necessity, that developers needed to render something big, something recognizable so that players knew that they were taking on something or someone epic. In todays lexicon of HD and cell processors there are no more limits. A developer’s vision can truly become a game’s reality. Look at Heavy Rain, the entire thing is devoid of what one would call a true “boss” yet it is widely regarded as one of the top games of this generation.

My goal is to find out whether gamers want this tried and true format anymore. I want to know whether gamers are happy seeing bosses being slowly phased out of the gaming consciousness or whether they want to see this tradition protected and carried on as we enter the next generation of gaming. Join me as we take a trip around the gaming landscape, as we search for videos, blogs and forums to find out what people truly want from their developers.


Clark-(1uporpoison.com) “I never did like boss battles. They have always been my least favorite part of a game. Why does every world or every dungeon need a big monster at the end?”

Scott Clarke- (IGN.com) “While not arguing for the end of boss battles in gaming, fundamental changes to the paradigm need to occur.”

Gettuitt- (RomesBlog.net) “Nowadays, the formula has become a bit stale since there is a lot of thought and effort put into the rest of the game. Now, it seems that the Boss Battle is there to add some type of spice to the game play.”

Rahul Mhambrey- (upcomingtechnology.org) “Good boss battles have always been rare, now more than ever.”


It seems to me that the more I search the more divided the fans seem to be, for the most part we all have a nostalgic view on boss battles and the ones that we enjoyed the most growing up. Sites have devoted entire articles to top 10 lists, fans make their cases for their favorites on various forums. Looking through article after article I came to a realization. Just like gamers, developers love video games and therefore would also become part of this growing debate. If a certain games developer is fond of the boss battle format you could possibly see a more detailed and intricate application of the fight itself. While on the other end of that spectrum a developer who isn’t as keen on the old tried and true format might look to a new and creative approach to delivering that climax and sense of accomplishment. 

I remember leading up to the release of Shadow of the Colossus there were those who were concerned about a game made up entirely of boss battles being able to deliver a story worthy of the adventure genre. Not only did Team Ico accomplish exactly that, they created a game that left a lasting impression on gamers for not only bringing that incredible story but also making boss battles seem fresh again. Each boss acting as a level all unto themselves was a very simple yet innovative idea that made it so we couldn’t put the game down, we proudly jumped back on our horses and made our way to the next challenge.

What this shows us about ourselves as gamers is that we are not tired of boss battles or traditional leveling systems, we’re tired of them being implemented in the same way that their predecessors did. The original Bioshock also tried to take a new approach to this process by using big daddies as impromptu boss fights and fans ate it up. While not everyone will be happy to see these battles evolve and change, the time has come. No longer do players want to drudge through dungeons and plow through objectives just to face off with an over-sized, over-powered boss who repeats pre-determined patterns while we as the player make minimal use of the items in our inventory. With the new technology such as Kinect and Move on the market plus the coming Wii U we have an opportunity to not leave boss battles in the dust but to bring them back into the forefront. Imagine standing in front of your Kinect, you’ve battled your way through your favorite RPG or action adventure game and you stand face to face with the evil you have been chasing, the thing you want dead more than anything else in the world. Instead of a pre-rendered cut scene setting up your battle, you have the chance to interact with your opponent, speak to them, taunt them and even creatively get the jump on your foe using wit and guile. These kinds of concepts seem all too possible to me, with apps like Siri and the voice recognition ability of seemingly every piece of tech available now it makes me wonder why this practice isn’t already in place.

Without the epic nature of the boss battles I don’t know that I wouldn’t have grown to love video games as much as I do. I still remember to this day walking into the lair of the boss that I still to this day recognize as my arch-enemy, Moldrum (left). The epic music of our 16 bit classic hits, I’m walking along a pseudo pit and on my left is the monster, the one who will infuriate me as much as any boss in my gaming life. For anyone who doesn’t know Moldrum in a miserable worm beast from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past who knocks players through holes in his pit, one in the middle and all along the sides and each time you fall through one of the holes you have to start the fight over from scratch. To understand how frustrating this was you can check out this video. It’s that very frustration that drives players to want to slay those bosses, to want to drive forward as we make our way towards out ultimate goal of completion.

I want the bosses to be brought back into the forefront, I want villains that are as recognizable as the lead character in the game, but I want it to be done in the right way. Now is a key time in the lineage of bosses as a whole, if developers can reach into their bag of tricks and reinvent this stale corner or the gaming world then we may be in store for some of the most epic moments in gaming history. The future is ours and only bosses worthy of the next generation of gaming could possibly stand in our way.

About the author

James Pope

Twitter: @Jamespope2 Lead News Editor- Video games aren't just a hobby, they're a way of life!


  • I miss great boss battles from previous gens,though,this gen has had some like in gears of war 1. RAMM on insane was a pain in the ass!!!,but when me and my friend beat him is was a great feeling.Then came gears 2 and it’s “last boss” battle…What a joke that was.

  • I think that boss battles at this point are a fading art. Instead of throwing in a large enemy who’s hard to beat, real boss battles are those that test your abilities in a good way. They can be cheap, or they can be awesome. One game, Limbo, for example has no boss battle, and is one of my personal favorite endings.

  • Well written article Mr Pope. I agree with Villatoro below. A boss battle for me was always the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick that I felt tested your abilities that you have learned up to that point, kind of like the quiz at the end of all the school work. I always enjoyed the satisfaction of defeating a boss. Now I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing that the traditional boss battle has been slowly phased out in lieu of more engrossing story telling (great to see Heavy Rain referenced), but I can see the negatives associated with a boss free gaming culture. The great thing is, there will always be developers who will create games with bosses because it makes sense to have them at the time. Plus, traditional RPGs typically have bosses of some kind or another. Good article and a discussion that needs to be had.

  • I really enjoyed this article. I actually love a really well done boss battle. I don’t mind boss battles like those of God of War. As long as the boss doesn’t have cheap mechanics. I love that extra hard challenge to reach the next level.

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