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What makes a boss unforgettable?

11:54 AM on 05.05.2007 // Colette Bennett

I just had a humbling experience. I was at a friend's house, enjoying some quality Wii time, when I saw he had the VC version of Punch Out on his channels. My desire to play overwhelmed me and I repeatedly wailed "Punch Out! Punch Out!" until the game was set up and ready to go.

"Let me tell you," I brag to the friend,"I have played this game so many times I can do it without paying a scrap of attention." I get all fired up and ready to beat all the opponents seemingly with no effort whatsoever, sure of myself as can be. Down went all the usual goons without a wasted punch. "Wow, go you!" says the friend. Now it's time for King Hippo, and I get really snarky in the head, thinking, this gimmick piece of sh*t, he's the easiest thing in this whole game.

Then King Hippo slapped my ass to the ground and knocked me out. I went from proud hero to humbled hooker in one minute flat. It hurt, friends, but let me tell you: my pride was mortally wounded. Not only had I been beaten by Hippo, but I had been beaten IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE. The shame drove me to drink, but even in a haze of spirits and illegal intoxicants, all I could think about was Hippo in the TKO position.

It occurred to me that it is this rare state that produces the adrenaline that drives so many gamers to keep trying to beat an infuriating part of a game. What's the difference between a death that makes you doubly as determined and one that makes you throw your controller on the floor and quit? It's a delicate balance, that's for sure. Something about NES generation games seemed to have it down to a science. Hit the jump to check out the triforce of successful bossery.

1. Unforgettable bosses.

King Hippo is such a distinctive guy. He might smell like a pile of festering skunk corpses, but he is memorable enough to stick in your mind. Good character design personifies a jumble of graphics and code into something resonant enough the straddle the border between fantasy and reality. This makes him much more important to conquer than a random character that you really don't care about.

2.Solid dialogue. 

If you say "a miserable little pile of secrets" to any Castlevania fan, you're sure to see eyes light up instantly. In retrospect, this dialogue is so bad it's good, but associated with a boss fight; it helps to immortalize the sequence in the minds of the people playing. In the upcoming Destructoid video game, the upcoming Ron Workman miniboss has some award worthy dialogue, but you'll have to wait and beat him to see for yourself.

3. Battle formula. 

All bosses have a pattern. The smart gamers sit tight in their initial encounter with a new foe and watch for it to become clear. The most unique of these stick with you like glue -- anyone can tell you Hippo's weak point is his annoying big mouth. Shame you can't stuff something other than your fist in there for him, really. Sometimes game designers try too hard to create the magic formula here (see final boss in Chrono Cross for a prime example).


Hippo was designed well. The reason why I know this is that I woke up this morning thinking about ripping his tongue out of his face. I pulled up Punch Out on my NES, played up to his fight and took him out with a vengeance worthy of Hitler. I got satisfaction out of it, but more importantly the game got repeat play twenty three years after its original release. If that's not a victory for replayability, what is?

Colette Bennett,
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