Design Hard bosses


Hello all,

I’d like your opinions on what makes a boss hard? What are some particularly challenging bosses you’ve over come and what’s your preference in difficulty when attempting boss battles.

I particularly like boss battles where you have to learn patterns and feel like a bad ass once you beat them after a couple of tries. I remember having a hard time beating wind man in megaman 6 as a kid.

I don’t like games that make you do quick time events, luck or puzzles (to a degree), castlevania lords of shadow comes to mind.

Let me know yours and mechanics that make boss battles fun.
I like patterns too, I feel good when I am able to pick up on subtle tells and react accordingly. But I don't like when there is only one way to react to something, I like to feel like I have options and I'm not just learning some specific choreography.
The fights in various Monster Hunter games is a good example in my opinion. All the monsters have a bunch of subtle and specific tells but depending on my loadout, and where I am, I can react differently with the same amount of success. I don't feel like you are too restricted in how to deal with their attacks.


Patterns are good, but don't have to be entirely static.

The bosses I'm working on in a Day In Valhalla have an offensive pattern but also have defensive moves that they do if the receive more than a single hit between/during attacks.
I wouldn't use strict patterns, per se (i.e. the boss uses attack 1, attack 1, attack 2, attack 1, then attack 3 before repeating), but rather attacks that are telegraphed a little beforehand. This lets the player feel smart for recognizing patterns while still feeling somewhat unpredictable. Ideally, a boss should change up their attacks based on what the player is doing to force the player to change up their strategy and think on the fly, but depending on the type of game (or type of boss) that might be overthinking things.

Oh, and one big thing: its annoying as hell when developers massively increase the health of their bosses in order to make them more difficult. A bullet sponge is just tedious, not challenging.


the time between recognizing a pattern and having it execute being short or having the pattern hard to dodge will have have more of an difficulty doing them. Or having a lot of patterns making it harder to beat it since there is more to learn ( this will become easy after you know them, but the other one stays challenging even after you know the patterns. so it really depends on the game)


To me the most exhilarating boss fights were the ones in which the player is offered a (very) slight chance to beat them even the first time the player encounters them. Smart player behaviour should be encouraged and rewarded. I kinda hate the type of boss which requires the player to rinse and repeat, die multiple times until all the boss patterns are memorized/identified.

In my view those "die a hundred deaths and learn" bosses are a bit of a cop-out for unimaginative game design. These type of bosses have their moments and can work at times, but generally I feel it really is a lack of imagination. Often I would just use a cheat to bypass those kind of final bosses. I just didn't see the point.

It is far more exciting to allow the player to run, offer escape routes (temporary), learn while fighting, and offer a longer fight which takes some real effort in real-time think-on-your-feet behaviour to overcome the boss hurdle, rather than one unexpected boss move that strikes you dead and forces the player to repeat the fight, death, learn, and repeat until boss is defeated affair.

Make it tough, but fair. Teach fighting principles and methods to kill the boss along the path to that boss (groom the player for that boss fight), add anticipatory movements to your bosses which allow the player to avoid instant death, and learn and identify patterns while fighting. Allow for more than just one way of beating a boss. Don't restrict the player to merely one defeat pattern. Introduce random boss behaviour, but keep it fair and allow the player to anticipate. Surprise attacks should not mean instant death. Allow the player to retreat for a moment.

In short, allow good players the slightest survival chance even if they've never fought that boss before. Death, learning patterns, and rinse and repeat is the easy way out. Far more rewarding to feel, as a player, that you can win a fight, by a mere margin, on your own terms. Don't solely rely on death cycles and memorization ( a game like Rogue Legacy is, of course, an exception to this rule - there are always brilliant exceptions).


That looks like my type of boss.
I like when there's a pattern, a trick to it. Something to master. If you can even design it 2 levels deep, its even better (main pattern to beat / pro harder pattern you can discover to beat even faster)
I don't like bosses on ritalin, I don't play videogames to get stressed and anxious, I play them to escape and relax. Bosses spamming crap everywhere is also a huuuuge turn off.


Well, I'm reminded of Salt and Sanctuary's Kraken Cyclops. I found the boss to be particularly hard as it was made to counter the strategy I had been using for the last 4 bosses up to that point. My build was focused around blocking and tanking hits, however, it hits so hard that such a build just doesn't work against it you gotta dodge.
I think part of this will depend on the mechanics of your game. You could make a boss difficult by giving it a large health pool and making it do massive damage, but is that fun? I think difficulty is not what is important, but strategy. Beating a boss should be like solving a complicated puzzle, not simply completing a tedious task an unreasonable number of times.


GMC Memer
GMC Elder
I'm a pretty big Souls fan, and most bosses and a lot of enemies in a good soulslike pick random attacks from a pretty big set, each requiring you to react in different ways and with different timing. Here's my takeaways from this school of design:

  • Rather than forcing you to do a certain thing 3 times, give a boss a bunch of HP and let the player damage them by any tool in their arsenal. Puzzle bosses stop being cool once you've solved the puzzle. (Hybrid bosses can be cool, though - look into CrossCode's plasma phantom boss, for an example).
  • Bosses should be unpredictable, forcing you to think on your feet. If the boss does the exact same pattern every time, it doesn't matter how detailed it is. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is an example of this, where bosses go through the same 2-3 attacks in a loop without variety, making them feel less and less challenging each time you challenge them.
  • A hard boss is basically trial and error as you learn the patterns, so it's important to actually reduce the number of trial-and-error elements in the fight.
  • Attacks should have clear windup animations that are different between different attacks, so the player has a chance to react to them. Common techniques is to have a cool "i'm charging up a really big hit now!" animation for melee attacks and having different glows when charging up different projectile attacks.
  • More powerful attacks should look and feel more powerful. Preferably, they should also give you more time to react, either by the attack itself being slower or by having a longer chargeup.
  • The arena itself is part of an encounter. Make sure to design your boss rooms in a way that makes the fight interesting. This is especially important if you have rematches with bosses or minibosses a lot, since good level design can stop the fights from feeling like 1:1 repeats. Examples include cover placement in projectile-based fights, how much or little symmetry there is in the arena, pits you can fall into and die vs walls (extra important if the boss can knock you flying). If the arena is interesting enough, you can still get a bit of that "puzzle boss feel" even without the Nintendo "do this thing 3 times" curse.