Spider-Man Part 21: Boss Fights

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 18, 2019

Filed under: Retrospectives 39 comments

People are dying of disease, six different supervillains are tearing apart the city infrastructure, violent escaped prisoners roam the streets, and fascist Sable thugs are oppressing the populace rather than doing anything about the situation.

Again, I kinda feel like this is too big of a failure for Spider-Man, particularly for his first game in a new franchise. But whatever. We’re here now so we might as well see what we can accomplish by punching people. Let’s do some boss fights…

You arrive to confront Scorpion, perhaps hoping you’ll get a proper boss fight. But instead he stings you in a cutscene and runs off. Why? Because Doctor Octopus wants to “torture” Spider-Man first.

That’s in direct conflict with the previous scene where he explicitly tried to kill Spider-Man. Given how vicious Doctor Octopus is towards Spider-Man, it’s somewhat perplexing that he doesn’t attempt to torture Norman Osborn when he gets the chance later on. Why does he want to torture his best friend but give his nemesis a quick death?

I know I keep harping on this, and I don’t want to give the impression that this is some all-encompassing flaw that ruins the story. I realize it’s not a huge problem and it amounts more to a missed opportunity than a an outright flaw, but for me this was an annoyance that ran throughout the game.

But whatever. The point is, Spider-Man is poisoned in a cutscene.

Scorpion’s Bad Trip

We're in a cutscene, which means bad guys gain the ability to teleport and our spider-sense stops working. Again, this particular scene isn't a sin on its own, it's just that this happens too danged often.
We're in a cutscene, which means bad guys gain the ability to teleport and our spider-sense stops working. Again, this particular scene isn't a sin on its own, it's just that this happens too danged often.

Earlier in this series I said I wasn’t crazy about dream sequences in a videogame. They play well in print, but they’re annoying in movies if they drag on for too long and I find they’re insufferable in videogames. In a videogame, not only does this scene ultimately not matter, but I know ahead of time it doesn’t matter and I’m still obligated to exert effort to overcome a hallucinated threat before I can escape this situation and begin doing things that matter.

So it’s really disappointing that scorpion’s poison results in a long series of hallucinations. Not only is our encounter with Scorpion a hallucination, but it’s also a nested problem that goes several levels deep. The game plays “the princess is in another castle” with you three times in a row, and sometimes three levels deep.

Spidey begins hallucinating that the entire city is filled with poison. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that even though the poison is a hallucination, you still die if you fall into it.

Peter apologizes to Otto, but I kinda feel like he needs to apologize to ME for letting Scorpion get the drop on him in that last cutscene.
Peter apologizes to Otto, but I kinda feel like he needs to apologize to ME for letting Scorpion get the drop on him in that last cutscene.

Spider-Man concludes he needs to whip up a cure using Silly Science. He needs ingredients from three different places around the city. So you swing to a location and attempt to pick up the ingredient, but then the hallucination gets worse and Spidey is dropped into a dream-within-a-dream where he has to argue with Otto Octavius. Except, this isn’t really Octavius. This is Octavius as Peter imagines him, so we can’t learn anything insightful about the character. Then after a long chain of swinging while Otto talks your ear off and Peter apologizes to a figment of his imagination, you’re bumped back out to the first-level dream to continue swinging across the city. Sometimes it’ll swipe your goal away a few times before you’re allowed to move on.

When it’s over, nothing has changed. Scorpion is still loose. We haven’t learned anything new about him or Octavius since neither of them were present. We sat through several long minutes of exposition that amounts to Peter blaming himself for everything. That fits with his character, but the story has already hit that note several times already and I’m not sure it was worth sitting through ten minutes of hallucinated dialog to hit it again.

From the standpoint of gameplay and visuals, this is a nice change of pace. I’m focusing a lot on narrative elements in this write-up, so we’ve been plowing through story content pretty fast. But for people actually playing through the game, this entire chapter can feel really long.  The game has opened up the last batch of open-world content, and at this point the player has probably spent a lot of hours swinging across the burning city and being ambushed by Sable aimbots. This section with scorpion can help alleviate the resulting fatigue. The green color and the novel gameplayCrossing the city without falling below a given altitude isn’t TOTALLY new. The silly science shack missions already played around with that gimmick, although this version is way better. keep things fresh, and it’s always nice to give screen time to Doc Ock.

