Journey to Silius Makes Scary Bosses Through Visual Design & Music
Journey to Silius takes us to a ruined, war-torn future filled with hostile machines and killer robots. They’re part of a plot to destroy a space colony. Although they’ve already succeeded at that plan, honestly. All that’s left is for you to get some revenge for what they did. That may be a daunting task, though, as these machines make for a powerful, intimidating force. Especially the game’s bosses. These towering mixtures of alien life and machine make for unsettling foes. When combined with the game’s incredible boss tracks, they have a presence that will erode your courage.
As a sci-fi action game, it’s a short, but impressive title. You rush through five stages full of weird machines and crushing traps. You collect unique weapons near the end of each stage, giving you machine guns, homing missiles, and grenade shots to blast things to pieces. These require a bit of weapon energy, so you may wish to use them sparingly. When a hulking humanoid robot or walker with a rapid-fire turret is stomping your way, though, you’d be forgiven for leaning on your special weapons. Besides, you can collect pickups that recharge them, Mega Man style. It’s fast, the enemies are impressive, and the music is some of the best video game tunes I’ve ever heard.
However, there’s a powerful boss waiting at the end of each stage of Journey to Silius. These creatures mark a shift in the tone of the game, moving from excitement to a kind of fear and anxiousness. I mean, that tends to happen when you suddenly find yourself fighting a mechanical monster that’s as big as the screen. Most of the game’s foes are no bigger than your character. Periodically, you’ll fight something double your size. Mostly, though, you fight things that are pretty close to your size.
You look downright tiny when bosses show up, though. A massive helicopter flies in above you at the end of the first level. A screen-filling tank comes rumbling in when you complete the second stage. A room filled with lasers awaits at the end of the third level. Some bizarre alien cannon aims to gun you down in the next level. The bosses are far larger than your character, resulting in an instant feeling of intimidation. You feel a little fear when you look at these huge beasts. At least, I do.
Lots of games have big, scary bosses, though. Journey to Silius has some discomforting boss designs on top of that. There’s this strange mixture of humanoid and machine at work in many of the bosses. A mixture of living being and robot. The large tank at the end of stage 2 has a human-like upper torso sticking off of the top of the treads. The fourth stage boss is a cannon that seems to have been fused with an alien body. It’s bizarre looking, as if a metallic flesh has melted off this monstrous face, melding with wires and tubes. The flying starship boss at the end of the fifth stage rolls its eye-like turrets as it tries to crush you with its bulk or fry you with its thrusters. There’s a strange sense of life within these machines.
There’s something about this mixture of machine and living being that makes these bosses feel a little unsettling to behold. Glowing, pulsing weak points. Bodies that seem to be made of melted flesh and shimmering, crystalline hearts. Open maws that seem to be mocking attempts by the machines to replicate humanity. Each shows an incredible eye for detail as well. Oily tubes run from colossal thrusters, complex armored plates cover twisted machine bodies, and other fine details giving them a sense of weight, durability, and an eerie life. There is so much going on in their visual designs to make them feel intimidating with their strength, or unsettling in their semblance to humanity and life.
After all, the last boss is just a tall, powerful humanoid machine. What is the final goal of these creatures in destroying the colony? Why do they seem to covet your humanity and wear it in their bodies? Why do they want to become you, yet destroy you? There’s some bizarre implications in their failed attempts at human forms that get under my skin when I play this game. Even if the game itself never really delves into what these things could mean.
Journey to Silius doesn’t stop with great designs and frightening size. While these things weigh on the mind from their looks alone, it’s the game’s relentless boss track that brings that fear to life. The track is filled with heavy, HEAVY notes that continually slam your ears as you fight these things. The whole track keeps growing in intensity as it tries to bowl the player over, carrying the same weight and presence as the bosses. Just with audio, this time. It’s easily my favorite boss track on the NES, and feels like something is just trying to slam into you and crush you. Just, you know, with audio.
The sense you get from this track is that you are in deep trouble. You are well outclassed and outgunned by these things. They’re going to eventually mow you down, and there’s little you can do about it. The track just never lets up, with notes growing in intensity as a slower, pounding beat continues to slam into you. While some boss tracks create a sense of excitement in the player, showing a means to demonstrate your own abilities, this one feels more like it’s designed to crush your spirit. It is a slow, rolling onslaught for your ears that makes for a satisfying listen. You just know you’re listening to your own funeral song, though.
These three details come together to give bosses a terrifying presence in Journey to Silius. Despite having a great array of weapons to fight with, you still feel outgunned when one of these huge machines comes rolling in. There’s something in the details of their forms, the way they bear a semblance to your humanity, and how they are accompanied by a track meant to break your spirit, that instills a bit of nervousness as you face them. These all come together to give the bosses a terrifying presence, and makes them deeply memorable by creating a bit of fear when I face them down.