In videogames, we have a lot of lingo that derives from weird and inappropriate back-fitting of other language. One example is Boss Monster, which is a term used to refer to a large, particularly challenging, usually visually unique threat that is made as the culmination of a play sequence. Usually at least, boss monsters are late in the game and are special events. They’re not usually bosses except by implication, and often they’re explicitly not bosses, not in charge of anything. In many games they’re not monsters, either – sometimes they’re elite soldiers, or large tanks, or in one instance I remember, a gate.
This means the term ‘boss monster’ now applies to things that aren’t bosses, and aren’t monsters, but is instead now a shorthand for when a game puts a significant roadblock in front of you with a deliberate attempt to make it feel like a unique experience. Plenty’s been written about good boss monster design – and some games, like Shadow Of the Colossus and Dark Souls have refined particular elements of the boss monster design to something so pure you can snort it.
When you stop thinking of boss monsters as, well, bosses and monsters, because they patently aren’t, and instead use the term as shorthand for ‘significant challenge that provides a unique experience,’ then suddenly you’re left wondering about some games’ boss monsters. SimCity, for instance, provides you with a major boss monster in the form of the transition from simple cities to more thoroughly planned ones – literally, each boss monster is the beginning of a new game. The boss monsters of Stealth Bastard are visually identical but present levels designed to push your ability to play with the tools the game has been teaching you about to their limit. This is what good boss monsters have become – a unique challenge that acts as a test of how you have come to play so far. Bosses that play completely unlike what you’ve experienced so far are not nearly as interesting as those that expand on earlier abilities.
This is why I think Hate Plus has some of the best boss monsters in 2013’s entire Game Pile. The boss monsters here are all in your head – and they come out, they show you what they’re made of, when you have to try and explain the ideas presented by the story to yourself, and then, to other people. Why did things happen in the sequence they did? Why were some files saved? How did the coup transpire? What was it that inspired emotion in the emotionless? These are questions that are large and hard to struggle with and only by understanding the game at large will you appreciably handle them.