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What makes a "good" boss fight in Sonic?


ZinogreVolt

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There's obviously a lot of discussion surrounding Sonic Frontiers, but one of the key points that people loop back around to are the Titan boss battles, with many seeing them as the game's highlight. With this in mind, what do you think are the main ingredients towards making compelling boss fights in a Sonic game?

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I don't know if I should clarify beforehand but Frontiers spoilers, honestly not sure if we're allowed to be open about those here or not. If not, just remove this post and let me know.

Atmosphere and style are probably the most important. Most Sonic boss fights are very simple and usually not very difficult, Frontiers bosses included (except The End which I'll get to later.)

The way boost Sonic is set up, can make really compelling levels but interesting boss fights are a bit harder to work with, since boost sonic is really only good at one thing: Running forward and really fast. A lot of boost bosses are pretty similar in style, dodge a few attacks then homing attack the boss to do a set amount of damage. Rinse and repeat until one of you lose first. Not necessarily a bad thing, but after a few games of this being the case it gets kind of tedious.

Frontier's super sonic bosses aren't that much better. Dodge a few basic attacks (or in most cases, you can easily just tank them and dash forward since Super doesn't actually lose rings on damage, removing the 1 mechanic that's supposed to keep you from playing too risky in a sonic game). Only difference is instead of doing a single homing attack, you just mash attack and maybe chain together a few of the finisher moves, rinse and repeat. Except for The End but I'll get to that, hold on again.

The reason these boss fights that should be mind-numbingly boring and simple aren't seen as a con, is because of the atmosphere and style. The pure spectacle of finishing off Giganto, or using the Knight's own sword against him carry these fights. This extends to other Sonic games, the spectacle of duking it out in a ruined city against Perfect Chaos, or fighting for the sake of the world against the world itself with Dark Gaia, makes for a thrilling experience. You're playing Sonic fights for the same reason you play his games, not for the difficulty or variety. You play them for the spectacle and adrenaline rush they provide. There's a good reason Sonic never gets brought up when people discuss good platformer level design, because that has never really been Sonic's strong suit/main focus. Spectacle is.

The End however, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It's a Sonic boss fight that actually forgoes all spectacle, and actually tries to throw the player into more than a playable cutscene where you dodge a few things then hit homing attack for 3 minutes. I understand why people dislike The End, the sudden gameplay shift to a completely different genre can be a turn off, but I really don't think it's as bad as people say it is. The End just represents the other side of the sonic boss spectrum, gameplay over spectacle. The End tries to put gameplay first, and actually give the player something to focus on and constantly be kept on their toes. You are constantly focusing on it, if you zone out you will lose. It's difficult, like a final boss should be. I'm not entirely saying The End is a perfect fight. I understand why people dislike it and that it is most likely the result of time crunch, I just want to explain that a "Good Sonic Boss Fight" is largely determined by spectacle more than actual intriguing gameplay, but the latter can still prove to be a good boss fight if done well. People's reactions to The End solidifies that for me.

I guess to shorten all this a bit and make it less hyper-focused on a specific boss, a good Sonic boss should have spectacle to it. A boss where nothing cool happens, is hardly a boss in Sonic terms. Music, location, what you're fighting all add to this, even if at the end of the day it ends up being a super simple QTE. And that's fine, sometimes it's fun to live a power fantasy at the very end of a long dangerous adventure.

Spoiler

I suck at explaining things so man I hope this gets the point across well enough.

 

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Sonic's a platformer, so a good Sonic boss should challenge your platforming, your control over the character's movement. For that reason I consider Frontiers' Titans to be failures as Sonic bosses. You might be able to make better arguments for some of the minibosses, but I can't think of any that I'd particularly praise. The ones more focused on movement, like Asura and that one with the circular grind rails on the second island, seem to be some of the more awkward ones.

