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Boss 101 (PC) artwork

Boss 101 (PC) review


"If you like your shoot-em-ups cute and easy."


It’s your brother’s birthday, and it’s up to you (Max) and your robot pal, STEVE, to bring the fun to your bro while he’s laid up in the hospital. Naturally, the best way to do that is by strapping on your trusty jetpack, saving the galaxy, and getting it all on film for his viewing pleasure at a later date. You mightn’t know it based on the premise, but Boss 101 is a side-scrolling boss rush shooter. It’s got a lot of other… stuff at the periphery, presumably to help the game stand out in a genre where it’s not easy to do so, and ostensibly the story – at times touching but mostly a meme-whoring snicker-fest – and the game’s structure, work together to add charm and replay value.

But ‘the other stuff’ is mostly a red herring: the game is about moving from left to right and blasting bosses. Boss 101 is a cute-em-up, so your onscreen avatar is quite large, since these types of shmups usually feature flying apparatuses with the hero’s big head sticking out of it, like a cartoon T-Rex in a flying convertible (here, a T-Rex wearing a knapsack). This fact, combined with your average sized hitbox, means you won’t often be slipping bullets, bullet hell style, but dodging and duking enemy fire, volleys at a time. This is also one of those shooters where you are granted a vitality bar, which requires from you some amount of bollixing up to drain. Though the game puts up a bit of a fight early on when you don’t know what you’re doing and your weapons are at their most pitiful levels, that challenge goes away in short order as you power up your guns, and the game is distilled down to a quick and easy jaunt through 31 bosses who are made up of animal heads and random spare parts.

Boss 101 (PC) image

And that’s because Boss 101 has a Make A Boss feature, whereby you ‘choose’ the guardian you’re going to fight from stage-to-stage. You’ll click the Make A Boss button and the game will randomize junk pile bits and pieces crowned with an alligator or bumblebee or shark head while bearing a handful of the game’s full arsenal of boss attacks. Every tenth level, there’ll be a boss of bosses to contend with – there’s a total of three in all – and you don’t get to generate those. A few things make the boss rounds unique in this game: each guardian is surrounded by minions, big and small, and their inclusion requires you to split your focus. Furthermore, while there are varied projectile types coming your way that could conceivably keep you on your toes, you’ll find that the greatest challenge is actually doing enough damage to the bosses with your own guns before time runs out and the ensuing stalemate hands you a loss.

It’s not that your arsenal sucks per se – besides your default machine gun, there is a huge variety of secondary weapons on offer and some, like the PUNCH GUN and the shurikens, are unique and look cool in practice. The issue is that until you have earned considerable scratch towards powering up, your weapons’ output (both primary and secondary) will be feeble. And since the only way to earn that money is by beating bosses, you’ll want to generate the lowest possible yielding creations at first (the bigger the bounty, the harder the boss), and maybe even grind for funds, RPG-style, in the two Endless Boss modes outside the campaign. Once you’ve raised some appreciable capital, there’s a certain amount of strategy to consider, at least at first blush, as each boss is weaker against a different kind of secondary weapon. It’s a valiant attempt at preventing gamers from putting all their power up eggs in one basket, but it’s all for naught because the default gun is usually just fine – despite not necessarily being the ideal choice – for dispatching the majority of the bosses.

Boss 101 (PC) image

Even before you get to the blasting, though, the first thing you’ll notice about Boss 101 is the game’s emphasis on dialogue. It’s... a lot. You’ve got a little robot tutorial buddy (not your partner STEVE, this is BERL), who relishes explaining even the simplest concepts to death before you can even begin to try to figure them out for yourself. It doesn’t help that the dialogue bubbles are tiny, and so, after very little actual text rolls out, you’ll need to tap the action button to advance. This leads to a ton of tapping to release relentless instructions, and it gets very annoying, very fast. If the tutorials were the end of it, that’d be one thing, but they’re just the beginning. Throughout the game, there is an overwhelming amount of talk going on here – mostly between you and STEVE – much of it meant to be funny, or heart-warming, and some of it is, but the game crushes your willingness to follow along under the weight of just so many words… you will stop caring very early on, and you’ll start skipping every interaction (and thank God they made every exchange skippable). The game’s story is the ultimate TL:DR situation, and it’s a shame, because a lot of work went into it, and it won’t likely be appreciated by many.