It’s not that this section is horrible. I just wish it could have been constructed so it wasn’t entirely a chain of hallucinated conversations and repetitious Sisyphean scenarios for nothing. All we needed was a dose of real-world consequences. Maybe have it so Peter is talking to the real Doc Ock. Or have it so that the dream fight with Scorpion is a proxy for the real fight, so defeating him in the dream means you punched his lights out in the real world. It’s just annoying to spend ten minutes spinning our wheels and wind up right back where we started.

Okay, the punchlineOnce the toxin is cured, Peter snaps back to the real world to discover he’s wearing just his mask and his underpants. is pretty good. Maybe that redeems the whole thing. Still, I’d like it better if it wasn’t all a dream.

Miles vs. Rhino

Rhino had two Sable goons to bully and terrorize, but then he ran off and tore the entire area apart chasing noises. In a city plagued by this much destruction, I feel like the shuffling around that Miles is doing would be a very minuscule part of the city-wide cacophony.
Rhino had two Sable goons to bully and terrorize, but then he ran off and tore the entire area apart chasing noises. In a city plagued by this much destruction, I feel like the shuffling around that Miles is doing would be a very minuscule part of the city-wide cacophony.

Miles gets a sort of boss STEALTH challenge in this part of the game when he has to sneak by Rhino to get some medication for the people at FEAST. I don’t know if you’d want to classify it as a “boss” encounter.  Dealing with Rhino feels like a big deal, but this section is just as shallow as the rest of the stealth in the game, and it has the exact same insta-death stakes for failure as the other ones. The only thing that makes this a “boss” encounter is the cosmetic detail that you’re being instantly killed by Rhino instead of Sable goons.

This entire sequence is a showcase of top-notch animation work and cinematography, while the gameplay is just as shallow and predictable as the last time we did one of these. Once again, I can’t help but notice that the storyteller is doing a good job, and the gameplay designer is doing a good job, but they’re never doing a good job at the same time. The game as a whole feels like an argument between a writer and a game designer.

Final Exam vs. New Challenge

The fight with Kingpin at the start of the game is actually a tutorial disguised as a boss fight.
The fight with Kingpin at the start of the game is actually a tutorial disguised as a boss fight.

There are two different schools of thought regarding boss fights. One is that a boss fight is essentially a final exam for the stuff you’ve been studying during the course of normal gameplay. If you’ve mastered the mechanics so far, then you ought to be able to defeat the boss. Half-Life 2 is often the go-to example of this sort of game design.

The other school of thought is that a boss fight should be a totally new challenge to overcome. Maybe it’ll have a move set you’ve never faced before, or a new kind of attack, or you’ll need to use a brand-new mechanic to beat the boss. You’re not expected to be able to beat the boss right away. You’ll need to die several times to learn what you need to know before you have a shot at winning. I guess Soulsborne is seen as the standard-bearer of this design philosophy.

I hate the latter type of boss, particularly in games designed to be empowering. Losing a fight six times and winning once does not make me feel empowered. Instead of feeling satisfaction that I won, I just feel annoyed that I had to restart so many times. In fact, the final win doesn’t even feel like a victory. I feel like I overcame it with brute force. With enough attempts, even random button-pressing can overcome a challenge. Making me learn to beat the boss by being defeated by the boss doesn’t just make me hate the fight itself, it steals the reward I’d feel if I was allowed to prepare for the test ahead of time and won through my preparation and study.

I liked the Spidey vs. Fisk banter, but I'd like it a lot less if I had to hear it four times while I figured out how to beat the boss. (Which isn't a problem here, since this fight is a tutorial at the start of the game.)
I liked the Spidey vs. Fisk banter, but I'd like it a lot less if I had to hear it four times while I figured out how to beat the boss. (Which isn't a problem here, since this fight is a tutorial at the start of the game.)

On top of that is the problem that doing a boss fight a few times completely kills the narrative momentum. It’s like watching a movie where some jackass keeps rewinding to the start of the scene just as things get going. Maybe those opening lines were clever at first. Maybe they got you pumped up for the coming showdown. But when you hear them for the fourth time they’ve lost their magic and the moment is gone.