Most other games keep the focus on platforming, but I wouldn't say there's many that stand out as actually good, as opposed to just in the right genre and hopefully passable. While they don't really play to the game's or the series' strengths, I've always felt Rush Adventure had some of the better bosses in the series. Machine Labyrinth's Ghost Pendulum rewards you for getting a bit of a run-up (or even a quick spindash) when hitting a pendulum; the faster you move, the further you hit it, either swinging it high enough to hit the boss or building up some energy to make the next hit bigger. The different sized pendulums are harder or easier to move and do more or less damage, respectively, and with their constant movement you're encouraged to keep changing up your focus and strategy, switching between quick, low-damage hits from the small pendulum and taking time to work up the larger pendulums for higher damage as each is available. Sky Babylon's Ghost Condor centers around a sort of reverse juggle; each hit on the boss bounces you away, but with your air trick and careful movement you can keep yourself on the top screen, either launching yourself back into the boss or landing on a platform for a moment to reorient yourself. The better you can control yourself the more hits you can rack up before you either miss or are forced to drop the "juggle" to escape its missiles and fall down to the autorunner part. Big Swell's Ghost Titan has some similar "juggling", though without tricks or platforms it's more limited, but balances it by having you lead the boss into attacking the shielded cannons, opening up your chance to attack directly.

I think these ones stand out because they break away from the strict dodge, attack, repeat structure a lot of Sonic bosses fall into; doing well isn't just about avoiding damage and getting in your scheduled hits, you can play more aggressively to open up opportunities and do more damage. They're also bulky enough that getting in a good sequence of hits doesn't take them out before they can even attack, like some classic styled bosses which are on the more freeform side but go down in 8 hits.

I'd like to see bosses that have a similar flow to them but incorporate more "Sonicy" movement, but I don't think the series has ever really managed it. I feel like the closest might be Casino Night of all things, putting you in that enclosed loop and letting you ramp off the sides to attack. But it feels pretty cramped and it's easy to lose track of the boss and its attacks if you scroll them offscreen or build up any serious speed, so it's hard to go all out. Sonic's speed demands a pretty large space, which is hard to build a boss arena around.

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This is a very hard question to answer because Sonic bosses have never been particularly good. That's not really Sonic's fault, so much as the platforming genre doesn't really allow for much variety in Boss fights. 

Platformers, by nature, are about navigating obstacle courses; something that's movement based, as opposed to boss fights which are one on one encounters with a specific enemy.  

One is focused on movement, while the other is a combat encounter. Its why most platforming boss fights are pretty simple in nature; dodge a few attacks and hit them a set number of times. 

 

Its not exclusive to Sonic, Mario has pretty boring boss fights too. I feel like the reason Frontiers' fights are getting praised so much is that while they're still simple in nature, they play up the spectacle and style of the bosses themselves. I'm not gonna say its a particularly graceful solution, but if you're gonna have simplistic fights by nature, focusing more on spectacle makes sense at least. The downside is that once it wears off, you're not left with much and on subsequent playthroughs, it starts to feel dragged. 

 

I feel like Frontiers' bosses don't really tap into the series' potential as a platformer, but I feel like that's a genre wide problem. So if nothing else, I can at least give Sonic the fact that it tries to make the boss fight encounter significant in nature, even if it still is pretty simplistic.

 

I think Perfect Chaos in Generations is a good blueprint though; you don't actually fight the boss itself, but navigate a platforming course that is being destroyed by the boss itself to get to its weakpoint. I hope they experiment more with that, while still keeping the spectacle. 

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What makes a compelling boss fight in a Sonic game?

To me, the main ingredient to a compelling fight (not even a boss fight) is writing a compelling character/ enemy to fight. It makes all the work so much easier if you personify the object you're trying to beat/ surpass.
- Guys' been giving you smack the entire game? satisfying end when you finally give him his comeuppance
- Character kicked your ass at the start, but through training in the game, you find the strength to overcome? sense of achievement
- You've been struggling and fighting the entire fight, gaining inches of the ground, but losing feet's length with every slip-up, and finally your perseverance brought victory? relief

 

A quick google search on "best video game final bosses ever" by screen rant (yes could be biased) gives you a list of varying genres. I played (Witcher 3, Fire Emblem, TLoZ OoT) and seen (GoW, Darksouls 3, Sekiron) a couple of them, and not all of them are particularly hard fights (Fire Emblem, Ganondorf fight of OoT), but they've been hyped up the entire game or several games long, they're ball-busting difficult, or the spectacle is off the charts.
Another good boss fight is Metal Gear Solid 3's final fight with the Boss. The story between Snake and the Boss has been leading up to this final confrontation with good story writing, discourse, conflict, and a satisfying resolution.

I'm not expecting Sonic to suddenly become Darksouls levels of difficulty or Metalgear Rising Revengence levels of bombastic 1 on 1 fighting. Because that's more of a fighter/ hack n' slash game. Sonic is thus far intrinsically a platformer and those just aren't difficult when you get to grips with the controls unless you throw in reaction time challenges in them.

