A boss fight is like making love: nervous, tense and just as you find your rhythm, over. And just like making love, some boss fights stay clear in our memories, while others blur into happy (or not so happy) recollection. Here at Power Up Gaming, we’ve decided to home in on some boss fights that have stuck with us over the years, for better or worse.
1. Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
The delightfully creepy Metal Gear Solid villain Psycho Mantis crops up time and time again in discussions about the greatest video game bosses, and for good reason. Solid Snake’s battle with the gas-mask-adorned Foxhound psychic mastermind is considered not only one of the PlayStation’s greatest ever moments; but one of the greatest ever moments in all of gaming.
In some truly innovative moves by series creator Hideo Kojima, Psycho Mantis not only broke the fourth wall, but obliterated it. His ‘telepathic’ powers were demonstrated by having him remark upon the player’s performance in the game up to that point and pay mention to other Konami games whose data was stored on the memory card currently plugged into the PS1.
Not only that, but he was able to telegraph Snake’s attempts to kill him by ‘possessing’ the controller in port one, demonstrated by having the player set the pad on the floor and then appearing to make it move (achieved by having it vibrate). The only way to ultimately defeat him was to physically remove the controller, and plug it into port two of the console.
Kojima would later tell Now Gamer: “By personifying this omnipresence in the context of Mantis’ telepathic ability, I hoped to instill a certain level of fear in the player and make them doubt their ability to outwit this mysterious foe.”
It’s safe to say he succeeded on all fronts.
2. LeChuck (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge)
As an adventure game, Guybrush Threepwood’s often meandering exploits might seem like an odd choice for this list, but after carefully crafting two voodoo dolls in the game, the fun of realising that the plot required you to jerry-rig a third was enough to set any parrot squawking. Add to that the tension of being chased from room to room by the reanimated LeChuck as you battled to find ingredients, and you had an ending that was both funny and cathartic.
With an after-the-credits twist, and some dancing monkeys to mock you as you waited for it, the fun didn’t stop with LucasArts’ pirate-themed masterpiece; the satisfaction of putting LeChuck back into the ground (however temporarily) was an epilogue that felt perfect for this hilarious and brain-wringing game.
3. Mr Freeze (Batman: Arkham City)
While most of the boss fights in the brilliant Arkham City were fun but forgettable, the Mr Freeze battle was something really special. Instead of being able to find something that worked and sticking to it, each attack was immediately countered by the intelligent Freeze – forcing players to reach deeply into their bag of tricks. Traps, explosives, stealth attacks: all were valuable only once as you tried to figure out the next way to take him down – often using skills you’d barely thought of – in a game of cat-and-mouse that culminated in one of the most satisfying video game victories.
While Freeze has always been the most sympathetic of Batman’s gallery of rogues, it was his defeat that we savoured the most in a game with plenty of big, bad competition and more than a few shocking conclusions along the way.
4. Wheatley (Portal 2)
In another boss fight that required intelligence to win (although the intelligence of your opponent is a matter of some debate), the Portal 2 showdown against Wheatley – your incompetent ally turned equally incompetent enemy – was a triumph of ingenuity.
Whether patiently taking down his shields, bouncing paint around the place, or finally banishing him to the moon, defeating Wheatley required all of your lateral thinking in a game that had spent hours teaching you to think laterally.
Coupled with the game’s signature sarcastic dialogue, and GLaDOS’ half-hearted attempts to cheer you on, it was an ending that juggled both logical thought and humour, and showed us what a good boss battle should be: a test the game has trained you to pass; not just a symphony of button mashing.
5. The Executioner’s Chariot (Dark Souls 2)
In a game as rich in boss fights as the original Dark Souls, it’s the Executioner’s Chariot that has sparked the most debate. While some loved the tension of the rattling wheels and knockdown, high-damage axles, others found the pulley insta-kill a letdown.
While more skilful (and courageous) players may have tried to face this enemy head on, taking out just a few necromancers was all it took to reach an easy solution – a feature that felt unlikely in such a tear-out-your-hair difficult game.
As disappointing as this may have been to hardcore fans, the fight with the Old Dragonslayer wasn’t much better. Harking back to Ornstein in the original game, he was a poor comparison, easy to defeat (as much as anything is easy in the Dark Souls universe), and unworthy of such an excellent predecessor.
