Reaching the end of "Dead Space" last night I fought the game's boss. I won't spoil what it is, except to say that if you've played more than five games this decade, you've already faced a boss like it.
Why must bosses almost always be giants? Why must fighting them almost always involve recognizing patterns and targeting weak spots?
There are exceptions to this repeat boss syndrome. There are the rare bosses who are the same size as the heroes they fight: "Metal Gear Solid"'s craft old sniper, The End, and "Shadow Of The Empire"'s airborne hunter, Boba Fett. There are bosses who aren't defeated by shooting their joints, giant hands or glowing parts: the little bug-shaped Spider Guardian in "Metroid Prime 2: Echoes" and "Geist"'s -- yes, "Geist"'s -- enemy soldier, against whom the player has to possess four weaker soldiers, one at a time, to defeat. There's a boss in "No More Heroes" who you don't even fight, because as soon as it finishes posturing, it dies.
Those unique, memorable bosses I just named are mid-game bosses. It's at the end of games when bosses prove to be the most stale. So many are the same, like they're action-movie henchmen hired for one similar part after another. I think I've fought the "Dead Space" boss before in other games. It looks like the "God Hand" boss and one of the "Metroid Prime" end-game bosses (maybe two of them, actually). I think it might also show up in this year's "Tomb Raider."
I think the original "Metroid" got it right. That boss couldn't fit in another franchise. The NES classic had you against a giant brain that sat in a glass jar, followed by an escape sequence in a self-destructing space station. That's the kind of end boss you remember. It's the kind of end boss another game isn't likely to repeat. It's the kind of boss that allows a game to end feeling different rather than finish striking the note of cliché.
The makers of "Dead Space" ought to be proud of their zero-G gameplay, their innovative heads-up display, their great keep-fighting-while-you're-getting-dragged-by-the-enemy gimmick and some other good ideas. Their end boss? I wish I hadn't seen it before.
Next: With "Dead Space" wound down, I think I'm returning to "Fable II" next. Or should I hold off and play "Far Cry 2" or "Fallout 3"? Too many F's to choose from this October.