Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Rubbish Final Challenges

When you embark on a new gaming adventure the world is full of possibilities and at the very start you only get a basic set of skills to muck around with. The bread and butter of abilities such as "Move around", "Open Door" and "Punch Dog" are all you get. But then the game starts throwing challenges at you such as big things that you need to move around, doors that need opening and dogs that need punching. When you complete these challenges successfully you are usually rewarded with some way in which you can better yourself and improve your skills. Eventually you earn more complex and lofty skills like "Detonate Peanut" and "Punch Bigger Dog" with which you need to solve even greater challenges to prove your worth. The cycle goes on...

It's the Cirrrrrcle of Life!!!

At some point however, there needs to be a final challenge or some kind of benchmark quest with which you can prove your prowess in the game world. No matter what the game is you expect the challenge to in some way reflect the game you've been playing for all these hours up until now. If it's a driving game, you would expect a fiercely contended race on a tricky track. Banjo-Kazooie and its sequel are excellent examples of games where the final challenge is the culmination of all the skills you've needed to master to make if this far being tested and stretched even further. To me it's the standard I hold all other final bosses to in terms of the choices made in its design.

This boss even sees you having to put your knowledge of in-game trivia to the test... as well as controlling remote controlled clockwork birds.

However, sometimes a game developer will instead spend all this time crafting a game with a beautifully continuous difficulty curve which tests certain skills incrementally and then panic at the very end and throw some incongruous mess at you instead which calls into play literally none of the skills you've learned so far in the sense that you could have started the game at the final challenge and be in no worse a position to attempt that challenge than if you had spent played the entire game preceding it to this point.

Unless the final boss is ironically the foot from 'And Now For Something Completely Different' I call bullshit on the whole thing.

My first experience of this was Super Mario Land for the Game Boy which for some reason decides that the final boss of the game should play more like Gradius than it should a Mario game. The final boss requires no platforming skills at all. Perhaps not a true example seeing as you need to do the same thing with a submarine earlier in the game but you get the idea. We have Sonic Adventure 2 forcing us to fly through space as Super Sonic and Super Shadow, which completely detracts from any of the skill sets we've had to make use of so far and more recently we have Ms. Splosion Man, a very tight marathon of platforming action that decided that its final challenge should be a tribute to Super Punch Out! which was a massive anticlimax to an otherwise phenomenally good game. I'm sure you can think of other culprits.

By all means, make the game more varied by having side quests and introduce new aspects to the game all the way through but the final challenge should be a unifying moment which wraps the whole game up so designers should remember to test and expand rather than introduce and annoy.