6. Star Destroyer (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed)
It sounded like the ultimate show of power: using the Force to rip a Star Destroyer from the sky. Instead of the boss fight to end all boss fights, however, we ended up with a fiddly and badly-handled mess that forced more than one player to scale back the difficulty.
With unresponsive controls, uncertain instructions and the way the destroyer would naturally correct itself while you dealt with scores of lesser enemies, it was a nightmare of a slog that turned what should have been the pinnacle into the worst part of the game.
7. Baron Praxis (Jak II: Renegade)
Despite being a cunningly Machiavellian ruler, Baron Praxis had a fatal flaw. Like an eagle slain by an arrow feathered with one of its own plumes, the Baron never seemed to realise what a bad idea it is to give his enemies the means to destroy him.
Ambushing Jak in a ruined temple, Praxis came out swinging with a full arsenal of spiderbots, machine guns and bombs. The first of these would flush Jak out of cover, the second would destroy his cover, but the third were a bit of a tactical faux pas. All Jak had to do was kick any one of these bombs back in Praxis’ otherwise impervious face to do some serious damage. And what did the Baron do then? More bombs, of course!
It got even more ridiculous once Praxis gained the power to destroy the ground on which Jak stood. Instead of using this power to systematically eliminating everywhere for Jak to run and trapping him out in the open, Praxis persisted with the bomb strategy. And let’s not forget that his Robotnik-style pod could fly. He could literally have just grabbed the Precursor stone and left Jak stranded on the platform, and there would have been nothing anyone could do about it.
8. The End (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
Metal Gear Solid is a series that boasts numerous qualities that make it excellent. Unarguably, one of these is some truly memorable boss fights. Whether it be the odd Psycho Mantis (see entry number one), the tragic Big Boss or a slew of PTSD-riddled beauties, every single one is memorable in its own manner.
One boss that sticks out to many fans of the series is the peaceful sniper from MGS3: Snake Eater, The End. Part of the Cobra Unit that Snake has to endure throughout, The End was an interesting variation from standard bosses. His bulging eyes, geriatric appearance and parrot all spelled out oddball at first, but he was absolutely no pushover when he finally confronted Snake in the forest of Sokrovenno.
The End was at one with nature and blended in so well with the forest that finding him proved to be challenging. Throughout the difficult battle, players were faced not with a crescendo of epic music, but with the sound of wind rustling through the leaves and an atmosphere of both quiet contemplation and unease.
His presentation, his touching final words and all of his absurd nature lent themselves to a boss that invited players to test not only their in-game skills, but their senses and patience as well.
Truly, The End is a boss battle worth remembering.
9. Yu Yevon (Final Fantasy X)
Being the final (though, this being Final Fantasy, not necessarily the most difficult) boss of FFX, Yu Yevon presented an interesting challenge. In addition to being backed up by powerful magical pagodas that automatically resurrect themselves, he would also turn your own summons against you, taking away a powerful weapon in your arsenal.
But the true problem with this fight was the fact that Yu Yevon would instantly heal after every hit to the amount of 9999HP, the maximum damage a single attack could do without Break Damage Limit (gained through tracking down and fully upgrading each character’s legendary weapon).
However, what at first seemed like a difficult puzzle to solve quickly turned into the easiest boss fight of the game, as Yu Yevon was oddly vulnerable to status effects. Inflict Poison on him and he’d take 9999 damage every turn, negating some of his healing. Even better, cast Reflect on him and it’d bounce his healing to your own party. Better yet, inflict Zombie and his healing would damage him instead. Or just cast Doom and the fight would be done in three turns.
While the previous battle against Braska’s Final Aeon was a much more satisfying fight, Yu Yevon makes this list for sticking in our heads like a bad pun: an intriguing set-up followed by a cheap payoff.
10. Shao Khan (Mortal Kombat )
By the Elder Gods, has there ever been a more infuriating boss than Shao Khan? NetherRealm really tapped into Mortal Kombat’s quarter-crunching arcade roots when building this brick of bone and muscle. While the King of Outworld had never been a pushover in his previous appearances as a Mortal Kombat boss, the ninth in the series showed us that even with all of our flashy new X-Ray moves and clever combos, Shao Khan was even more of a rock-hard bastard than ever before.
