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The Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights, #1


Alrighty folks, today we finally reach the big #1 on our list of The Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights.

On our journey up through the Top 10, we’ve covered bosses featured in games of numerous genres, ranging from action platformers to 2D fighters.

Yesterday we took a closer look at Tageri and Ubusunagami Okinokai, a pair of end-game bosses from the acclaimed Treasure shoot ’em up, Ikaruga.

While some bosses earned their places on this list through being deceptive or unpredictable, the 2 bosses mentioned above did so through possessing entirely predictable, but immensely complex and oppressively persistent attack patterns.

There are innumerable traits and profiles to choose from, but when it comes to describing that which makes for the most difficult of boss fights, in my mind the combination of the 2 listed above makes for the perfect unbeatable monster of the videogame realm.

To be “unpredictable in one’s predictability.”

That’s what makes for the greatest challenges, not just in gaming, but in all things of a competitive or adversarial nature.

Today’s boss, the #1 ranked entry on our list of the Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights, possesses the aforementioned elusiveness, while at once making use of crushing attack power and inhuman speed.

That being said, The Hardest Boss Fight is:

“Iron” Mike Tyson – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Pictured: Little Mac mere nano-seconds away from eating a right uppercut from Tyson.

Mike Tyson is of those rare bosses that is so hard that there’s a certain elegance to be found in the brutally of his design.

The original Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (that’s right, we’re not talkin’ that Mr. Dream bullshit) came out in 1987, smack dab in the era in which few would argue “Iron” Mike’s claim to the title of “Baddest Man on the Planet.”

To put things in perspective, at the time of the game’s release Tyson was 31-0, with only 4 of his wins going to decision.

The rest, went pretty much like this:

While time has gone on to prove things otherwise, in 1987 Mike Tyson was, for lack of a better term; invincible.

What better than to honor the man’s reputation than by creating an 8-bit digital version of him that was every bit as powerful, quick, elusive and intimidating than the real thing?

In case you couldn’t tell by now, that’s pretty much what the folks over at Nintendo did.

That’s right, they took the terrifying essence of Mike Tyson, and crammed it into an NES cartridge for mass consumption.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!: The game that eats your children.

In real life, Tyson’s aura of invincibility was shattered in 1990 through a complex combination of a lax training camp, possible fatigue generated by traveling to Japan and fighting at an off-time, and the relentless, pressuring attack of one James “Buster” Douglas, a B-level fighter emboldened by the recent passing of his mother.

While that’s how things went down in real life, the sad fact of the matter is that, in order to even last 2 seconds with the “Iron” Mike featured in Punch-Out!!, one’s best bet is to play defensive and look to land blows immediately after slipping one of his.

Which, if you've never seen it before; results in THIS delightful face.

Of course, if it were that simple Mike Tyson wouldn’t be the Hardest Boss on this list, now would he?

The core mechanics of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! are extraordinarily simple on paper, though in practice their complexity is not to be denied.

Much like real boxing, in every fight in the game the basic strategy, without fail; is to dodge or block your opponent’s blows while landing your own in response.

In the game, when you miss or block punches you lose “hearts,” which are representative of one’s stamina and must be exchanged at a rate of 1:1 in order throw punches.

Countering an opponent “clean,” that is; at the exact frame of animation in which they would’ve hit you with a blow of their own, awards you with “stars” that can be used to execute a devastating (but slow) super punch.

Every fight in the game goes a maximum of 3 rounds, with decision wins being a possibility, though more often than not fights end with one of the boxers being TKO’d due to the 3 knockdown rule being in effect.

Which will result Tyson doing his nifty "win" pose.

At it’s core, Punch-Out!! is a game that is based around timing and memorization.

Every fighter in the game has “tell” of some sort that signals you of their actions, though it’s up to the player to identify the meaning of these signals while surviving under the strength of their reflexes in the meantime.

All of the fighters in the game have a complex pattern to their actions, though many of them expand on their repertoire of moves should they be allowed to advance to the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the fight.

Mike Tyson takes all of the above complexities and turns them up to 11.

His power is unworldly.

His timing is deceptive and uncertain.

To put it in his own words:

Seriously man, words cannot describe the beastly-ness of Mike Tyson.

Like our #2 entrant(s) on this list, Mike Tyson is a rare example of a final challenge that demands absolute precision and excellence in all of the skills you’ve acquired throughout the game.

