Boss tease

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Just a few missiles and the boss will be defeated, right?

A boss tease is a common trope where a person is tricked into thinking they're witnessing a showdown with an antagonist, only to see the antagonist replaced by a bigger badder antagonist. This occurs in various forms of fiction including books, film, and comics, but it wasn't until the advent of video games that it became an interactive mechanic.

Games handle the boss tease in different ways. Personally, I much prefer when the player has to actually fight the fake boss before the real boss shows up. Whether you have to defeat the fake boss or simply survive long enough doesn't matter as much to me, but the bait-and-switch style of immediate replacement, which is both scripted and outside the player's control, is not nearly as exciting. My very first memory of this happening was in the early 1990s when I was watching my brother and his friend play Super C. They reached the boss of stage 6 and we were all a bit disappointed by how easy it was to kill, only to be pleasantly surprised by the reveal of the true boss.

Definition

There are generally three ways to handle a boss tease:

  1. The real boss appears after the player defeats the fake boss.
  2. The real boss appears during the battle with the fake boss. Usually after you've done a set amount of damage to the fake boss, have survived for a set length of time, or have sustained a set amount of damage.
  3. The real boss appears before the player even gets a chance to fight the fake boss.

There is a distinction between a boss tease and a boss that is simply fought in multiple stages. While the distinction is subjective, a boss tease works under the principle that the player is tricked into thinking they have won, while a multi-staged boss occurs without trickery. For example, both Dragon Warrior and Castlevania have multi-stage bosses the player won't be aware of, but the second stage occurs fluidly without an attempt at deception.

A setup for a sequel, where you realize that the boss of the game was really just an agent of an even bigger boss for a future game, is also not a boss tease.

Examples

This is a list of games that are important to me which feature a boss tease. For all games, see the category.

Title Released Occurs Notes
Bionic Commando 1988-07-20 Before The story in the NES port treats Generalissimo Killt like he's the primary boss, but he's taken out by the real boss before you get to fight him.
Cave Story 2005-01-04 Before Just as security robot is activated, he's smashed, and you have to fight Balrog instead.
Contra 1987-02-20 After Upon reaching the alien's lair, a giant alien head appears, but it turns out to only be a miniboss.
Mega Man II 1988-12-24 After After you defeat a multi-staged Dr. Wily, there is a strange twist.
Super Contra 1988-01-08 After Defeating the boss at the end of stage 6 plays the end of stage fanfare, but then, you discover you were only fighting the babies!
Super Metroid 1994-03-19 After This game has a couple with the large metroid and the tease with Mother Brain.
Undertale 2015-09-15 After In the pacifist run you are made to believe Asgore is the final boss, but things become much more horrifying.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link 1987-01-14 After Players assume defeating Thunderbird ends the game, but the Triforce chamber reveals the true boss.

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