With his magic war hammer, stun attacks, surprisingly fast shoulder charges and mocking taunts, Shao Khan didn’t just defeat you; he humiliated you. A single strike from his hammer would send you down into the dirt, while easily taking off a sixth of your health. His taunts should have opened him up to a free strike, but he’d often recover just in time to smash you to the ground. Even if you did get the drop on him, he dealt so much damage and took so little in return that any fight against him was a brutal slog. Truly, this was a recipe for weapons-grade frustration.
The story mode involved not one, but two gruelling battles against the King of Outworld, the second being even more of a nightmare than the first. Mercifully, Raiden’s flying and teleportation moves let you navigate the battlefield almost instantly, dodging the brutal hammer and closing fast enough to capitalise on his taunts. Even so, it was a small advantage that still required lightning-fast reflexes and no small amount of concentration to pull offs.
So here’s to you, Shao Khan, you skull-crowned slab of beef. May Earthrealm forever escape your grasp. Now put on a shirt already.
11. Jubileus (Bayonetta)
Good candy on the dandy, what else can be said about this colossal monstrosity of a boss fight? Jubileus, the Creator, the final boss of Bayonetta, was one so epic in scale and scope that it’s almost ridiculous.
Throughout the game, she was hyped up as some sort of legendary god-beast ready to thoroughly wreck the universe. Unlike most bosses that are hyped up through the entirety of the game, Jubileus not only lived up to the hype but ended up smashing it with a black hole. Or a universe. She literally threw universes at you.
Not only that, but you had to kill her DragonBall Z-style by hurling her various bits into the sun, then making sure each and everyone of them was destroyed. Gotta admire the dedication to making certain she didn’t get back up.
The sheer scale and weight of her presence was absolutely undeniable and as a finisher to such a good game, Platinum Games could have hardly done better.
12. The Electrocutioner (Batman: Arkham Origins)
Batman again makes the list, this time for the shortest boss fight we’ve ever seen, as a foot to the face was all it took to take down this brazen and big-mouthed enemy.
The Arkham games have a bit of a history building up boss fights that never actually materialize. Croc was nothing more then a submarine surprise in Asylum, and easily dissuaded by a batarang to the face; while Scarecrow got swallowed far too quickly, despite some excellent build up. Hopefully he’ll get a more satisfying conclusion in this year’s Arkham Knight.
13. The Hive Mind (Dead Space)
Empathizing with a character is an important part of what makes a good game great. Dead Space invoked a lot of sympathy and instilled more horror in players as its story unfolded.
The unsettling feeling of being truly helpless – slogging through the unknown with no one on your side and everything wanting to kill you at once – is undoubtedly one most wouldn’t want to experience.
So, at the end of Dead Space’s journey, when Isaac was merely yards away from freedom, what should happen to pop up?
Oh, just a massive space worm that was the central control for every single monster that’s been wanting to gnaw on Isaac’s throat. Not only did this thing make quite the arrival, but it was kind enough to smash your old teammate who had intended to leave you behind to bits. Nice fellow, at least.
After the long tunnel of punishment and viscera Isaac had to endure, the Hive Mind was yet one more friendly reminder to players that they were up the proverbial creek without a rail gun.
14. Poseidon (God of War 3)
The opening to God of War 3 certainly was grand and cinematic. It had Titans climbing Mt. Olympus, fully prepared to lay the smack down upon the Gods that had enslaved and tormented them. Kratos, along for the ride, soon had the pleasure of meeting his first real opponent in the game, Poseidon.
Poseidon alone was impressive. He appeared as a massive water beast, trident in hand as he sat upon magnificent water-horses. As if that wasn’t badass enough, he growled perhaps one of the best lines in the game: “You dare challenge me, mortal? A God of Olympus?!”
While he might not be the most amazing boss fight in the series, Poseidon certainly left an impression at the start of the third God of War instalment that set the tone for the entirety of the game.
15. The Colossi (Shadow of the Colossus)
Team Ico’s magnificent PS2 action-adventure title, Shadow of the Colossus, built up the battles with each of the game’s 16 colossi as works of art. The momentum, weight and movement were all spot on, and the creatures themselves were incredible.
Appearing as imposing statues come to live, the colossi moved like giants, both docile and hostile. Players were challenged to find their tricky major sigil weak points in order to damage them, and every single moment spent interacting with the colossi felt like a real battle.