I know this is very much a matter of taste, but that’s where I’m coming from. I’m sure Dark Souls fans would be disappointed if a new entry came out and most players were able to defeat bosses on the first try. The “try, try again” approach to boss encounters can be thematically appropriate in some situations and some people really enjoy it. But I generally dislike this sort of design and I really hate it in games that are otherwise designed to be “empowering”.

Spider-Man has an interesting way of handling this. I don’t know if it was deliberate or an emergent result of their mechanics, but I was able to enjoy the Spider-Man fights even when I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing.

To illustrate this, let me explain how I messed up the Scorpion and Rhino fight.

Scorpion and Rhino

It's funny how this still frame can be interpreted as Rhino punching Spider-Man away, or Spider-Man launching himself off of Rhino. (It's actually the latter, BTW.)
It's funny how this still frame can be interpreted as Rhino punching Spider-Man away, or Spider-Man launching himself off of Rhino. (It's actually the latter, BTW.)

Spider-Man eventually has a showdown with Scorpion and Rhino at a shipping yard. Rhino will occasionally charge you, and there are some obstacles you can throw in his way to injure him. It might take you a minute to figure this out and it might take you a few additional tries to get the timing down. In a normal boss fight, that would mean making a couple of trips to the Game Over screen.

At the start of the fight, the game hints that you should shoot webs at Scorpion. Normally I’d dislike it if a game gave me a tooltip like “try using your main weapon on the bad guy” in a fight near the end of the game. However, I think this one is warranted. This game has been very inconsistent about when webs work and when they don’t. Most bosses in this game are immune to your webbing. If the designer is going to keep changing the rules, then I appreciate them letting me know when that happens. I’d already assumed that Scorpion was immune to webs, and I would have needed to spend a lot of time trying other, less-obvious things before I gave webbing a try. Again, this would normally result in a couple of trips to Game Over land before I worked it out.

Wow. Even without the robo-suit, this guy would STILL qualify as a super-villain. He's HUGE! Actually, without the suit he'd probably qualify for disability. In the real world, people this tall have trouble with their joints and circulation. The real world is so dumb and boring.
Wow. Even without the robo-suit, this guy would STILL qualify as a super-villain. He's HUGE! Actually, without the suit he'd probably qualify for disability. In the real world, people this tall have trouble with their joints and circulation. The real world is so dumb and boring.

Halfway through the fight, I had some bad luck. Scorpion jumped just as I shot webbing at him. After playing tag with Rhino for another minute or so I managed to line Scorpion up for another shot. Again, he jumped just as I shot webs at him. The thing is, this was a fluke. Scorpion is scripted to jump around and shoot poison at you from different angles. It was just dumb luck that I shot just before he hit one of his pre-scripted moments to change position.

At the time, I assumed the rules had changed. I thought the game was telling me Scorpion was going to dodge my webs from now on and I needed another tactic. So I began experimenting to see what I could come up with.

A minute later, I managed to line things up so Rhino was between Scorpion and Spider-Man. Scorpion shot his poison, and it hit Rhino. Rhino even reacted to thisI THINK he did some sort of stun / pain animation?.

Here is where I (wrongly) thought I had this fight all figured out.
Here is where I (wrongly) thought I had this fight all figured out.

Scorpion shouted, “Get out of my way!”

“You’re in MY way!” Rhino shouted back.

And then I thought I’d figured it out. I was trying to out-guess the designer, and I was being too clever by half. I thought my goal was to get these two idiots to fight each other. Their dialog already made it clear this was an unstable alliance, and I assumed I just needed to get them to hurt each other a few times.

This was wrong. I spent several minutes leading Rhino in front of Scorpion’s attacks. I thought I was making progress, but I wasn’t. Again, a wrong assumption like this will probably get you killed a few times until you can work out what the game designer wants you to do.

The Unmitigated Joy of Not Dying

Now that I'm thinking about it, wouldn't getting them to fight have made for a more interesting sequence, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective?
Now that I'm thinking about it, wouldn't getting them to fight have made for a more interesting sequence, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective?

The key here is that dodging an attack fills your focus meter, and you can use your focus meter to heal yourself. In another game, I’d eventually succumb to attrition as I fumbled around trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. In Spider-Man, if my health got low I could just play defensively. I could dodge attacks and keep my distance until I’d recovered enough to go on the offensive again.

