Street Fighter II was the very first fighting game I’ve ever played. The very first one I’ve ever beat. But I remember the first time I defeated the other seven World Warriors and Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison boxes appeared, I was caught completely off guard! “What? What the hell is this!? I already beat the game!” So after fighting my way through three different fights I wasn’t prepared for (this took about an hour, only because I would be terrified when Vega scaled the cage, not realizing a modest Dragon Punch subdues him), I get into a scrap with M. Bison. This was completely intense. Bison was aggressive, fast, and he hit very, very hard, and his Knee Press Nightmare left me pinned in a corner until my hit bar was depleted. I tried again, over and over, until I got his tendencies down to the point that I could beat him, providing that you have to approach him differently with each character. While I personally have always preferred Sagat as a more appropriate final boss, he just looks cooler, Bison is no pushover. He had a pretty high A.I. and barely gave you room to breathe. I still have no idea why his hip toss arm throw can catch you from two steps away, but defeating M. Bison was satisfying. A really tough fight to cap off a very fun game that rewards you with a fun, wacky ending!
Fatal Fury’s Geese Howard was the next major battle that left an impression on me. Geese, in every Fatal Fury game at the time, was much harder than Bison, and almost the complete opposite of Bison’s approach!! Whereas the Psycho-powered warlord just relentlessly attacked you, Geese waited, baited you in, and then threw you around with one of his many counters. All I would do is get frustrated, almost with tears in my eyes and red in the face, and try to just attack him head on, which would only result in him tossing me like a rag doll! It’s bad enough that most Fatal Fury attacks leave you wide open, but Jeezuz!! To this day, when I go back and play Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, I still struggle badly to beat him and only get lucky, and it involves getting the first round just so I can catch my breath. Krauser from Fatal Fury 2 was super hard, but nowhere near was evil as Geese
And then came X Men Children of the Atom. To start, CotA essentially gave birth to the popular VS series. But it’s one of the few fighting games I have yet to beat. Because Magneto is nearly IMPOSSIBLE! This was the biggest drawback of a very awesome fighter when I was a kid. The same thing would happen. I sweat and squeeze the controller and it becomes a pure battle of goddamn wills to dodge Magnetic Shockwaves and Hyper Grabs to win a single round. Then the second round begins and when it looks like I have him on the ropes, primed for victory, he turns on a force field. I can’t hit him. Why isn’t it going away? Super moves don’t penetrate it. I never stay alive long enough to find out if it dissipates, so it’s still an enigma. I’m weary of Let’s Plays and Playthroughs I see of it, because he doesn’t attack as fiercely as he does when I am fighting him on NORMAL setting, leading me to believe that the difficulty is turned way down or it’s an emulator/ROM hack. I intend on trying this battle again soon, with better patience in tow, but Magneto was the very first boss fight that I thought was completely unfair. He launched four different projectiles from all angles, they were fast and punishing, he was capable of flying and his super meter seemed to have been bought from Costco, as it never ran out!!
From this point on, I noticed a shift in how boss battles in 2D fighters were designed. Back to SNK, as this is where the cheese started to boil over the pot. Geese was challenging, but not impossible. Mr. Karate in Art Of Fighting was beatable, but you had to master Haoh Ken first.
Amakusa in Samurai Shodown constantly whacked you to the other side of the screen, he fought like Akuma, constantly teleporting, but mostly played keep away instead of rushing you.
But then King of Fighters (and I say this with love, because I absolutely LOVE this series) decided to be gigantic dicks with their bosses. Starting in King of Fighters ’95, with Rugal Bernstein, the most interesting boss in the world. That attack…has been burned into my brain. Even if you THOUGHT about jumping, he’d hit you with it! You can fly in with Andy’s Cho Reppa Dan *Genocide Cutter!!* You can jump backwards *Genocide Cutter!!*. You can pause the game and grab a bag of Swedish Fish out of your cabinet *Genocide Cutter!!* This can be remedied by staying in sweeping range and attacking low, but developers might’ve saw through this and introduced his successor, Leopold Goenitz, who they say is supposed to be “easier” than Rugal. No. No!!! NO!!!!
There NOTHING about Goenitz that’s easier than Omega Rugal!!! Sure, he doesn’t have Genocide Cutter, but his stupid tornadoes, which track your movement, seem to skip a frame of animation and hits you!! He can just flat-out grab you in the midst of your combos, almost mocking you for attacking him in the first place!! I swear, he’s cheaper than Magneto, who at least had openings! Goenitz should be better served attempting to murder people with his cheesy wind attacks in Into the Storm.
Magaki in KOF XI combines the anti-air, mind reading shit with filling the screen with stupid projectiles that pick away at your health until you have no choice but to dash into his screen-filling, seizure-inducing, pink blast of DEATH!!! Other game dev’s probably caught wind of this and decided that THIS is the way to make a final boss!! This overpowering, unblockable crap started to seep into 3D fighters like Tekken 5’s Jinpachi Mishima, who SUCKS!!! Guard breakers are fine, it teaches you to not try to turtle as a primary tactic, but when you entire moveset is composed of them, on top of fast-moving projectiles, you aren’t a difficult boss, you’re just lazy. Tekken got lazy and didn’t bother putting any thought into a boss fight, so Jinpachi was front loaded with overpowering skills you simply had to muscle your way through. Not as rewarding a fight as Akuma, who had a high CPU A.I.. Yes, he had more moves than you did, but also knew when to use them if he felt you were getting too generous Abyss and Night Terror are the same way in Soul Calibur, the stupidest fighting game on the planet. How did this series reach five entries with the exact same engine!? Preferably Soul Calibur 3, these two boss characters had little to no thought put into how they attack, they both just have super strong strikes that send you careening all over the place!! No skill, no tact, just get really, really lucky!!!
A boss fight should be hard and memorable, not some ridiculous hurdle thrown at you that is beaten by using none of the tactics from the respective character that you are using to win. When SNK reaches the point where they grant you advantages, like decreasing the boss’s health, you start to become the joke, and shows they didn’t intend on making a boss to be beaten fairly. Why do fighting games have to be the only genre that doesn’t reward you for your skill? Some series like BlazBlue have their engines balanced and it feels great. Virtua Fighter’s Dural has always been an unpredictable encounter and the fact that you only get one shot at her is a bit frustrating, but it’s this magical goal to strive for. Yeah, you beat the game, but you have yet to conquer it. I would rather endure that than to use a great deal of skill to defeat 10 other warriors only to run into an unstoppable wall of unblockables and projectiles in the hopes that my hour-long struggle, I get lucky. The fun grinds to a halt and by the time I defeat the monster, I’m in a much worse mood and the victory becomes hollow. You shouldn’t feel thankful to have it over with, but rather you accomplished something. It’s all I ask. Just cut out the stupid projectiles….