Can you remember your favorite boss in any game? Can you think of three you really enjoy? How many do you absolutely hate? For me, I dislike way more boss battles in games than I like. So many of them miss the mark of making a fun, challenging encounter. I haven’t talked much about this problem as of now, so I want to start with a boss battle that annoyed me recently. It’s at the end of Sonic Rush.
I love Sonic Rush. I think it’s a very fun game, and the best of handheld Sonic. But its final boss is one of the worst I’ve ever played. This series has a very bad history with final bosses. They usually end up being a drudge, impossible, or overly-time consuming. But I haven’t yet found one in the series worse than Rush.
Let me set the stage for you. Rush has two campaigns, consisting of the same stages with different layouts. One is played as Sonic, the other as Blaze the Cat. They control slightly differently, but end with the same boss. After getting all the emeralds as both characters, the true final boss can be beaten after completing both stories. As I said before, the same boss must be fought as both characters.
I’ll try to explain it as best I can.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
The enemy: Eggman/Eggman Nega in a massive mech suit. Nine rings are available to the player in total. The goal is to hit the mech’s cockpit eight times (on Normal) by baiting it into getting its arm stuck on the stage and running up its arm.
The boss has six attacks: 1) slamming the stage with alternating fists, which send out damaging energy waves; 2) a similar delayed slam with both fists that can kill instantly; 3) a repeated laser attack that automatically trails the player; 4) a series of drones that arc electricity across the stage in succession; 5) one similar drone that automatically trails the player and traps them, forcing them to follow under it or get hit; 6) slamming the stage to create energy 4-5 waves that the player must dodge to get on its arm.
Now, attacks 1 and 2 are the only ways to trigger 6, meaning the player has to wait for them and land a counterattack just for a chance at doing damage. As the boss progresses, it will attempt to shake the player off its arm as they try to attack. The player must crouch down and wait to stay on the arm. If the player doesn’t, or takes too long, the player gets knocked back to the stage. On top of everything else, it will also send rolling spikes down its arm that can not only do damage, but make the frame rate drop, which adds an unnecessary layer of challenge.
Three things make this fight fundamentally broken: length, random chance, and unpredictable attacks.
This boss drags on for about 7 minutes for each attempt. Over the course of two fights, I had to take about 20 tries. This part of the game took me over two stressful hours. It should’ve taken maybe 30 minutes overall.
The attacks that Eggman will use at any given time vary randomly — sometimes it’ll take a couple attacks to make him vulnerable, sometimes it’ll take four. Sometimes he’ll use the same attack twice in a row.
The problem here is that attacks 3, 4, and 5 that I mentioned above are impossible to truly learn. That is, chance determines how well the player will fare against them. 4 and 5 are both virtually undodgeable. What rubs salt in the wound is, these attacks are most common when the boss is nearly beaten. This means that the player has to complete over half the battle before dealing with three attacks that basically come down to luck. Again, this comes back to time-wasting design.
I wanna re-iterate, you have to fight this boss twice.
As difficult as this boss is, the true final boss is a chore. It consists of hits with virtually no consequences, and collecting rings to avoid death until the player can deal out a hit. Most of it is spent in meaningless hitstun.
But hey, the music is awesome.
The final boss sequence of Sonic Rush is some of the most frustrated I’ve been playing a video game. Here’s what I’d do differently for the Eggman boss:
- Reduce the necessary hits by 2 or 3. If the undodgeable attacks are staying in, the fight has to be shorter, and get to the point. This is less than ideal.
- Only include attacks with discernable patterns to which the player can adapt, to create a sense of progression. Attacks that are virtually a toll on rings only create a sense of rage. This improves the fight.
- Since the player attack sequence lags, remove the spikes. They have no reason to be there except frustration.
- My best solution is to make every attack an opportunity to make the boss vulnerable. This would cut down on wait time, leave room for learning patterns, and force out random strings of attacks.
On a fundamental level, a hard boss should be quick and dirty, and it should be something the player can improve at dealing with. It should be less a gauntlet, and more a tug of war. If the player fails repeatedly, they can become more efficient instead of waiting on a lucky run.
Again, this game is great. The boss is not. If the player is going to relive the same fight over and over, the number one priority is to give it nuance and ways to get better. Sonic as a series should take that to heart.