Story wise I felt SA2's cannons' core was a good climax, you used all the characters one after the other to collectively get to the finish topping them off with 2 biolizard fights where it's about platforming and dodging attacks. Each step increases tension, although not necessarily challenge as you inch closer and closer to a potential victory.

In Frontiers the Titans were good spectacle fights, but what @Kuzumeantions here is what I've been trying to put my finger on for the longest why by the 4th fight it felt less special... it's the spectacle that became a bit stale. In previous games Super Sonic felt like something special, you've been fighting tooth and nail to get the emeralds just so you can finally use them in the final fight. Well... here you use them 4 times.
The climax with "The End" eh... that has something to do with how "The End" was introduced... the story didn't feel like it revolved around "The End", but more around who were the ancients and what happened to them. "The End" was the simple answer to that question, but suddenly is our problem/ mess to clean up.

What would I call a compelling boss? Infinite COULD have been a compelling boss, broken by Eggman, pride tarnished by Shadow, but story-wise he went nowhere and got replaced by an Egg-dragoon mech again.

 

 

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On 11/27/2022 at 2:07 AM, Diogenes said:

Sonic's a platformer, so a good Sonic boss should challenge your platforming, your control over the character's movement. For that reason I consider Frontiers' Titans to be failures as Sonic bosses.

This would make sense if Frontiers was a strict platformer. But its more of a combat-focused action game with platforming. Given how much combat you're expected to do normally, I would say the Titan fights are good in the sense that its a continuation and a larger scale version of what you're already capable of doing as Sonic regularly. That and they're a good spectacle.

If you're coming from the angle that none of that is what Sonic should be, that's fine, but not really relevant given what Frontiers actually is as a game.

 

I do agree that having 4 Super Sonic boss fights runs the risk of making the concept a bit too stale before the big bad final boss rears its head. But that is more of a structural issue than an actual individual boss issue.

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For classic games, the key was always to make it bite sized. When it was frustrating or too large, or way too short and simple(most of Sonic CD comes to mind), people tend to find those as the worst in the series. Meanwhile the best in the series are ones that provide a challenge but nothing really crazy either. Stuff like Sonic 3's final boss, aquatic ruin's boss, and starlight zone's boss. They all provide one pretty obvious way to hit the boss, one simple mechanic, and are over before you know it while still providing a short bit of timing and platforming challenge. How fast you complete them is up to your ability to keep consistent.

As for 3D, I'll go ahead and say they're usually the weakest parts. Sonic Adventure 2 basically had a 'dodge and wait for an opening' system which was frankly pretty boring. The only boss in that game I'd consider really fun was Finalhazard since completing it is really up to your own skill rather than waiting for an obvious opening. A second from Adventure 2 would go to Hot Shot, since those boxes provide a quick kill option if you're good enough, and he's actively destroying them throughout the fight stratching it out. And this goes for a lot of other bosses in the series as well, there's too much waiting for an opening when I think the key for a good boss battle is the ability for the player to get in damage constantly provided they're skilled enough. When a boss is 5 minutes long no matter how good or bad you are, it's just boring. Length should come from being unskilled only.

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What makes a good boss is basically everything frontiers did.  Probably some of the best bosses this series has had. Over the top action, with a killer soundtrack for each. It was literally metal gear rising. Some may prefer the old games wait for a attack hit, wait, hit wait method but fighting that semi final boss to the soundtrack him knocking you away and whipping out a huge rail gun for you to counter just had me smiling the entire time. A boss fight needs to  be fun and exciting. Not boring basically

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Frontiers was really cool as a change of pace - to be honest I've wanted a Sonic game with larger-than-life "the music video you imagine in your head when listening to the soundtrack" anime-ass boss fights forever, and I was really happy that Frontiers went all out on them, but they are mostly spectacle over substance.  If a game has a few of those backed up by proper bosses, I'm happy.

For those "proper bosses", basically agree with Diogenes. It should be all about testing platforming movement.  I am game for more Perfect Chaos (SA1 or Gens)/Dark Gaia Phase 1 and GHOST dealies where the boss basically is "just platforming" with a big bulls-eye at the end of the course, but I feel like you can only really get away with one or two of these per game - they are basically just regular levels where you could replace the boss' attacks with any old hazard like falling rocks or homing missiles from regular badniks etc.  GHOST has a little more leeway for creativity due to taking place on the open zone but you can't really stray that far from the preset course without deactivating the encounter.

