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This article contains spoilers.
When Superman 64 became public and people were speculating how good it could be, one thing that fueled peoples’ doubts was the implementation of a health bar. It’s Superman; the Man of Steel; faster than a speeding bullet; only weak to Kryptonite. According to the animated series it was based off of, he could stop bullets. Sure he kicked the bucket a few times in comic books but I never got the vibe he ran out of health. Yet, he’s limited by health in the game.
Superman 64 demonstrated the troubles of using a superpowered character in a game setting. “He doesn’t die easily, so how do we make him die? Do we remove death altogether? Can he only die during certain circumstances? How do we make the enemies challenging enough to challenge the player?” These questions – and more – need to be asked to ascertain how to implement such a powerful character with only one weakness in a world that’s full of mortals and other supervillains who still aren’t as tough as him. It’s these design decisions that make or break believability and gameplay.
This is the problem with Armstrong, the final boss in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. A politician equipped with body-absorbed nanomachines, that make him impenetrable. And Raiden isn’t a weakling by any stretch of the imagination. He ripped off one of Metal Gear E’s arms off, which is 10x his size, then slashed the robot to pieces with it. He’s no joke. But when his sword is broken by the clench of Armstrong’s hand and kicks and punches can’t damage this guy, you know you’re not fighting someone that’s reasonably beatable. So, Kojima and crew create a lame way to take him down, while stripping the gameplay mechanics that made MGR exciting.
Since Raiden’s sword is broken, he ends up using Sam’s sword. While Sam’s sword is presumably stronger, it doesn’t change the fact that nanomachines prevent Armstrong’s body from physical trauma. But during the battle, Raiden is able to pierce Armstrong’s stomach and his heart while the nanomachines are strangely inactive. Sure, Raiden damages him while he’s healing, too, but why is he healing? Technically, he shouldn’t be taking damage in the first place. It doesn’t add up. What’s worse is how this battle unfolds mechanically.
Because Armstrong is so strong and fast, the battle ends up being a game of hit and run and major health is only taken during quicktime events. Throughout the game, there are opportunities to string satisfying combo on bosses. There’s a healthy mix of running, blocking, and parrying, but occasionally you’re given time to land a nice combo on your enemy for your efforts. There’s a sense of pleasure in blocking, parrying, and running for a given time, leading up to that damage dealing combo worked for you. That feeling is gone with this boss. It completely deteriorates what made MGR so exciting in the first place.
The fight should have culminated to test the skills and combo patterns you adopted, and if they didn’t work, made you learn new skills or combos. That’s where the difficulty should come from, not an endurance match to see how long you can dodge attacks with sprinkles of slashes.
Armstrong had the potential to be a fight that tested the skill of the player and everything he learned up to that point. Even if combos were unsuccessful against him, it should drive the player to learn new ones. Parrying should be darn near mandatory. But instead the battle is reduced to blocking and unimaginative fighting, all because the nanomachine-built politician is too unbelievably strong for an already unbelievably strong hero.