They are, without doubt, the highlights of a great game. For many, thinking of the colossi invokes a sense of wonder that is very hard to obtain these days. Gamers were looking upon creatures of legend; creatures that felt as real as the journey itself.
16. The Great Mighty Poo (Conker’s Bad Fur Day)
The Great Mighty Poo is, as his name implies, a great, mighty poo. He arose from the ever so murky depths to confront Conker on his quest, and left many players with some interesting memories when he burst into song with the voice of an operatic angel. Even if he was singing about the shit he literally intends to throw at Conker, the tune was one that will never leave the minds of old school fans of the game.
Even upon returning to N64 classic years later, most of us still get an immature giggle or two fighting this boss. He was one of those characters no one expected, and equally one no one expected to leave such a lasting impact.
One can only dream for his eventual return singing Flight of the Toiletries.
17. The Icon of Sin (DOOM)
Some of us still have the occasional nightmare about DOOM, where we fought for our lives against the armies of Hell. The title is legendary, and indeed, one of the most iconic video games in history.
The Icon of Sin is the (sort of) last boss in the perilous journey to survive DOOM’s isolated warzone. Not only did this thing look cool (like a wall), but it had a voice that still sends shivers up players’ spines.
Even after killing it and moving on to the ‘real’ final boss of DOOM, many of us will never forget the Icon of Sin, perhaps the coolest wall of them all.
18. Dr. Robotnik (Sonic the Hedgehog Series)
While the maniacal mad scientist may have been a rather hapless foe for Sonic the Hedgehog in the original Genesis trilogy, it’s undeniable that Dr Robotnik is one of the most memorable video game bosses of all time.
Resurfacing at the end of nearly every zone across the series, only to be foiled by the speedy blue hedgehog yet again, Robotnik was nothing if not determined. A master in robotic engineering, Robotnik’s Eggmobile was not only his means of transport, but also served as the starting point for many ambitious – though ultimately failed – attempts to steal the Chaos Emeralds and thwart Sonic. A multitude of attachments transformed his vehicle into a killing machine, with each new battle seeing the debut of a new attachment, each more outrageous than the last.
Some of the most memorable Robotnik battles include Death Egg Zone and the pinball-style Casino Night Zone, both of which were in Sonic 2, as well as the Big Arm from Sonic the Hedgehog 3. While many boss fights against Robotnik were too easy for our liking, they were invariably inventive – not to mention complete with musical scores that remain ingrained in our heads even to this day.
19. Human-Reaper (Mass Effect 2)
Mass Effect 2 did a great job in building up the enemy and all the horror they intended to unleash on humans. Little by little, the fate of countless people kidnapped from human colonies was revealed to players – and the truth was beyond disturbing.
Commander Shepard, back from the dead at the hands of Cerberus, was tasked with assembling a small team to put a stop to the malevolent Harbinger, all whilst the Illusive Man watched from the shadows.
After a fantastic build up, the rush of the self-named suicide mission during the game’s epic climax was pure adrenaline, with each movement strained as players desperately tried to put an end to the nightmare, save Shepard’s team and get out alive.
The size and power of the Human-Repeaer was ineffable. It was, in a word, overwhelming; beating it seemed impossible. The abhorrent cross-breed of an experiment gone too far, this boss is one that never left some of our nightmares.
20. Bowser (Super Mario Series)
The Koopa King has been the nemesis of players worldwide for so long that most of us don’t even question why Bowser is so freely invited over for a sports game or a spot of kart racing. He was the first video game villain many of us ever faced, and it’s hard not to think of him when a boss battle is mentioned.
Throughout the ages, the bumbling, threatening, sweet-on-Peach dinosaur has been put in just as many scenarios as Mario has. In the endless struggle for true love, Bowser’s goal in life seems to be to nab himself a princess and settle in to rule the Mushroom Kingdom like a proper dictator.
Even though Mario always saves the day, Bowser always comes back for more; usually either to players rolling their eyes or giddy in anticipation over what antics he’ll pull this time.
Over the years, he’s been more and more developed as a character beyond the archetype of the ‘dragon’ for Mario to slay. Super Paper Mario, in particular, gave some insight into his feelings and general personality.
He’s the villain most love to hate and hate to love, and we all know he’ll be around for as long as there’s a Mario to rain on his sunshine.
Contributors: Georgie Catto, Amber Colyer, Owen Atkinson, Chris Mawson.