That One Boss — A Five-Pack of the Most Accursed Bosses in Gaming

Posted by | December 11, 2008

So you’re burning through a game and leaving nothing but flame and terror in your path, then you step on up to a boss fight. “Alright,” you say, “Time to throw down and get it done.” Ten seconds later your character is smoking crater and the controller has been permanently embedded in a wall. What happened? You came up against That One Boss.

That One Boss is the bastardly son of a bitch who, for whatever reason, is just goddamn impossible to beat. They require perfect timing, an exact strategy, a heaping helping of luck, and a certain zen-like calm in execution in order to fight back the maddening frustration and the burning desire to make the TV explode with your mind. Simply being hard isn’t enough. That One Boss is beyond hard. It’s unfair. It cheats. It also stands between you and the rest of the game. Even worse, if the stars align and a ray of holy light shines down to illuminate the path to success, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to beat the boss again. Skill isn’t a factor against That One Boss, merely sheer, mind-numbing repetition until the game relents and allows you to win.

Here, then, is a collection of That One Boss drawn from my own experiences and the collective wailing moans of the gaming damned.

Sanbone Trio, Gitaroo Man
Gitaroo Man is not a particularly challenging game, even for the rhythm game genre. Which is why the appearance of That One Boss comes as such an unpleasant surprise. You’ll be chilling through the game, humming along with the catchy tunes, then you’ll come to a level where you play the guitar as the sun sets and a cute girl goes to sleep on your arm. How sweet!

That’s about when Satan Himself rises up from his eternal Hell to inscribe the game with a sulfurous touch. The next level introduces the Sanbone Trio.

They’re just your basic aztec robot skeletons, but there are three of them, and they represent a sudden wall of Screw You so fierce that its gamer-crushing power can send teeth flying like shrapnel. Seriously, I’ve seen the scars. What transforms the Sanbone Trio into That One Boss isn’t just the fact you start off their level without weaponry or health, but mostly that, again, there are three of them. Each of those mechanical bastards gets his shots in during their song, and you must defend against them all to succeed. Did I mention there are random verses, some more insane than others?

If you ever do manage to muscle past the Sanbone Trio, the rest of the game drops back down to what we might call a normal difficulty. That leave the Trio themselves alone as a huge glaring spike in the difficulty curve. With blades on. And fire.

Death, Castlevania
I’m an old-school gamer, so any chance I get to kick it retro is a good one. Unless it means dealing with this scythe-humping jackhole. You see, there’s a reason the phrase “Nintendo Hard” is out there, and this cheerful fellow is one of the poster boys for controller-smashing frustration. Chances are, most of you folks reading this never fought the original Death, so I’ll just lay out the scene for you. Imagine cracking your way through a level filled with enemies who can’t be killed. Throw in some armoured suits so tough they suck up sixteen hits with your best whip before cacking off. Frost this delicious agony cake with a walk through a corridor packed with those invincible metal suits, who throw axes, while bobbing medusa heads fly along and make it entirely unsafe to stop moving for even a second. Survive all that, and you get to face the level boss, Death.

Now, there are two ways to deal with this guy. You can cheat, and freeze him with Holy Water before he even gets started. This is the accepted method of beating him. Or, you can be an idiot, and fight Death straight. Don’t be an idiot. Here’s why.

In Castlevania, you can only attack in two directions, left and right. You can jump, but your jump is uncontrolled, letting you plunge wildly toward whatever horrible thing is in the way. You might have a special weapon that can attack above or below you, but they’re generally slow to use and come in a limited supply. Oh, yes. I almost forgot. Four hits at full health and you die. Got that?

Now, imagine a boss that summons nastiness randomly around the screen, oh, say a bunch of scythes, and those scythes stick around, homing in on you from above, below, through the terrain, whatever, unless you knock them from the air. And they come back. Forever. While the boss is also flying through the air, with an occasional side trip to park his bony ass right on top of your safe spot. That’s Death. Fighting Death is as much about lucking out so a scythe doesn’t leap into existence right on top of you as it involves putting the whip to an ancient horror. When you watch the video, keep in mind the dozens, perhaps hundreds of attempts that didn’t go quite so well and think about how your nine-year old self would do against this true monster among bosses.