In practical terms, the player is experiencing the same thing: They’re having setbacks that force them to back off and try again. However, Spider-Man wasn’t booting me out of the fight and making me listen to the opening taunts again and again. The fight just dragged on. Maybe in another game I’d spend twenty minutes repeating the fight again and again before I won, and here I spent twenty minutes in one big fight. When it was over I felt like I’d won one really big fight and not overcome a single small fight using brute-force Groundhog Day tactics. I got to keep playing and keep trying different things without having the Game Over screen break the flow.

In the end, I didn’t mind when things were unclear because I felt like I was free to keep at it. I really appreciated this.

Like I said, it’s possible this wasn’t even deliberate. And maybe some players would rather they just die and restart right away rather than spending twenty seconds dodging attacks to recover their health. I don’t know. Other people confuse me. The point is, Spider-Man managed to give me fights that didn’t frustrate me even though I couldn’t win right away. This might not be an appropriate way to handle bosses in all games, but it seems to really suit the superhero genre.



[1] Crossing the city without falling below a given altitude isn’t TOTALLY new. The silly science shack missions already played around with that gimmick, although this version is way better.

[2] Once the toxin is cured, Peter snaps back to the real world to discover he’s wearing just his mask and his underpants.

[3] I THINK he did some sort of stun / pain animation?

From The Archives:

39 thoughts on “Spider-Man Part 21: Boss Fights

  1. Deadyawn says:

    Isn’t Scorpion’s deal that he doesn’t trip spidey sense? I seem to recall that was reflected in the fight itself too, the indicator wouldn’t show up when he attacked. I could be making this up though, it’s been a while since I played the game and my scorpion knowledge is pretty minimal.

    1. Christopher Wolf says:

      In comics that is Venom’s and any of his symbiote’s kiddies ability. The symbiote learned how to negate Spider-sense while bonded with Peter, and passed this ability onto its spawn. I don’t know why that would apply to Scorpion unless its the Venom version. I have not played the game so I don’t know that much.

  2. John says:

    What I’d like to know is did this game ever have a single, fully coherent script? Did they start with something that made sense and then tweak it kind of haphazardly as they re-designed, added, or removed various encounters and missions? Or is this one of those games where they handed the writers a bunch of encounters and missions and told them “here, make this work”? If the game were a movie, I’d be speculating that there had been multiple drafts by multiple authors, that different scenes were from different drafts, and that some scenes that would have helped things make more sense had been cut for time.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      I’ve heard Chris Avellone bemoan the fact that standard industry practice, especially outside RPGs, is to essentially design the whole game first and toss in narrative in last, almost as an afterthought. From the descriptions Shamus has been giving (not owning a PS4 I haven’t played it myself) it sounds very much like a perfect example of that sort of thing.

      It also strikes me as very much a product of design by committee. A bunch of people came up with random stuff from other games like the Arkham series and crammed it all into this game.

  3. Hal says:

    A few notes:

    1) When I played through the poison/hallucination scene, my only thought was that someone on the development team said, “Those Scarecrow scenes in Arkham Asylum were really cool! We need something like that in our game.”

    2) I’m annoyed as heck that Devil’s Breath is, essentially, a viral condition (plus all the gene editing), but for some reason they’re treating it with antibiotics. I know, opportunistic infections, I get it. Do the writers get it?

    3) I don’t remember how the Scorpion/Rhino fight ends; if you have to take out both of them, or if taking out one is sufficient to trigger the cutscene where they trap themselves in a cargo container. (The game sort of glosses over how the police would even handle opening that particular party favor.) My memory of doing the fight is that it’s a lot easier to tackle Rhino first than Scorpion. Why?

    If you get too far away from Rhino, he’ll throw some stuff at you, but eventually meander into range to charge at you. The secret is that you wait for him to pass near something you can pull onto his head; in the screenshots above, you can see crates and cement pipes hanging from cranes. That stuns him so you can jump in and start wailing on him. Scorpion has a similar mechanic; he’s jumping around shooting poison at you, so you dodge, web him up, then jump over and start wailing on him.

    As I found it, dodging Scorpion’s poison shots while lining up Rhino is relatively easy. Staying out of charging range of Rhino while getting Scorpion ready for a beat down is more complicated.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      trigger the cutscene where they trap themselves in a cargo container. (The game sort of glosses over how the police would even handle opening that particular party favor.)

