While I personally feel that the fighting game genre is quite likely the most prominent contributor to the realm of tough-ass boss characters, there is another genre of game that has a similar penchant for ass-raping it’s players when it comes to boss fights.
That genre, is the shoot ‘em up.
While occasionally consisting of pure twitch reflex gameplay, the challenge in conquering most modern shoot ‘em ups lies mainly in knowing one’s hit box and a healthy dose of pattern memorization/anticipation.
And no, I will not be using the term “shmup,” as it is silly, and the people who came up with it smell like poo.
*ANYWAY* Many scrolling shooters, especially shorter ones; present gameplay challenges of such difficulty so as to be considered downright unfair, if not for the fact that the expectation is that the player will fail numerous times in attempting to slowly “learn” the stages and be able to anticipate them accordingly.
Indeed, the art of the shoot ‘em up is a relic of times past, a genre that holds little relevance amongst the 10-20 hour technical marvels that largely represent the current age of gaming.
I don’t remember where I read it, but the best description of shoot ‘em ups and old-school action games I’ve ever heard went something like:
“It’s learning how to play a small game well, as opposed to merely experiencing a large game.”
Let’s just pretend I was responsible for the quote above, ‘k?
Like many nostalgic lifelong gamers that grew up in the 8 and 16-bit era, I enjoy playing modern narrative driven games; however I often catch myself longing to go back and play some of the simpler games of the past.
That being said, today’s entrant on our list of the Top 1o Hardest Boss Fights does indeed come courtesy of a shoot ‘em up, however it by no means what I’d call a “simple” game.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that today’s boss comes from perhaps the most sophisticated (and difficult) shoot ‘em up of all time.
#2 on our list of the Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights is:
#2. Tageri and Ubusunagami Okinokai – Ikaruga
Ikaruga is one of those games that I want so badly to love, but I suck so badly at it that I just can’t…. ’Cause it’s stomped my ass into the ground more times than I’d care to admit.
I love shoot ‘em ups.
If it scrolls and it involves planes/dragons/fairies with unlimited ammo, chances are I’ve played it, or failing that; want to play it at some point in my life.
Unfortunately, I’m quite far from skillful when it comes to, well, shooting things up.
I’m usually good enough to get 2-3 stages into a shoot ‘em up before dying, but as we all know; that’s usually not nearly good enough to beat the game in the arcade without dumping $5 into the machine.
To date, I have yet to beat the console version of Ikaruga.
You see, unlike an arcade game, the console version of Ikaruga restricts the player to making use of 3 lives per stage; meaning there’s no continuing from the middle of a level.
Basically, if you can’t beat the last stage with 3 lives, then you’re sunk.
While it’s an almost obnoxiously beautiful game, both in terms of art and design; I can think of no other shoot ‘em up that requires as much memorization and focus as Ikaruga.
There are in fact harder shoot ‘em ups out there, mostly of the bullet hell sub-genre; but in my mind there are few that are better.
That however, does not change the fact that I’ve never beaten the final boss(es) of Ikaruga.
As you may have noticed up above, I actually named 2 bosses as entry #2 on our list of the Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights.
While some might call foul on that, in my mind both characters serve as the final boss of the game.
Tageri, a biomechanical monstrosity with a literal yin and yang core, serves as the penultimate challenge of the game, and boy is he a douche-rocket of an asshole:
Don’t let the INSANE skills the player in the clip above fool you, Tageri not one with whom to fuck.
You see, Ikaruga’s main gameplay innovation is the implementation of a black and white based polarity system for every attack and enemy in the game.
At the touch of a button, the player is able to change the color polarity of their ship back and forth from white to black, allowing them to harmlessly absorb enemy fire sharing their color profile and convert it to power a homing laser attack.
At the same time, enemies struck by fire of the opposite polarity take twice as much damage, making the bulk of the game an ongoing high-speed puzzle of matching polarities for survival, and opposing polarities for quick kills.
Like all of the bosses in the game, Tageri’s attack pattern involves both of the above tactics, however in a much more straightforward and confrontational fashion.
In essence, the fight with Tageri pushes your rhythm, memorization, and polarity matching skills to the limit; as his attacks never let up, and are almost impossible to avoid, forcing you to defend yourself almost exclusively absorb bullets as your only form of defense.
That’s the one element of Ikaruga that’s perhaps the most difficult to embrace, even as a veteran of shoot ‘em ups:
In Ikaruga, you’re not only expected to run into enemy bullets; at many times it’s to your advantage.
In a genre where the one steadfast rule of the gameplay is to not touch the bad things, that’s not an easy pill to swallow.
That being said, the “dot eating” aspect of Tageri’s attack pattern is a nerve-wracking experience that as mentioned earlier, I’ve yet to conquer.
All of the bosses of Ikaruga are tough, but Tageri is one of the only ones that forces you to basically stand your ground and eat every bullet on the screen throughout the duration of the fight.
This involves keeping an eye on the half dozen or so sources of fire at all times, and accounting for which color bullets are going to hit when.
The fact that you only get 3 lives, many of which can easily be exhausted before you even enter his chamber, coupled with the information overload produced by Tageri’s maddeningly aggressive attack pattern, has resulted in me never quite getting to a point in which I’d say I were “comfortable” in fighting him.
Despite this, I have managed to beat him once or twice, though I did so with little tact, and at the cost of nearly all of my lives.
Which brings us to the “other” final boss of the game, the Ubusunagami Okinokai, or “The Power of God:”
Not actually an enemy to be fought, Ubusunagami is actually just a diamond shaped object that shows up after you’ve defeated Tageri, and then proceeds to fill the screen with bullets for 60 seconds.
Indeed, you read that right.
Immediately following one of the hardest bosses in gaming, with one of the most brutal and oppressive attack patterns imaginable, you then have to face down the diamond-shaped embodiment of “The Power of God” for an entire minute.
Remember when I said Ubusunagami wasn’t really something to be “fought?”
Well, what I meant by that wasn’t just the fact that you’ve gotta’ have Korean-level gaming skills and APM to win against him, but that you also can’t fight him period.
That’s right, after encouraging you throughout the entire game to eat like colored bullets to survive, the game basically forces you to put that newly developed gaming instinct to the test and survive, without the option to fight back; for one whole minute.
While that’s admittedly a very bold and, frankly, “cool” way to force players to truly excel at the game in order to be rewarded with an ending, it’s sadly a test I don’t know I’ll ever pass.
As mentioned earlier, much of Ikaruga is based around the concept of memorization.
It’s a well known fact that Ikaruga players are among the hardest of the hardcore.
The fact that the ultimate source of pride in playing the game is not simply beating it, as few mortals can ever hope to do; but to do so with a high-score should tip you off to how dedicated they can be.
Doing so that involves killing enemies of the same polarity sequentially to string combo multipliers, or in some cases, beating the game without firing a single shot.
Yes, it’s possible, though not for this poor shmuck:
I’ve beaten games like Demon’s Souls, which involved a great deal of trial and error and persistence, but the level of memorization and timing required to beat Ikaruga straight through, are such that I’d probably have to sacrifice my ability to recognize simple shapes to free up space in my brain.
Who am I kidding, if I sat down and forced myself to be an expert Ikaruga player, I’d probably end up an autistic and incontinent husk, capable of nothing but playing shoot ‘em ups and counting cards.
Huh, if I could get Tom Cruise to take me to Vegas, that probably wouldn’t be too bad a deal…