While I’d argue that such a gesture on the part of the game’s developers is actually quite admirable, especially in this modern age of gaming where “hand-holding” is in many ways the norm; there’s no denying that Mike Tyson is a videogame challenge was designed to be conquered by only the best of the best.

AKA The Koreans.

His absurd power and speed alone would likely make him worthy of the Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights, however at the end of the day it’s his indecipherable timing that make him it’s king.

Like all of the fighters in Punch-Out!!, “Iron” Mike signals his attacks with a gesture or facial tic, however the reaction time necessary to avoid the resulting attacks,; let alone capitalize on the openings presented by them, is downright superhuman.

Not only that, the timing of his attacks, and his pattern on the whole, is somewhat variable; resulting in instances of familiarity on repeat plays, but never complete consistency.

Even if you somehow manage to avoid his attacks and land a follow up shot, if the timing of your offense is off by a fraction of a second, or worse yet, you overextend yourself and throw one too many punches; his recovery time is usually quick enough to punish you.

Pictured: What it looks like to be "punished" by Tyson.

Another tricky aspect of “Iron” Mike’s game, is the fact that his blows suck stamina like a fuckin’ Dyson, resulting the inevitable instance or 2 in which you’ll have to hang on for dear life and dodge a few of his shots in sequence in order to get your wind back.

Given the imperceptible nature of most of his attacks, this is usually the point in the fight when Mike Tyson picks you apart and puts you to sleep.

Dodging his attacks every now and again isn’t terribly difficult, but doing so several times consecutively is a whole ‘nother story.

Such is the indescribably nerve-wracking experience that is fighting Mike Tyson.

I’ve never beaten him, and to date I’ve only gotten to Mike Tyson maybe 1 or 2 times in my life.

While he’s quite a bit more “fight-able” than some of the lesser bosses of this list, (*cough!* Duriel *cough!*) in that it’s possible for an above-average player to hit, and even knock him down once, Mike Tyson remains to me the Hardest Boss Fight in videogames.

In fact, in many ways “Iron” Mike’s faux vulnerability is what makes him the #1 entrant on this list.

While as the final boss of the game he was appropriately given the tools to run over you at the outset of the fight, his AI was cleverly designed to fight in unpredictable fits and spurts, resulting in a perpetually tense situation wherein you don’t know what kind of Tyson you’re going to be dealing with.

You could spend 2 thirds of the fight straight-up handling a relatively lax and predictable Tyson, only to have him suddenly shift gears and unexpectedly put you to sleep in the closing moments of the final round kind of like this:

There’s no such thing as catching your rhythm or finding your “comfort zone” with Mike Tyson.

Much of Tyson’s aura of invincibility in real-life was perpetuated by psychological means, through the fear each of his opponents failed to conquer, before and after stepping into the ring with him.

If Mike Tyson was unbeatable in his prime for this reason (among others) in real-life, then personally I find it’s only befitting that his videogame counterpart should share this reputation.

Thanks For Reading!

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The Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights, #2


As you’ve likely noticed, the past couple of entries on our list of The Top 10 Hardest Boss Fights have both been final boss characters from fighting games.

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.

Yes, this is in fact playable. And yes, it is in fact EASIER than the game featured today.

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

Pictured: A brave pilot faces down the bullet spewing final bosses of 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.

Money I likely would've preferred to have pumped into Aliens vs. Predator.

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.

That's a direct quote by the way.

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:”

Awr?...

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.

Before the dark times, before the Empire, THIS is what Ubusunagami looks like.

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.

THIS. FOR AN ENTIRE 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…

*Sigh* If only...

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Best Boss Music #10: Ikaruga

I loves me some space shooters.

Foh’ real man, if a game is vertical scrolling, and involves a great deal of shooting, chances are I’ve either played it, or would very much like to play it.

Ikaruga stands as a game that is at or near the apex of quality and ingenuity for the vertical scrolling shoot ’em up subgenre.

Right next to this beast...

Developed by legendary team over at Treasure, Ikaruga is an intensely complex and difficult game, that while actually quite short, even by shoot ’em up standards, is very difficult to complete, even for the most seasoned of veterans.

I myself have never managed to beat Ikaruga, only getting far enough to get to the first step of the final boss’ stoop.

"Haha! Stoop Kid's afraid to leave his stoop!"

Set somewhere amid the same mythology as the one conceived in Treasure’s earlier Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga is one of the rare shoot ’em ups that actually has a legitimate backstory, albeit one that is completely omitted from the actual gameplay.