      1. Drill holes in container.
      2. Pump in knockout gas.
      3. Wait 2 hours.
      4. Win!

      Well, maybe.

      1. Chris says:

        Do pragmatic police use the brightly colored funny smelling knockout gas or the smellless colorless stuff?

        1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

          It’s obviously brightly coloured, with a slow and loud pump that that announces the progress to the required concentration in a very loud and clear voice. And may have a timer or something if they’re feeling fancy.

    2. Nessus says:

      When it comes to #2: something I’ve noticed is that A LOT of people seem to refer to ANY infection as a “virus”, as if the word “virus” was a general word for “disease” or “parasite” rather than for a type of microorganism. i feel like I’m routinely seeing fungal infections, bacterial diseases, prion diseases, nematodes, even multicellular micro-parasite infections referred to as “viruses” in pop/ culture. I feel like I’ve been seeing this with increasing frequency since around the late 90s.

      This is creepy to me, as it seems to indicate a huge swath of the population wasn’t paying attention in middle school health class. Sort of related to how scarily many people (as in “literally most people”) either don’t know how to wash their hands, or think not washing their hands isn’t a big deal, or worse: claim they’re helping people build better immune systems by not washing their hands.

      1. Chris says:

        Well in developing nations or less advanced nations where they sell antibiotics over the counter people use that against stuff like the common cold (a virus) which is why there are a lot of resistant virusses there. My experience reading reports like that, and watching the dev commentary of Half life 2, is that a lot of people arent hungry to learn.

        1. Matthew Downie says:

          It’s why there are a lot of resistant bacteria, not resistant viruses.

      2. King Marth says:

        There’s a lot of artistic license tropes out there, but when it comes to antibiotics and medicine in general there’s more of a moral responsibility to get this right. People remember information separately from where they learned it, so while someone is unlikely to make medical decisions based on lines in a video game, they very well might make a call because they heard something “somewhere”. Especially when lots of media make the same mistakes.

      3. Kyle Haight says:

        I think it’s a broader issue than just health. A lot of people just use words without a good understanding of what they mean. They don’t have clear definitions of their concepts, just a vague ‘I kinda know what I mean’ association. So you get writers whose understanding of viruses doesn’t go beyond “they’re bad things that make people get sick and die”.

        Try an experiment: ask people to define the concepts they use in conversation, particularly concepts for things more remote from direct perception. The results will make you want to weep for the species. A shocking number of people very literally do not know what they are talking about.

        1. Syal says:

          That’s kind of a high bar. You can ask me to describe a picture that I’m looking at and I’ll probably still give a crappy description. Usually I have to just drag people over to things I’m talking about and point at them before they get what I’m saying.

          But I once had a question for someone who was on the phone, so I wrote it down and handed it to them so I wouldn’t interrupt. They took the note, said “Syal just handed me a note” over the phone, then proceeded to read the entire note over the phone, then said “I don’t know why I just told you that.” So not only do some people not understand what they’re saying, sometimes they put literally zero thought into what comes out of their mouth.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Obviously, the next time you hand them a note, it should be nonsense, insults, or nonsense insults.

    3. Urtbman says:

      I imagine the swing above green gas you die if you touch the ground is an homage to the first 3D Spider-Man game on the PS1

  4. Asdasd says:

    Boss fights are weird. Usually if I beat a game without ever losing to a boss or dying, there’s a good chance I’ll feel emotionally flat; the story might have been good* but I’ll have a nagging dissatisfaction with it having put up no resistance at all. At that point I might as well have watched a movie. Dying once in a well-designed fight wakes me up and gives me something to think about. Dying more than once is a recipe for frustration… but beating a boss fight like Dark Souls’ Ornstein and Smough brings a special kind of joy.

    It seems there’s a barrier to push through where my brain stops regarding the road block stops as an annoying disruption to a game’s narrative flow and instead it becomes a challenge worth conquering. I feel like there are other factors at play; maybe I’m over-simplifying things. Maybe the separation of different types of game experience is key. One situation where none of the above applies is the final fight/boss in any game. When everything’s reaching a crescendo, I want to stick the landing first time.

