What’s a video game without boss battles? They challenge our determination and thrust us into battles of impeccable timing, refined skill and quick reactions. Bosses that require you to focus and learn from your past failures are equal parts satisfying as they are frustrating. You’ll scream, cry and pout as the boss beats you silly and instils doubt after a long and arduous journey. But then it happens, the hours you sunk into the battle begin to pay dividends as you progressively hammer away at his health bar and memorize his attacks. With a final swing of your sword, or whatever weapon you may be wielding, the boss crumbles to the ground in defeat as you spoil his plans for world domination or whatever—who cares? You just whooped his butt.
It teaches us a valuable lesson on overcoming the odds and possessing a steadfast demeanour. Only losers give up and allow that video game to sit on your shelf unfinished. It’s a crummy, draining feeling that all gamers look to avoid. Drink some raw eggs and get your montage on because no boss is unbeatable, and even if it takes you hundreds of tries you’re going to climb that mountain, friend. And it’s going to be glorious. Just make sure you have some disposable income to replace the pile of broken controllers you’ll surely burn through.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 15 toughest boss battles in video game history. If you feel I left out a particular battle worth mentioning, feel free to lambast me in the comments section and make your case.
15 Bowser, Super Mario 64
Squaring off against Bowser in 3D atop a floating island surrounded by bombs was one of the highlights of Super Mario 64. And the iconic franchise stayed true to its roots with a grueling, strategic fight that forced the player to plan their attack rather than simply button mash. Grabbing that hulking dragon-thing by the tail and throwing him into the bombs was as satisfying as it was difficult. Bowser may be huge in frame, but when he charged he did so with remarkable speed and you had to have sharp reflexes to avoid being pushed off the surface. It was the perfect end to one of the Nintendo 64’s most beloved games.
14 Shao Kahn, Mortal Kombat II
God, what a pain in the ass. Shao Kahn doesn’t provide the type of challenge hardcore gamers relish, no, he spams his ridiculous charge attack and eats a quarter of your health with one blow. So don’t expect an epic fight against the final boss in Mortal Kombat II. You basically have to spam your best move and deliver some sweeping kicks to keep him at bay. There’s no variety here, just mash those same buttons over and over and hang back when he rushes you. It’s not much fun and it’s a draining tactic, but you’ll feel accomplished once that annoying SOB is down for the count (or the fatality).
13 Spider Guardian, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Battling the Spider Guardian primarily consists of solving puzzles and outwitting the morph ball as opposed to an outright battle. It’s a four-stage process and one that requires patience and precise timing. A few wrong moves and you’re dead, Samus. And make sure you’re loaded with health because the second stage actually requires you to take damage in order to plant a bomb near the Spider Guardian. Did I mention the entire battle takes place in morph ball form? It makes for an innovative but grueling battle, especially given the fact that the Spider Guardian’s attacks penetrate through walls, so understanding the battleground is the key to victory here.
12 Senator Armstrong, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance may not be the best game in the Metal Gear franchise, but it’s certainly one of the toughest. Each boss battle requires strategy and impeccable timing and no enemy exemplifies this better than Senator Armstrong, the game’s final boss. While battling the mutated freak of nature may seem simple enough at first, he promptly begins to kick your teeth in just when you start to feel comfortable. He’s incredibly powerful and will obliterate your health bar if you remain within arm’s reach. Senator Armstrong has a jolly ol’ time spamming his overcharge attack, which shoots a blast of energy in every direction. You can’t fight him from a distance either, so you have to time your attacks perfectly before back flipping out of danger.
11 Maneater, Demon’s Souls
There are few boss battles more satisfying than those created by From Software, the minds behind the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. Maneater is probably the toughest foe you’ll encounter on Demon’s Souls. It’s not just that there are two of them, it’s also the narrow environment that restricts your movement. They fly, too, so if one decides to come up behind you and take a significant portion of your health with its charge attack, you better hope you don’t roll off the edge. This is a battle of inches and trial and error, much like the rest of Demon’s Souls. You might break a controller or two in the process, but once the dust settles you’ll feel like a total badass.
10 Ultimate Evil, Splatterhouse II
Life is sometimes unfair, which is more or less the motto of Ultimate Evil as he fires spikes at you from off-screen. Good luck dodging those, smart guy. Oh, and if you do manage to get past the first stage, which requires persistence and incredible timing, you’re then thrust into the second stage, in which Ultimate Evil becomes a floating head that shoots more projectiles at you. The trick is to dodge his attacks while simultaneously closing the distance to unload a punch or two on him. It’s an insanely difficult battle, just as most games in that era were.
9 Dark Samus, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Dark Samus isn’t some oversized beast that can easily be hit. She’s a reflection of you, with all the same powers and physical attributes. She’s quick, lethal and has several tricks up her sleeve. The fight starts out as a standard showdown before Dark Samus decides she’s had enough and begins to heal herself. That’s right, she can regenerate her health. And if that’s not enough for you, she begins to multiply to give you even more fits. So try dodging two mega blasts as you frantically run around the small circular arena. She eventually starts to spin erratically around the area as you hope to blast her down before she sweeps you off your feet. She’s tough.