Similar to many of the older generation games, Ikaruga’s storyline was told, in detail; within the game’s instruction manual, as well as in cryptic messages that would flash on-screen briefly between each of the games 5 stages.

Yeah, 'cause I can read that...

While not nearly as deep as say, Konami’s Gradius series’, Ikaruga’s story is actually fairly intriguing.

The basic setup is that of a powerful empire discovering the power of God, only to wield it against it’s own people in an attempt to create absolute peace.

So, the evil empire discovers The Force...

This of course leads to a rebel faction taking up arms, only to be nearly completely annihilated in the process.

... And obviously the Rebels are fucking incompetent.

One pilot though, whom the player assumes control of, crash lands in village called Ikaruga (Mottled Finch).

... Said pilot crashes on a planet to acquire The Force...

The old people there, living in exile from the empire grant this pilot a ship imbued with a power similar to the power of God discovered earlier, though broken down into 2 separate polarities, black and white, or Yin and Yang.

Humor me and pretend you're interested.

With this power at your command, you the player dash headlong into the maw of the enemy forces on a suicide mission to turn the tide of the war.

The Yin and Yang concept mentioned above serves as the very core of Ikaruga’s unique gameplay.

Basically, every enemy and bullet in Ikaruga belongs to one of the 2 polarities of black or white.

With the touch of a button, the player is able to change their ship’s polarity back and forth between black or white alignment.

Pictured: The White and Black forms of the ship as rendered in pixel-format by Metaru.

When in either color state, the player’s ship becomes immune to all enemy bullets sharing it’s color.

Not only that, but purposely absorbing bullets of the same polarity slowly charges one’s special attack meter, which can be unleashed in the form of a massive homing laser attack that serves as Ikaruga’s equivalent to the classic shoot ’em up bomb attack.

Yup, that's a bomb.

At the same time, the player also has to take into consideration the fact that enemies take twice as much damage when struck by a laser of the opposite polarity.

This leads to occasional mental overload on the part of the player due to the constant possibility to trade the security of fighting an enemy of the same polarity, in favor of potentially destroying them faster by switching to the opposite polarity.

Now imagine this when you're EXPECTED to purposely run into half of this.

As mentioned earlier, Ikaruga is a very short game, at only 5 stages in length, however it’s difficulty stems from the intense level of strategic thinking necessary to maneuver each stage.

A huge element of the difficulty in Ikaruga springs from the fact that, in order to played correctly, one must effectively reprogram their most basic shoot ’em up instincts.

The one basic rule that is a constant in the vast majority of scrolling shooters, (well, except maybe Giga Wing) is that bullets are bad, and should never be touched due to the distinct potentiality that they might, I don’t know, KILL YOU.

Sadly, Takeshi Kitano forgot to un-learn the lessons taught to him by Ikaruga.

Ikaruga takes this most basic of concepts and throws it out the 3rd story window.

I think it goes without saying, I’m not very good at Ikaruga.

The game makes no attempt to cover-up the fact that it’s a shoot ’em up made exclusively for seasoned players of the genre with big hairy stones.

... Or failing that, one that can make fire from box-office success.

Hell, the game goes so far as to include a tiny animation for when you skim bullets with your ship, serving as a visual indicator as to exactly where the ship’s hit box is located.

Not only that, the game also grants the player special point bonuses for defeating enemies of the same polarity consecutively, as well as a particularly difficult to obtain bonus called “Dot Eater” that can only be obtained by beating a stage without shooting down a single enemy.

How is this possible?

Well, the stage bosses of Ikaruga all come with time limits attached, resulting in epic battles that can end in stalemate due to the retreat of the enemy unit.

Speaking of bosses, Ikaruga’s got some pretty neat ones.

Hey look it's a... Uh... Yeah, I got nothin'.

They lack personality for sure, but from a gameplay standpoint they are expertly crafted masterpieces of the genre.

The real star of the show during the boss fights though, is of course; the music!

That being said, let’s get down to our best boss track in Ikaruga:
Stage 1 Boss Theme: Butsutekkai

Though Butsutekkai gets the gold in terms of overall energy, I honestly feel that this next track is on par with it in terms of musical quality while adopting more of a sweeping dramatic sound.
Stage 2 Boss Theme: Recapture

Anyway, those are my 2 picks for the Best Boss Music in Ikaruga.

Tune in next time!

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