    * not especially likely in a game, unfortunately

  5. Christopher says:

    You fight Scorpion alone in the dream sequences, so I think you just forgot you could web him up, since that’s all you do in there. I’m not entirely clear on the conditions for beating Scorpion and Rhino – I _think_ you can have Scorps shoot acid at Rhino or make Rhino run into Scorps enough that they lose, but I dunno. Maybe you gotta beat on them afterwards.

    I’ve been repeating myself a lot about the combat in these comments so now that we’re finally here I don’t have much to add anymore, lol. Every boss is solved one of only a few ways(wait for boss to exhaust combo, throw thing at boss, web up boss, hit prompt) rather than a myriad ways as a reflection of your combat skills, your regular moves lose their effect, it’s dull and shallow and removes all the hype from an encounter, none of the music is memorable, yada yada, same old rant.

    I wanna say I appreciate you getting around to them, though. I was dying for more gameplay chat during the Arkham City retrospective and here I get some of that for two weeks in quick succession on top of the narrative gripes, and your take on combat is pretty unique among the #content creators or whatever that I follow. It’s interesting to read about.

    I like that you fight Scorpion and Rhino( and Electro and Vulture) in pairs. It fits with what the treat of the Sinister Six is without you having to beat six unique enemies at the same time, and in a lot of the stories I’ve read or watched, is usually how these fights go down. Seperate them into pairs or singles and beat them in succession, turning them against each other when possible.

    It’s just a bummer that they’re so limited as enemies. Does Scorpion do anything besides tossing poison your way or punching you away with a tail swipe? Does Rhino do anything besides a charge, a toss of some crate, or a stomp or something? It’s been a while, but I just don’t remember there being much variety in their movesets. Ideally, as a player, I want bosses to formidable versions of an enemy. Larger moveset, larger pool of health, and strong presentation on top of that. Unique theme, some setpiece, whatever. These guys are partway there, it’s just they’ve got like a whopping two moves each. They’re more like Mario bosses than brawler bosses.

    1. Hector says:

      That makes sense for most villains but maybe not Rhino. He’s not too bright and his two tactics are “charge at stuff” and “throw thing at guy”.

      1. Christopher says:

        Granted, Rhino’s simple. That doesn’t mean that besides charging and throwing he can’t also give you a good punch variation or two. Maybe jump up and stomp down at you, do a grab of sorts to get spidey thrown with his horn, maybe do a big ol’ running dropkick or a double axe handle? Or how about that sweet Loki VS Hulk-grab! You can make the big guys fun and varied, even while keeping to comic book moves, they just didn’t. They made him be Arkham’s Bane, basically.

        But I don’t necessarily think Rhino needed to have this much stuff to him alone, especially in a match where you’re also dealing with Scorpion.

        I also think there’s a fundamental problem with this Arkham-like style of combat, where you don’t react as much to tells as you do to button prompts. It results in limited answers to a problem coming your way, which naturally leads to repetition.

        Giving Rhino more moves wouldn’t fix things if all you can do to him is pulling stuff onto him with l1+r1 to harm him. Like why would you get up in his face to begin with? You just get him in a Harmable State and then mash the Harm button. It’s cool that Scorpion and Rhino can hurt each other with their moves, but it’s not much.

        Anyway, when there’s not much happening besides Rhino charging and Scorpion sitting on the sidelines spitting poison, that’s not super exciting. I want a little more to chew on than that, no matter what approach they prefer.

    2. Victor McKnight says:

      By the time I was at the Scorpion and Rhino fight, I was on the game’s wavelength, but early on the boss fights (and brute enemies) were causing me a lot of problems. The issue is exactly as Christopher says – only a few moves or even maybe just one move ever works against a boss. And you just have to do that one thing over and over.

      I’ve only played the first Dark Souls, but I am a big Devil May Cry (and Bayonetta fan). They follow a similar philosophy in that you usually are dealing with something new on a boss fight. So dying your first time is not uncommon. On the other hand, those games usually give you multiple ways to deal with an enemy. This almost always involves playing aggressively and trying new strategies. I died an embarrassingly large number of times against Shocker because I kept “trying things” only to take an uncomfortably large amount of damage when the game no-selled me.

      And as Shamus said last week, “in Batman” (TM) you can “play perfect” and take no damage, but that is not really the case in Spider-Man. So it took a while to train myself, especially on boss fights, to hang back and just dodge to gain focus and then heal before doing your one viable move against the boss.