Boss 101 deserves a play if you like shoot-em-ups, or even old school run-and-gun titles, and especially if you like your retro action a little on the easy side. The visuals are irresistibly bright and cartoonish, and the gameplay is at once accessible and progressive. And all that… stuff! Your command centre features access to your room (which you will decorate with items found in the stages), an arcade cabinet from which you can actually play a handful of knock-offs of oldies like Arkanoid, and even the great outdoors where you can fly a kite, for what that’s worth. I don’t think that all of these extras provide much more than fleeting distractions: they do give the game a certain charm, but they certainly don’t amount to the replay value that I’m sure the developers were hoping for. Still, it can’t be said that Boss 101 is another me-too shmup in the vast ocean of them. It has an identity, and that identity is likable, and in a genre of samey entries, that distinction, when paired as it is here with competent gameplay, is worth the price of admission.

3/5

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (November 15, 2017)

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honestgamer posted November 16, 2017:

The game looks interesting. And like you said, different. I'm not big on boss battles in shooters (they're more something I endure), so a game that is essentially nothing but boss battles doesn't really seem like it would appeal to me, but the art style is pleasant and I like the sound of the RPG customization elements, too!
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DonleyTime posted November 17, 2017:

Hey all - Tim (one of the developers on Boss 101).

First of all - thank you so much for the review! We appreciate the look and the support.

Jason, we do hope you give it a go. We did our best to make something different that would appeal to people and their own play styles. For the most part we think of Boss 101 as an action adventure story. It has shooter elements of course but that is only part of the game.

I also wanted to drop a few thoughts for those that might be interested after reading the review.

The tutorials are optional - totally optional. In fact that is the first choice you have (Tutorials on or off). You can just dive right on in without them if you like. If you want them though - they are there and you can speed through or skip any one of them - at any time. Your choice. We assumed if you wanted them, well, you are ready to listen.

Also, there are three difficulty settings for you - Easy, Normal (the default) and Ultra (if you really want a challenge). These can be changed at any point in the main game according to what you like. If you are banging through the levels and want to up the difficulty we suggest Ultra.

I do want to reiterate Boss 101 is as much about the story as it is about the shooty bits. If anyone just wants to load up the game and rapidly skip through cinematics, phone calls, tutorials and everything else we put in - that is totally their choice. Though they would be missing a lot of the spirit of the game. We never would put our dialogs on a pedestal but we do think they add a lot to the ‘why’ of what is happening and we do aim to entertain more than a standard TL;DR type affair. Again – the final judgment will be up to you the player and we know it might not be for everyone.

It might be obvious we love the game and think highly of it, of course, we developed it. We’re proud of the game and hope it finds an audience with people. Hard core shooter people looking for the next Ikaruga or Cave masterpiece might not find it in Boss 101. We did what we could within our framework to entertain those people though (Endless Boss more, Ultra settings, etc). Boss 101 is, as mentioned, trying to do something different - with story, with player choice, with the general presentation. You have hats, kites, visitors and pets, rescue missions, escort missions that all fold into the narrative and actually mean something. We added tons of secrets for people to find. That can all be ignored of course but if you are already bought the game why not give it a go?

Finally – we made the price as good as we could make it. $9.99 – no lootboxes, no paid DLC, no season passes and we are STILL tweaking and adding stuff according to community feedback.

What we are hoping with our first release, Boss 101, is to bring people on board, create a community and work to bring people more of what they want as best we can. This game was three people working three and a half years. I’ve been in big games for a while and Boss 101 was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had.

We promise your support and purchase will go to improving the games we make. We’re doing this because we love making games and we want to make more.

Thanks for reading and FULL DISCLOSURE - I am passionate about Boss 101!

Best,

-Tim
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Masters posted November 20, 2017:

Tim, thanks for reading, and taking the time to post here. I did get the impression that a great deal of care was put into developing the story, and lamented that it might not be fully appreciated. From a strictly shooter standpoint, I still rather enjoyed my time with Boss 101, and I am looking forward to your next project.

Cheers.
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DonleyTime posted November 22, 2017:

Thank you! Appreciate the reply. We love any and all support for Boss 101. It's a big deal to us and we aim to make more games. At the same time we are always open to suggestions and ideas from our friends and fans. We do listen!

Best,

-Tim

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