Nightmare 3, Devil May Cry
Sure, it’s just another biomechanical giant slug-tank with four machineguns, a laser cannon, a point-defense system against anyone trying to get close on it, homing lamprey things that spit out and explode, and a second boss fight inside it. You’ve seen all that before. But this fight is different. You see, Nightmare’s weak spot is his power cores, but those cores come in two colours, green and red. If they’re green, he takes normal damage and attacks at normal speed. But when the cores go red, Nightmare turns into a beast, shrugging off your attacks like they were playful kitten bites, while unleashing his attacks with a speed and fury that could be rightly described as “insane.” So how do the cores go from green to red? Damage. If a core takes too much damage, it changes over. But you want to know the kicker?

Damage carries over from previous fights. And you’ve fought him before.

As a hard boss in a hard game, Nightmare 3 gets the nomination not just because he’s tough, but because he can turn into That One Boss while you’re fighting him. Even if he didn’t start that way. But oh, he can start that way. Don’t be fooled by the video. Watch what’s going on and imagine that horrorshow coming at you for the first time. Among the Devil May Cry fandom, Nightmare stands in a class of his own.

SNK Boss Syndrome
So maybe it’s not just one, single That One Boss, but more a trend, a practice of cheating bastard bosses filled steaming with punisher moves and that home-cooked controller reading goodness you’ve come to know and love. SNK bosses are so renown for their unfair abilities that a term has been coined for it, the above SNK Boss Syndrome. This is mostly seen in the King of Fighters beat ’em up games, but the cursed Syndrome pops up elsewhere. It has become a general term for a type of boss, but nowhere is it more manifest than in SNK games. The qualities that define a proper SNK boss include massive, unavoidable attacks, high priority on his attacks to cancel out your own, plenty of invincibility frames where you can’t hurt him at all, and a tendency to counter you by reading your controller input.

The accepted practice for beating an SNK boss is to glitch out his AI. This is, of course, wonderfully satisfying and highly praised by all gamers.

A good example of the SNK Boss Syndrome in action finds itself in the person of one Rugal Berstein, a character beloved by the King of Fighters developers. Because of their attentions, he’s almost impossible to beat straight, and you must take advantage of certain combos, thrown at the right moment, to break through his defense. Even then, he’ll still get off a few of his impossible, deadly moves. Check out the video to see Rugal in action and keep in mind…this is a relatively easy version.

Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Back in the 8-bit days, you had your Bowser, and your Mother Brain, and this Dracula character. But the real boss to beat was Mike Tyson. The final boxer in the game that bears his name, Mike Tyson stood alone over a field of simplistic pattern bosses and anti-climatic endings. He was tough. He is tough. Even today, Tyson is a terrible foe, untouchable to any but the most powerful of gamers. Many gamers from my generation carry his level code upon their soul, like a scar burned in by an iron brand. The numbers 007 373 5963 will follow me to my grave, and I will not be alone, because Mike Tyson was the first and most terrible That One Boss.

Here’s why. Tyson starts off with punches that’ll bore out a hole in your skull for a one-hit knockdown. He does this for ninety seconds. After that, he switches up between fast, ugly attacks that vary between alot of damage, and a hell of alot of damage. You have maybe a whole picosecond to counter between these volleys, and if you do connect, your tiny little limp-wristed lovetaps only shake loose a sliver of his health. Worse, putting him down isn’t the problem. He just gets back up. The accepted common practice against Tyson is to shave down his health in the first round for a quick knockdown in the second round. Then, clean him up with two more knockdowns for the TKO. Of course, there are no guarantees that he won’t punch your liver out through your nose before that can happen, but it’s at least a plan.

The thing that really makes Mike Tyson so horrific isn’t that he cheats. He doesn’t, not really. He isn’t invincible. He doesn’t read your controller. He’s just very, very hard. Every time he sends you spinning to the mat and that count begins like the chant to open the gates of Hell for your unclaimed soul, you can see, in those darkening moments, just what went wrong. Every time Tyson knocks you down, you know why, you can see the mistake you made. That knowledge is the most terrible thing about Tyson, because with most bosses you’d just scream something uncouth, chew your controller in half, and throw the game out the window. But here, in this place, you know the fault is entirely your own and if you were just a little faster, just a little better, you could beat him. Then you’re back in the ring for another session of punishment. Where other That One Bosses never let you win, Mike Tyson never lets you go.

That makes Mike Tyson the most That One Boss of them all.

1 Comment so far
  1. sonick
    August 3, 2009 9:41 pm

    whaaaaaat ? sanbone trio is not that bad if you take your cues from the music instead of just visually. The triplets can get rough but NOTHING and i mean NOTHING compares to the fucking nightmare that is the end boss in gitaroo man. Whichever is after zoe in the stadium, the power ballad. #10 I think. Easy to charge, but impossible to attack. fucking gitaroo man.

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