8 Goro, Mortal Kombat
Goro emptied a lot of pockets back in the arcade days. The original Mortal Kombat started out innocuously enough, but Goro presented the first considerable challenge in the game. The developers even admitted that he was overpowered and toned him down in future releases. Goro would throw you around like a rag doll or grab hold of you and punch your face in if you got too close. And if you played the distance game, well, he’d use fireballs to take a chunk of your health bar. You basically had to smash the jump button and try to cheese your way to victory with well-timed kicks.
7 Vergil, Devil May Cry 3
Devil May Cry 3 is a punishing game. It also boasts some of the most satisfying boss battles in video game history. The showdown against twin brother Vergil, in particular, is one of my favourites. Thing is, you battle him three times in total, each more grueling than the last. It’s the final showdown that is the toughest and subsequently the most fun. Vergil has the ability to regenerate health whilst in devil trigger form and deals considerable damage when doing so. Dante must stymy his attempts at transforming or else he will stay in that form for a prolonged period and kick your butt pretty easily. One wrong move and you’re dead.
6 Shredder, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game
What makes Shredder such a pain is that it’s difficult to cheese your way to victory. The go-to move in most arcade games is to jump repeatedly and unleash a flurry of kicks, but Shredder utilizes his sword and knocks you down with an upwards slash. It’s a punishing blow and if you’re not careful he and his swordsman buddy—oh, that’s right, there’s two of them by the way—will slice you to bits in no time. This battle requires timing, luck, and lots of skill. And if all that isn’t enough for you, he also wields an instant-KO lightning move, so you have to be wary of his attacks.
5 Sinistar, Sinistar
Let me paint you the scene: so you’re flying around in your spaceship blasting asteroids and minor baddies having a grand ol’ time, when all of the sudden a creepy, unnatural voice emerges out of nowhere. “Beware, I live. Raaawwrrrr! Run coward!” It’s a terrifying experience, one that continues throughout the battle as his ear-piercing roars warn you of his presence. In order to defeat Sinistar you must exercise patience, perfect timing, and quick reflexes. That’s because asteroids, baddies, and a giant demonic head are all flying at you from different directions. It’s another example of an arcade game not afraid to empty your pockets clean.
4 Ornstein and Smough, Dark Souls
From Software just love to punish gamers. There is a countless rogue gallery of bosses that will crush you again and again before you learn from your mistakes, and none is more laborious than the battle against Ornstein and Smough. One wields a gigantic hammer and is a towering, imposing beast while the other attacks with a lightning spear and possesses blistering speed. Leave it Dark Souls to have you battle both enemy types at once. Oh, and a few shots from that lightning spear and you’re toast, so don’t even try to parry his attacks. You’ll have to separate them from each other and systematically hammer away at their health bars. Good luck.
3 Ultimate Alma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma
Ultimate Alma has all the ingredients of a classic pain in the ass boss: she’s erratic, powerful and quick. And when I say she’s erratic, I’m not kidding. Alma has no pattern to her attacks. Each time you face her, presumably after dying countless times, she changes up her strategy to keep you on your toes. See, Ninja Gaiden is known for its extreme difficulty, but Alma is the pinnacle of challenge in this longstanding series. You’ll need copious amounts of luck to beat her and quick reactions because she does not mess around from the get-go. She’ll reside in your nightmares for years once you play this game.
2 Sigma, Mega Man X
Fighting Sigma in Mega Man X is a three-stage process. First up is his mechanical dog that, while fairly easy, can dish out some damage that will prove costly later in the battle. Once you dispose of his pet, Sigma unsheathes his green lightsaber-looking sword and proceeds to follow a similar pattern to his dog, which mainly consists of dashing off the walls. This battle requires impeccable timing because if he catches you with his powerful sword strike, half your health is depleted. That’s right, half. Once you beat him in human form, he transforms into a gigantic cat-like robot. Here you have to dodge a flurry of attacks while jumping atop platforms to take some pot-shots at his head. It’s a long, grueling process.
1 Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Mike Tyson is easily the toughest boss battle you will ever face as a gamer. Nintendo challenged users in 1987 to conquer a gallery of fighters before facing Tyson in the finale. Thing is, you have one shot to get it done—back in those days, of course, you could input passcodes to skip to the final bout. Mike Tyson is quick, unpredictable, and incredibly powerful. One mistimed punch meant exposing yourself to a punch to the face and possibly being knocked out in seconds. Players had to be mindful of their stamina and strategically block and counter Tyson’s blows. You had to do so in a millisecond, though, so memorizing his attacks was crucial to be victorious. It’s just a shame you couldn’t bite off his ear for the finish.