We Need More Boss Rush Games

As someone who writes primarily about indie games for a living, you would think that I crave cozy, casual, and non-offensive games above all others, but while I do have a soft spot for them, and cried like a baby when I played Spiritfarer, that isn’t actually the case.

In actual fact, I find myself drawn to indie games that offer challenging gameplay, powerful enemies to take down, and inhospitable worlds that beat me to a pulp for just the audacity to dare exist within them.

I would love to say that this is an area where Indie games are king, but in truth, it’s actually an area where AAA games tend to have a leg up on the Indie Community.

Undoubtedly this ability to provide more refined and nuanced difficulty settings and intuitive difficulty design is down to the higher budgets, the larger teams, and the access to better resources. But through gritted teeth I have to say, AAA games are just generally pretty good at this.

Sail into the Heartfelt Adventure of Spiritfarer Deluxe | GOG

Embark on an emotional journey of compassion and friendship in "Spiritfarer Digital Deluxe Edition," where you'll guide spirits to their final resting place aboard your mystical boat. With its stunning hand-drawn art style and heartfelt storytelling, immerse yourself in a unique blend of management simulation and heartfelt exploration.

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Why Dark Souls has been crowned the best video game of all time

When you think ‘Difficult Game‘, you think Dark Souls, and if you don’t, you probably should. It’s an example of a series that gets so much right in this regard.

The mob enemies aren’t just lambs to the slaughter, and instead, all offer a unique battle you need to approach with caution.

The Soulsborne worlds you inhabit all have unique quirks to catch you off guard, and of course, the bosses are some of the finest in terms of spectacle and design that you will find in all of gaming.

I could talk all day about AAA games that get difficulty right, but I want to dig down a little deeper into the minutia here, because there is a much more specific ‘hard game’ sub-genre that I feel we don’t see enough, and when we do, you tend to only get these titles courtesy of the Indie Game scene.

So allow me to wax lyrical about a type of game that I would really love to see more of. We need more Boss Rush Games, and here’s why!

An Introduction To Boss Rush Games

To explain what makes Boss Guantlets so near and dear to my heart, we need to understand what they are, and indeed why they are so few in number. When we think about bosses in our favorite video games, we think of intense battles and showpieces that punctuate our in-game adventures.

These battles can often be some of the most memorable moments within the game in question, but in almost every game in existence, there is an ebb and flow to the action, and after a boss battle, there is a respite, followed by an extended period of narrative exposition, exploration, or whatever else the game can throw at you to break up the action.

This is an industry-standard because, within the world of AAA gaming, a game can’t just be one thing done well. It needs to look amazing, have great combat, have a great story, offer character depth, and then have bucket-loads of optional content on the side.

There is a fear, especially from corporate-led projects, of letting gameplay be the sole driving force of a game’s story and world design.

This is something I realized recently, ironically when Playing Control, a game that arguably doesn’t have a single boss fight you would call ‘good’.

10 Control tips to master your journey through the Oldest House

Control is a game that narratively overwhelms the player, offering endless amounts of cinematic cutscenes, FMV moments, and optional documents to read within the open world. All the narrative threads are there for those who want them, and honestly, without them, you’ll miss most of the excellent writing and storytelling the game has to offer.

However, this game is brave enough to set that aside, not ram it down the player’s throat, and that’s because the moment-to-moment gameplay where you are using telekinesis, exploring the Astral Plane, or putting the game’s particle physics to the test is so much more engaging and thrilling.

Astral Plane by Orioto on DeviantArt

It’s something that made this title many people’s 2019 Game of the Year, and the fact that this game managed to earn that acclaim despite the fact that most of the player base will only engage with the main story content, which is almost entirely told through gameplay and environmental design is a testament to the brilliance of the core gameplay.

Boss Gauntlet games are brave like this, trusting in their ability to provide gameplay that stands on its own, only with these games, they do one thing and one thing very well, and that’s boss battles.

Keep Them Coming!

Boss Gauntlet games are titles that strip back the multifaceted combat experience of a traditional game, cutting the overworld exploration, character-building elements, and narrative focus to lean in fully to delivering boss battles of the highest quality one after another.

Elden Ring Leyndell, Royal Capital Guide

It’s not a concept that this completely absent from traditional gaming, but to say it has been implemented sparingly would be putting it kindly.

When I think of popular examples, I think of Leyndell in Elden Ring where the game trades in its open-world focus for a string of end-game bosses, and I think of the Data Boss Battles in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix where you must beat all the much tougher versions of Organisation XIII’s members. However, these are just portions of an otherwise more expansive and layered game.

What I want from a Boss Gauntlet game is boss battles and no deviation, and to tell you the truth, there are so few of these games in existence that it borders on upsetting.

Because these games are in my eyes the ultimate challenge. The types of games that test your mettle, force you to master their mechanics and dig into the minutia of every attack animation and skill of your enemy.

Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course DLC review

At this point, I could break off the discussion to talk about some wonderful examples, like Cuphead and its Vauderville boss rush masterclass, or Shadow of the Colossus and its use of the boss rush formula to offer a meta take on Boss Battles as a feature of gaming.

However, if you truly want to know what the best example of a Boss Gauntlet game is, and why we need more of these titles, then we need to talk about Furi.

Hell Hath No Furi

If you want a game that is solely made up of boss battles and practically nothing else, Furi is the game you need to play above all others.