Also agreed that Sonic Rush Adventure was probably the series pinnacle for creative, satisfying boss fights that strike a great balance between traditional "8 hits and they're dead" type bosses and bosses that go down incrementally based on skill beyond just reaching the weak point (if you only manage to get one hit in per "cycle" you'll still be fine, as that first hit upon reaching them again does extra damage and then the subsequent hits do scratch damage that CAN rack up if you're skilled).  The only flaw I'd say is that they were all fairly gimmicky without that much game feel from the platforming gameplay passing into them.

I'd definitely like to see more bosses that play with momentum in the 2D games if we ever get any more, but they will have to program the game to zoom out the camera sometimes for those to work (again, Diogenes Casino Night example).  Ironically Sonic 4 Episode II did do exactly this to advantage during that game's fairly decent boss fights, but we're not exactly going to that game for momentum stuff.

If we get a direct sequel to Frontiers, I'd like to see a bit more free-form stuff in terms of giving us a moving target to reach in a large arena full of geometry and gimmicks to play off of to reach it.  We get a taste of this sort of gameplay when SQUID shows up and the path isn't convenient enough to just hop onto and you try to use whatever is nearby to launch yourself towards it instead.

So yeah, while I'm fine with a one or two bosses per game that are just levels in disguise if that works thematically, I think what bosses COULD do to feel different from the main gameplay and justify themselves as worthwhile (beyond "there are bosses because Sonic has always had bosses") is test your platforming skills in a more constrained area, where essentially you are having to master a particular "platforming task" over and over again to reach the bosses' weakpoint, with the curveball that attacks and hazards will be varying each time across the course of that platforming task (depending on the state of the boss' attack pattern or AI decisions) requiring you to adjust and rethink your movement on the fly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Most people here are talking about the gameplay. While fair I wish to talk about the other most important aspect of a boss fight.

I believe one of the most important things is the music.

Tell me, can you remember the Death Egg Robot theme? I bet you can. A good boss theme can make a mediocre fight feel climatic and a great one feel perfect. Gameplay is the most important, but a great boss can falter if the music is bad. This is something the series excels at, just look at Frontiers.

Thanks for reading.

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1 hour ago, T-pup production said:

Most people here are talking about the gameplay. While fair I wish to talk about the other most important aspect of a boss fight.

I believe one of the most important things is the music.

Tell me, can you remember the Death Egg Robot theme? I bet you can. A good boss theme can make a mediocre fight feel climatic and a great one feel perfect. Gameplay is the most important, but a great boss can falter if the music is bad. This is something the series excels at, just look at Frontiers.

Thanks for reading.

Music is definitely important. Something Sonic Frontiers does particular well here is using dynamic scoring throughout different fights. Other Sonic games have done this with layering intensity for different phases, but Frontiers is especially good at syncing up different beats and even vocals with their titan fights in particular. That does a lot to immerse the player as it links gameplay with the music. 

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Mechanical depth be damned, people are definitely gonna remember Sonic cutting Knight in half with its own weapon, set to a slower and more melancholy reprise of Find Your Flame's chorus. Spectacle and presentation goes a long way in making a boss feel great to fight. Although the Titans have the distinct benefit of making up an extremely small amount of game time, so the reliance on cinematic elements never really gets a chance to become grating. 

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It's probably why the last titan

Spoiler

Supreme is so disappointing by comparison. Technically speaking it's on par and in theory should be the best since it's the harder one, but it has far less flair compared to the others so it kind of fails to impress.

Spoiler

Then there's the purple moon in the room that kinda further deflates everything 

 

 

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My bigger problem with the titans is the context and framing. The stakes just aren't very high compared to previous Sonic boss battles so it's a lot harder for me to get invested in the narrative of it. That and like...even as far as anime action goes this camera work is just shit a lot of the time, lol. Jerky, obscuring the action or some of his attacks with his body, stiff animation, constantly cutting between shots for no reason, only a few money shots came out okay.

Add to the fact that the gameplay was about as clunky as it's always been and they were kind of a miss for me despite some cool moments. If you're going to sacrifice gameplay for narrative and spectacle those things need to be firing on all cylinders. 

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