  6. RubberBandMan says:

    While the dark-souls style can be a bit annoying in terms of challenge or gameplay, there is no narrative problems or issues with doing the same boss fight 20 times. In fact, that is what you are doing in the narrative.

    The bosses the first time have their cinematic reveal (Sometimes. Some bosses just see you and start whacking you like they’re just another enemy, and in a sense they often are lore-wise), but if you die and go back to the bonfire? The next time you see them they just go right for you. From their perspective, they did kill you, and you came back.

    Add on the fact that they don’t talk or taunt you, the annoying repeated lines has no chance of happening. It’s not a solution for every game, but Dark Souls very much is aware of it’s narrative pacing, even if you fight a boss 20 times in a row, it still fits.

    The way dark souls does lore and plot is crazy-cool, but it can only really do some specific types of stories. Spiderman is a ‘things are fine, and then not-fine’ type of story. Stuff that is happening now is the big thing. Dark Souls games typically have you show up long, long after everything got screwed, and the driving force is the player character trying to unfuck things just a little, and not save anyone. (Saving people is not a thing that happens in Dark souls games, from what I’ve seen). That stuff doesn’t map onto typical superhero fun times, and a character like spiderman not having lots of taunts and quips in a fight would be jarring.

    Anyone ever play the PS1 spiderman game? That was I recall was solid gold for the time, but it’s been a long long time since I played it. But it was the right sort of campy goofy save-the-people spiderman story.

    1. Christopher says:

      I do wish Spidey would have some mercy and not repeat all the dialogue with the boss your second attempt onwards. There’s usually a conversation going throughout the whole fight, and it can get pretty grating if you mess up. That means fewer repeated stock quips, but you still gotta hear Rhino and Scorpion talk mess to one another every time.

  7. Baron Tanks says:

    Much like the game itself (at least from the way you describe it), this analysis series has run out of steam. Possibly, like the game again I suppose, we’ve been through so many of these problems with Martin Li, that new entries are at best a remix of beats we’ve seen before. I’m curious to know how many entries are left and what comes after this.

    Contrast this to the start of the series, where I was dying to hear you talk about this game. A pity.

  8. Jabberwok says:

    Haven’t played it, but this dream sequence sounds odd. The fact that you can assemble a cure for the dream in the dream suggests that the top level is still happening in reality, just with some added hallucinations in the mix. So it seems like they could’ve written it in a way that would let them have their gameplay cake while still eating their story cake. By which I mean including actual character interactions that weren’t just hallucinated.

  9. Genericide says:

    I’d say you’re half right on Soulsborne being a standard-bearer for trial-and-error fights. It is true that bosses use new attacks and the general difficulty means you’ll often need to restart several times to conquer a fight. And to be clear, it’s absolutely fine not to like that. But I’d say that part of Souls success, and why I enjoy it, is its mechanics are very consistent.

    Soulsborne never introduces entirely new mechanics in a boss fight. There’s no sudden shooting, stealth, driving, quick time events, etc. You’re always controlling the same character. Attacks always use the same animation, both for you and the enemy. The blocking and dodging mechanics are always the same. Humanoid bosses can be parried just like regular dudes. Very few bosses are defeated using methods other than just attacking and dodging based on telegraphs, and those that do (like a dragon in DS3 who instantly dies after you run a gauntlet to stab its head) are the least liked in the series.

    I’d call it a mix of both trial-and-error and final exam. Soulsborne does introduce new challenges to you at such speed/difficulty you’ll likely have to try again. But bosses never introduce new mechanics, only attack patterns. That’s the reason a lot of people enjoy/tolerate it being way harder than more set-piece driven action games. Though again, perfectly fine not to like that style of game.

  10. eaglewingz says:

    Typo Alert!

    “…Spiderman lunching himself off of Rhino.”

    Unless Spidey is heading for some takeout, of course.

    1. Kyle Haight says:

      Well, he’s trying to take out Rhino, does that count?

  11. Dreadjaws says:

    I know a few people are tired of your Arkham comparisons, but I feel this time we definitely needed one, as the scorpion hallucination fights are clearly “inspired” by Scarecrow’s sequences in Asylum (and sadly, so are every new game’s “poisoning” sequence these days, including Arkham sequels, because I guess every poison is a hallucinogen now).

