The Rights And Wrongs Of Bonus Bosses

by Joe Juba on Jul 25, 2013 at 02:03 PM

Beating a game doesn’t always mean that the experience is over. For devoted fans, many games include additional tasks to undertake, including bonus bosses. These extra battles are often more difficult than the real final boss, giving players a sense of mastery and accomplishment for overcoming the challenge. Simply including a hidden monster with lots of hit points isn’t enough; these end-game battles should push players in all the right ways without resorting to cheap tactics or tedium. These are our tips for how to make a cool bonus boss – and how to avoid making a bad one.

Right: Skill-based

Boss battles aren't fun when they're just formalities. If grinding to hit the level cap or finding an overpowered weapon turns victory against any foe into a forgone conclusion, then something has gone wrong. Bonus bosses are at their best when you can't just overwhelm them with brute force; they should require the skills that you've spent an entire game cultivating.
Be Like: Bayonetta (Father Rodin) 

Wrong: Dumb-looking

Nothing kills the drama of an epic confrontation like seeing that your opponent is...a ball of clay? A marble? Some kind of jawbreaker? If players are going to feel awesome after beating a super boss, games should at least give them the satisfaction of fighting something that looks cool. 
Don’t Be Like: Final Fantasy IX (Ozma)

Right: High Difficulty

This is similar to the skill-based entry, but the distinction is important. Not only should boss fights be a test of skill rather than your willingness to grind, but they should also push those skills to their limits. Even if your characters are completely powered up and have all of the best weapons, bonus bosses should still have the potential to wipe you out if you aren't playing careful and constant attention. 
Be Like: Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (Demi-Fiend)

Wrong: Inaccessibility

Hiding a hard fight at the end of an extra dungeon is fine, but they shouldn't be more buried than that. Requiring extensive sidequests, obscure item collection, or improbable other requirements just to access a battle is tiresome. Sure, it makes the accomplishment that much sweeter, but what's the point of a bonus boss if only a fraction of players even get to see it? 
Don’t Be Like: Super Street Fighter II Turbo (Akuma)

Right: Try Something New

If players are fighting a bonus boss, it means they have probably seen everything else the game has to offer. Developers shouldn't be afraid to use these encounters as a chance to try something different or clever with the combat systems they've refined. As long as the basic mechanics are consistent with the core experience, players will appreciate the novelty along with the challenge.
Be Like: Dragon’s Dogma (Ur Dragon) 

Wrong: Too Long

There's nothing wrong with a boss that takes time to defeat, as long the fight remains a test of skill rather than one of endurance. A boss with 50 million hit points isn't awesome just by virtue of the fact that it takes forever to defeat. It needs tactical variety; when the only requirement for victory is that you don't completely give up out of boredom, then the bonus boss should go back to the drawing board.
Don’t Be Like: Final Fantasy XII (Yiazmat)

That’s our list. What are the main things you look for in a great bonus boss?