A Look back at a classic arcade game and one of it's Memorable Bosses
Since the beginning of video games, end of level bosses have been a staple part of the gaming experience. There have been many memorable boss characters over the years, some even earning the same level of recognition and popularity as the main protagonist. Where would Mario be without Bowser? Sonic without Dr Robotnik... sorry, Eggman (groan)? From the many robot masters of the Mega Man series, to the giant mountain sized behemoths you must defeat in Shadow of the Colossus, bosses have always been there to challenge, and infuriate us. They are the final obstacle between the player and the next level, or indeed the end of the game, and without them a game feels unfinished. The player needs closure in the form of an epic battle that takes many tries to win.
One boss I am particularly fond of features in Taito's wonderful 1988 arcade game, The New Zealand Story. It's an adorable 2D platformer, with the same charming, cartoony visuals as other Taito games from that era, titles such as Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands and Liquid Kids. In this adventure you donned the tiny sneakers of a Kiwi named Tiki who, along with all his pals, is kidnapped by an evil walrus named Wally. Little Tiki manages to jump out of the top of the bag without Wally noticing and, feeling pretty peeved about the whole ordeal, he sets off to rescue his friends before they develop Stockholm Syndrome, or get turned into stew. Armed with his trusty bow and arrows (an infinite supply it would seem), he navigates platforms, shooting cute critters, collecting fruits, taking balloon rides and swimming through underwater caves. The game's cute visuals mask a tough challenge and it will put you through your paces. It's great fun to play, even today, and comes highly recommended.
Back to bosses, though, and the one I remember most is the very first one you encounter. At the end of stage 1-4 you enter a room and suddenly the wall behind you closes. You are then faced with a large (though not huge) pink whale floating above the spike covered floor. He is covered in ice, which gives him the appearance of being made of glass or crystal, but there is no time to dwell on this as he instantly begins to bombard you with deadly snowflakes. These arch upwards before falling from the top of the screen. Deftly avoiding these projectiles, you fire arrows into his bulbous form as fast as your button mashing finger will allow. After a barrage of hits his large jaw opens and he lunges forward, swallowing you whole. But this is not the end of Tiki, oh no. Standing inside the whale's insides, you must blast away at the walls of his guts whilst avoiding fatal drops of acid. Once the gluttonous ice beast can take no more the screen flicks back to an external view, and you stand by and watch as the whale disintegrates before your eyes. It's a great boss battle and a great game, and one I always come back to play.
New Zealand Story was ported to every format around, from the humble ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, to the more powerful 16-bit machines such as the Sega Mega Drive and Commodore Amiga. It even received an updated version in the form of New Zealand Story Revolution on the Nintendo DS in 2007, which was OK, but not a patch on the simple, yet brilliant original. The Sega Mega Drive version was quite an oddity in that the Japan only release had completely different level design to that of its arcade parent (and all the other home ports). The levels themselves are good, but as I grew up with the original they feel slightly strange and don't have the same 'magic'. All the ports are worth playing, but for the authentic experience you can play it on the excellent Taito Legends compilation which is on Xbox, PS2, and PSP, or use the awesome arcade emulator MAME.