    The thing is, it made sense with Scarecrow because using hallucinogens is his whole deal. If this game wanted hallucination sequences, why the hell not have Mysterio doing them?

    1. Ander says:

      Marvel movies picked up on that. Arkham is definitely what I thought of when that came up. It wasn’t particularly clever, but it was visually very good. It might not be fair to say the inspiration came from Arkham – as you say, Mysterio is a natural fit.

  12. RFS-81 says:

    Sorry for going off on a complete tangent, but that healing mechanic reminds me of Hollow Knight and there’s one small thing I got to vent about. It’s similar in that you build up a magic meter by hitting enemies which you can spend on (among other things) healing. It’s different in that healing during boss fights is very hard, and finding out if and when you can pull it off is another thing you find out by trial and error. You have to stand still during healing, and getting hit interrupts you, wasting the magic you’ve spent already.

    Now, trial-and-error bosses are fine by me, but there are also some upgrades you can equip that look like they should make in-combat healing more viable. Except they feel like they’re just there for trolling me.
    Faster healing – not fast enough
    Get a shell while healing – absorbs damage, but you still get interrupted by hits
    Be able to move while healing – you transform into a snail while healing and move at the appropriate pace

    Really like that game otherwise ;-)

  13. Richard says:

    Kaselehlie Shamus,

    Ahi tungoal en wahu ohng komwi, greetings and my deepest respect to you. While I enjoy this Spider-Man analysis, I would like to humbly submit a request to you that your next long-form analysis cover Prey and its DLC Moon Shark (or Moonmen or Moon People or whatever it was called. Mooncrash!)

    Thank you for considering this request. In the interest of transparency, while I read and enjoy your writing I do not contribute to your financial well-being; I felt you should know this in the event such information impacts your decision-making.

    1. ZekeCool says:

      I would love to read Shamus’ take on Prey and Mooncrash.

  14. Abnaxis says:

    This is interesting.

    So, how do you think the focus mechanic compares to regenerating Shields/health? I was under the impression you sort of begrudgingly accepted shield regen in (say) the Mass Effect games.

  15. Crokus Younghand says:

    The real world is so dumb and boring.

    I believe that is one of the edicts of Covenant in Halo.

  16. baud says:

    In a videogame, not only does [a dream sequence] ultimately not matter

    Well, it depends on the game. In Dragon Age: Origin, the dream sequence in the mage tower remove a demon blocking the way, in addition to journal entries and a bunch of stat points.

  17. kdansky says:

    I am baffled that game designers have not yet figured out that repeated quips are horrible. The human brain is incredibly good at recognizing voice lines it has heard before. That’s why we have so many “arrow in the knee” jokes.

    There are two solutions:

    1. Pull a Valve in TF2. Add gigabytes of voice lines to every character, and then have sophisticated logic in place so that there is a special voice line for every situation. This is very expensive.
    2. Just don’t repeat voice lines at all. Put a real-world timer on it: Only play the same voice line once per calendar month – then the player will have forgotten it when it repeats. This is not very expensive.

    Games do not have to have voice overs non-stop. Insomniac does not understand this concept, as they demonstrated with the Ratchet & Clank reboot which has so much pointless talking that one wants to turn off the sound.

    Some genres are downright ridiculous. Play Marvel vs Capcom 3 and count the “Take that!” and “Eat this!” voice lines. During combos the number goes up quicker than the seconds tick down, and it’s aggravatingly annoying, especially because those lines are not needed and don’t add flair. Ryu can shout “Hadouken!” as many times as needed without it getting old. But “Eat this!” is not the name of a special move. It’s just noise.

    As for boss fights: In a game focused on narrative, boss fights should probably not be like in Dark Souls. The flip side is that in Dark Souls you don’t have to rewatch ten minutes of cutscenes and listen to the same old ten quips over and over either: The designers understood what kind of game they were making, because they did not just freestyle copy & paste mechanics from other games.

    But as I said: It’s baffling how only a minority of game designers understand this very basic problem. It’s akin to 75% of movie directors not understanding “shot/reverse-shot” and then use it for action scenes.

    1. Christopher says:

      Fighting game devs really gotta look into this stuff. There’s like Skullgirls, who vary up the quips, and there’s Smash, where people mostly don’t say shit. But for the rest, you hear the same phrases over and over again until they go beyond annoying into white noise.

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