Every once in awhile a game comes along that tries to do things differently, to break the mould and inject some originality into gaming. Sometimes these games end up working out far better than expected and sometimes they don’t. Boss 101 is one of those titles trying to inject something a bit more original in to our lives; it’s a game that’s part bullet hell and part character creator. But which side of the fence does it fall on?
The premise is pretty simple although I must admit that it is delivered rather confusingly. In a nutshell, a race of robots have slowly conquered the galaxy and made life hard for the natural inhabitants of various worlds. Your character, Max, has decided enough is enough and with his trusty jetpack companion Steve in tow, they set out to remove the alien robot threat from the galaxy. Along with his jetpack, Earth has seen fit to kit Max out with a space station and some repurposed robot tech to get the job done and defeat Boss 101. Oh, and is that a gopher scientist?
You will spend a lot of time on the space station, so it’s a good thing that you can find your way around very easily thanks to the well thought out tutorial. Each level of the space station offers up various things like weapons, upgrades, stronger suits and even pets to obtain. There’s even a secret debug area that once unlocked offers the most powerful weapons and outfits to kit yourself out with. Alongside shopping areas are various places to talk to the crew, or partake in the extra arcade games available. It is all just wonderfully crafted and full of character.
Once you launch into the game properly you are first taken to a menu and it’s here you select your loadout of suits and weapons. But it’s also the area where Boss 101’s originality comes in to play. See, instead of fighting predetermined bosses on each level, you use a boss making machine to tailor the boss the way you want it, with various body parts converging to bring you some hideously eclectic bosses to fight. Examples can include half-dinosaur, half-insect hybrids with robotic panels stitching them all together, or weird flying snakes with fins. Each of these body parts can hold strengths, weaknesses and weapons, and it’s simply up to you to determine how you want the fight to go. Do you challenge yourself with a tough boss full of strengths, or go for something that’s weak to your weaponry, or even one that has powerful screen filling moves to dodge and weave through?
Once you’ve made all your decisions it’s off to fight these bosses. Gameplay is simple – you move around the screen deftly dodging the ridiculous amount of bullets, lasers, fire, bombs, minions, and all, while trying to damage the boss in front of you. You have a button for firing, one for swapping between your two weapons and one for super moves; it is all very simple and easy to pick up. In fact, it feels a bit like the excellent mobile game Jetpack Joyride. It won’t be long before you take out your first boss, and once defeated you earn cash and badges and it’s back to the space station to move on to the next level.
As levels progress bosses get harder and rewards get bigger. Every ten or so levels you come up against a predetermined boss that serves to progress the story a little further; these are harder than your typical fights and can involve huge screen filling monsters with multiple attack patterns to learn. One issue however is that it is very easy to grind the first few levels to rank Max all the way up to the top tier of each upgrade, which leaves you with very little to do other than get through the missions and take on bigger bosses. It’s a good thing then that the cut scenes that play out between each mission give the game a sense of progression and keep you moving forward. It’s all a very human story (even on the evil side) and it plays out in wonderful and sometimes hilarious ways. I felt myself caring about what was happening and that just kept me going.
There are also various collectibles throughout the campaign and they are enjoyable and sometimes challenging to collect. Alongside the main mode you also get a boss rush mode, which basically takes away the story and gives you boss after boss to blast your way through. It isn’t particularly appealing though as one of the only reasons this game plays as well as it does is because of the very human backstory involved – this just simply comes down to blasting away until you get bored and give up.
As a concept, Boss 101 really shouldn’t be that great. It’s a game simply made up of boss fights and nothing much else. Yet here I stand honestly telling you that I’m finding it very hard to put down. I want to see the game through and find out what happens to the characters involved.
It’s a testament to the development team that despite the flawed and repetitive concept they have still managed to craft an enjoyable, charming experience.