This is a game where you play as a prisoner called The Stranger, who has been imprisoned on a series of connected islands floating in Earth’s Orbit, and on each island is a boss that intends to keep you contained at all costs, kind of like a big boss battle trifle.

Furi on Steam

The gameplay is a mix of Bullet Hell games where dodging endless particles and projectiles is a must, but this is also combined with a blend of beat-em-Up and Fighting Game mechanics to provide a rich tapestry of combat options, moves, and playstyles that will cater to just about anyone. Which the developers lovingly coined a ‘Shoot ‘Em Up.

The game has a sort of two-pronged approach, where the player will battle a boss, then get a story-related cut scene, and this repeats until the game’s end. Giving you just enough of a narrative motivation and connection to your player character to want to battle onward to see how this world has come to be.

However, the fact of the matter is that these story beats are fleeting rewards, as so much of your time will be spent trying to analyze and best the bosses that you encounter. With just ten bosses within the game to defeat, you would think that there would be a fear that players wouldn’t get their value for money.

But thankfully, the bosses are so meticulously designed, with tough patterns to learn, quirks to understand, and multiple phases to master, that you’ll spend hours at a time trying to break them down.

Furi - Game Baker

In theory, the game can be finished in 27 minutes if you’re up for speedrunning the game, but the beauty of this Boss Rush title is that each battle is a puzzle to solve, and that takes time. Finding strategies to evade, attack, parry, and perform special moves, are so rewarding in this game that never holds your hand, and has no off-ramps in terms of difficulty.

It’s a game that essentially takes the lightning in a bottle that the Souls series captured through its relentless bosses in an era where map markers and fetch quests dominated gaming, and then distills it down even further to ensure that only those who truly give themselves to this game and become a student of Furi will make it out on the other side.

I’ve seen games within other genres manage to create experiences where gameplay mastery is essential to progression, with platformers like Super Meat Boy and Celeste Springing to mind, as well as Roll7 titles Rollerdrome and OlliOlli.

However, I firmly believe that Boss Gauntlets are the sub-genre of game where this is always the case, and Furi, at least for me, is at the top of the pile in terms of quality.

Rollerdrome Is the Futuristic Sci-Fi Video Game Rooted in the '70s

Furi is a game that I admire and adore so much, but it’s also a reminder of how few games there are like this in the wild. And, it’s also a reminder that boss battles, outside of the Soulsborne sub-genre are just not getting the love they deserve in this era of modern gaming.

We Need More Big Baddies!

The reason why I personally believe that Boss Gauntlets are so few and far between is because modern gaming is reluctant to spend time designing and perfecting boss battles.

We are still in the era where narrative-focused titles and open worlds dominate the sales charts. Games where immersion takes center stage, graphical fidelity is given hyper-focus right down to the last hair follicle, and where developers feel they need to tell a potent story to ensure that their IP and their protagonist is slapped on billboards for decades to come.

Which, just to clarify is not always necessary, because when I mention characters from games where the story is only a fraction of the game’s focus like The Binding of Issac, Super Meat Boy, or Octodad: Dadliest Catch for example, you can immediately picture those characters.

Whereas I couldn’t tell you the name of a single character from last year’s best-selling game Hogwarts Legacy, and I played the whole damn thing.

Review Hogwarts Legacy is a brainless disappointment

This focus means, as I said at the top of this article, games need to be a little bit of everything, and when that’s the case, very rarely are these games an example of excellence in any one area.

When I think of recent offenders, I immediately think of Jedi Survivor and its decision to crowbar farming and fishing into their gameplay loop. Why? Why would anyone want that?

It’s something that then bleeds into boss battle design, and the best example of this is Final Fantasy XVI, a game from a series that spans decades, and has more or less always offered a range of incredibly tough and nuanced bosses where tactical and methodical planning were a must to succeed and progress.

Final Fantasy 16 Infernal Eikon Boss Guide

Yet in the most recent outing, bombastic set pieces, narrative focus, and quicktime events were championed over actual boss design, leading to rather lukewarm fights where control of frequently ripped from the player, making the whole encounter feel like an interactive cut-scene.

As someone who grew up in an era of level-based games where boss battles were almost non-negotiable in all games, this move toward games where boss battles are either a vehicle for narrative, done poorly, or not attempted at all really disheartens me.

Titan Souls review

This is why I hope that indie developers do what they often do and lead by example by providing more games like Furi, Cuphead, and Titan Souls, and champion the art of boss design and the boss rush format.

Until then, I will stand in the center of the arena, sword drawn and alert, waiting for my next real challenger.

Give Me A Real Challenge

So there you have it guys, my take on why Boss Rush games are amazing, and why we need to see more of them in the near future.

I hope that this was a fun read for you, and I would love to hear your opinion in the comments. Heck, I may even answer them all back-to-back like a boss gauntlet. As always, thanks for reading Indie Game Culture.

Sail into the Heartfelt Adventure of Spiritfarer Deluxe | GOG

Embark on an emotional journey of compassion and friendship in "Spiritfarer Digital Deluxe Edition," where you'll guide spirits to their final resting place aboard your mystical boat. With its stunning hand-drawn art style and heartfelt storytelling, immerse yourself in a unique blend of management simulation and heartfelt exploration.

Check Price
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

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