Mario Bosses, Blandness and 'Generic 3D Design'
Editorials / Features
Over the 25 years of the series, Mario has had tons of awesome bosses. You've got the Koopalings, Bowser, Wario (back in the day) and many others in the platformers, and then the hoardes of well designed villains in the RPGs such as Smithy, Fawful and Dimentio.

But sadly, one thing seem to have creeped into Nintendo's general boss design along the way, one that's not such a welcome change. This is something I personally like to consider Generic 3D' boss design. It's fairly hard to define well, but can be summed up as 'bland, almost interchangeable characters designed entirely for gameplay rather than character purposes'. Bowser Jr's a fairly good example here, with no real personality other than 'kid clone of Bowser used to fill in spots in spinoffs and avoid having to make renders of all seven Koopalings'.

And it's been left as almost a standard in post Gamecube era Nintendo games, especially platformers. You can name a whole list of games with this style, Super Mario Sunshine, the lesser bosses in Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat and Wario World, and it just drops interesting character design for wholesale, almost mass produced blandness. Go on, think of any personality many of these bosses actually had, or any kind of interesting style that may of existed. You can't, because it's not there. Indeed, you could even move all the levels around order wise and I don't think most people would be none the wiser, because they contribute NOTHING to the Mario universe, and even less to any sense of story or progression.

On a DK note, tell me what Mugly is, and what purpose he really serves for anything. Is there a species called 'generic cartoon animal'?

So what's the issue? Well frankly, the issue is that they're like... the kind of thing a programmer rather than an artist would design. They fit a certain boss battle style, sure, but they don't really have any appeal outside of that. Look at Squizzard, or Glamdozer. Can you honestly think of a working scenario for them other than their original Galaxy 2 boss battle? Nope, they're glorified, semi animate puzzles. They just don't work at all without a 'gimmick'. You can place the Koopalings, or Bowser, or King Boo, or the like, near enough anywhere and change up their attacks, weakness and entire boss battle feel. Bowser in SMB 1, 3 and World is completely different from in Galaxy 1, which is different from Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros Wii. There's no real way to have Glamdozer for instance in a scenario without climbable, punchable mesh fences. You can have the Koopalings, or the more interesting newer bosses without their original gimmick.

Contrast the design by programmer or puzzle to a good example of all round interesting boss design, maybe Donkey Kong Country. Heck, this series even had the Land games on the Game Boy to show you could change the whole setting and gimmick of the bosses and make them recognisable. Look, here's Kleever from Donkey Kong Country 2:

Then look at the Land 2 version, completely different, but the same general idea:

Both different fights, both the same character. Can you even do this with the Jungle Beat or Wario World bosses? No, they just don't work outside a single setting. Every possible 'roc' fight is about breaking the egg it's holding, every single elephant or hog fight is pretty much about the same pattern. Okay, I guess they do try to move the arena, but it's basically a graphical alteration.

But really, the big issue is just they don't look like anything, or in most cases, look like they'd be out of a place in a CGI kids movie. The former case, is pretty much Glamdozer, Squizzard, the Jungle Beat bosses and about half the Wario World bosses. They have no design, they basically seem to exist to glorify an attack pattern, maybe with googly looking eyes and bright primary colours.

On the 'nothing like anything list',,, the Winter Windster and Ironsider.

Of course, I love to see many 'gameplay over everything' defenders defend these kinds of boss designs. Heck, a good example is the person who was saying how great the tiki designs in Donkey Kong Country Returns are because they 'look like bongos and hence invite players to jump on them and kill them'.

For Gods sake, does this even make sense to anyone else? Sorry, but I prefer enemies with an actual design to something that looks like it could be in any old platformer. It's bad enough every freaking Galaxy 1 and 2 enemy which needs to be attacked in some way has a giant ground pound symbol or 'red button' on it's head/back.

Above: Remember when Whomps had actual bandages/plasters on their back and not a giant bullseye symbol?

The other point is that they're so generic, you could literally switch what games many of these enemies appear in and I don't think anyone would notice. No really, put Glamdozer in a Mario Sunshine screenshot and people probably wouldn't notice the difference...

Above: Is this guy related to Glamdozer in some way? It's even the same 'boss' strategy... to a degree.

Altogether, these types of bosses and characters seem like some amateur went straight into a cheap 3D modelling program and didn't even bother with much in the way of actual textures as far as the design goes, and basically took pointers from the programmers for every single element of the design.

It just feels cold and heartless to be honest. Like when you see bad attempts at 'futuristic' design, with the futuristic bit basically meaning 'lots of shiny metal and plastic and not a whole lot of personality'. Picture a futuristic house or car design in some science journal, and it's much the same. Function over form to the max, to the point where there's literally no difference between one object and another.

Not to mention the whole uncanny valley effect (which Wario World in particular hit hard). Really, look at Clown a round and then consider yourself permanently scarred for life.

Above: On the uncanny valley chart, this probably comes lower than your standard zombie for creepiness.

Not to mention these. The Brawl Doll really, really just... ugh. It looks like someone went for saccharine cute and missed by a mile, while the Mean Emcee looks like the kind of creep found in dark alleyways at night.

It's hard to make characters in 3D seem 'normal', or at least 'interesting', indeed, it's been a massive problem with CGI movies for years (hello to the Polar Express), but it can be done. Nintendo themselves do this successfully with the main characters in the series, and well, for films, nobody manages to avoid the valley like Pixar (prime example: The Toy Story series), but it seems many of the designs I complain about seem like the really bad early attempts at 3D CGI models of characters.

Those that lack any real charm or soul, that feel like they've been whipped up in a bad image modelling program rather than had thought put in. Or basically, boring characters which manage to make the characters from the Polar Express look quite normal.

Anyone else miss the days of characters with some soul and personality in their design, that didn't seem like the programmers delved in the darkest depths of the uncanny valley and designed them based on gameplay?

Although to be fair, it's not only the modern style of bosses this applied to. Mad Jack from Donkey Kong 64 would make a good horror villain, and Terrormisu just looks so WRONG in all aspects.

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