Every gamer has their favourite boss battles. When done right, they can help to elevate the experience of playing a game to greatness – even if they take dozens of attempts to conquer, the best boss fights remain a real joy to play.
So, what makes a good boss battle? We all have our own ideas on this, but it’s fair to say three elements are key: a well-balanced challenge keeps you trying again and again; a fair structure with clear weaknesses to exploit (nobody likes a boss that cheats); and, last but not least, the boss should require enough effort and skill to give you a real sense of accomplishment when you figure out how to beat them (a ‘big bad’ that you can defeat in one attempt always feels a little disappointing).
Throughout gaming history, developers have created some genuinely epic boss battles that remain unforgettable …
- 1 10: The Riftworm – Gears of War 2
- 2 9: Tyrant – Resident Evil
- 3 8: Metal Gear Rex – Metal Gear Solid
- 4 7. Mr. X – Streets of Rage 2
- 5 6: Colossus of Rhodes – God Of War 2
- 6 5: Scarecrow – Arkham Asylum
- 7 4: The Human-Reaper – Mass Effect 2
- 8 3: M. Bison – Street Fighter 2
- 9 2: Shang Tsung – Mortal Kombat
- 10 1: Sephiroth – Final Fantasy VII
10: The Riftworm – Gears of War 2
After the hardcore thrills of Gears of War, Epic Games knew they had to up the ante for the inevitable sequel – and boy, did they deliver.
Gears of War 2 took the cover-based shooting to another level, blending gory, frantic action with stunning visuals and an awesome story. While the first game featured its fair share of memorable moments, the sequel hit a home run with one of its boss battles: the Riftworm stage.
Not content with just pitting Marcus and the rest of Delta Squad against the beast in a stand-up fight, Epic Games put the characters INSIDE the Riftworm itself.
The entire stage follows the crew as they blast their way through the creature’s innards, taking down enemies and overcoming organic obstacles until they reach the Riftworm’s vulnerable spot: the heart.
Well, three, actually.
Epic Games showed impressive imagination with this boss battle, and it’s one of the series’ most amazing achievements (so far).
9: Tyrant – Resident Evil
Fans of Resident Evil won’t be surprised to see this on the list.
Who can forget the moment when villainous Wesker reveals Umbrella’s prize monster at the game’s finale? This big nude freak promptly eliminates Wesker before turning his unwelcome attention to the hero – leading to a nail-biting showdown that we all loved so much back in the day.
After facing all kinds of enemies on your quest through the mansion (including giant spiders, zombies, even an enormous snake), Tyrant’s speed and strength makes him an awesome final boss. Armed with a monstrous claw, he nevertheless has an unmissable weakness: an exposed heart.
After making your way to the roof, where S.T.A.R.S. pilot Brad awaits in his trusty helicopter, Tyrant reappears. By this point, the player may well be out of first-aid sprays, herbs, and ammo … but what’s that, Brad?
A rocket launcher, you say?
8: Metal Gear Rex – Metal Gear Solid
If there’s one thing the MGS series does well, it’s boss battles.
Metal Gear Solid, on the PlayStation, was a groundbreaking game filled with iconic moments players flocked to again and again. That first encounter with Sniper Wolf? The controller-shaking action of Psycho Mantis? Brilliant.
The game’s final scenes, though, remain unforgettable. Particularly the showdown with Metal Gear Rex itself.
A hulking metal beast, Rex fills the screen and packs so much firepower the odds of beating it appear laughable at first. Still, Snake’s a resourceful guy, and who knows? Maybe an old friend will show up to help him out …
7. Mr. X – Streets of Rage 2
Each Streets of Rage game features its fair share of boss battles, but the second in the series stands out with its diverse (and often bizarre) roster.
The wrestler clearly modelled on the Ultimate Warrior. The long-haired dude with a jetpack. The bartender wearing impossibly high-waisted trousers.
So many great boss fights. The game’s head honcho, however, is suitably tricky to take down, though he’s not actually as tough as some might expect.
Armed with a machine gun, Mr. X runs from one side of the screen to the other, unleashing hails of bullets while the player’s hero of choice struggles with waves of scumbags.
This is pretty challenging, and you’re likely to lose a few lives during it, but Mr. X’s pattern is fairly easy to get to grips with.
6: Colossus of Rhodes – God Of War 2
Kratos’ second outing gets off to a grand start with the arrival of the Colossus of Rhodes.
After fighting through a few standard bad guys, Kratos finds himself up against the Colossus – a gigantic statue that attacks with slow but powerful movements. Luckily, his patterns are pretty easy to follow, yet that doesn’t mean he’s easy to take down.
Kratos must slay countless enemies and work his way through the statue’s interior before he can actually destroy it, but it never becomes tedious. The battle against the Colossus is well-designed, gripping, and an awesome opening to a great-but-hard game.
5: Scarecrow – Arkham Asylum
Without doubt, Arkham Asylum is one of the most unforgettable games of the past decade, filled with outstanding combat and stealth fans lapped up.
One of the greatest achievements? The sections based around the Scarecrow.
While other games have pitted Batman against the self-titled master of fear, no development team has had the imagination (or, to be fair, the technology) to capture the villain’s nightmarish presence and fear-inducing attacks so well.
Facing Scarecrow is a chilling experience Rocksteady put gamers through multiple times, using reality-bending elements that transform the entire experience. Creeping through one platform section after another, Batman faces skeletons and a screen-filling Scarecrow before he finally takes him down.
Thrilling from start to finish.
4: The Human-Reaper – Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2 is a long, challenging game, taking Shepard and his crew across the galaxy on dozens of exciting missions.
But none of these compare with the awe-inspiring horror and awesomeness of the final boss battle.
The Human-Reaper is a monstrosity put together by the Collectors, using the raw genetic-material of abducted colonists – it’s a grisly enemy that wraps the game up beautifully. While the prospect of having to battle the Human-Reaper is pretty daunting at first, once you actually get to grips with its simplistic patterns of attack, it’s great fun that leaves you feeling sorry the game is actually coming to an end.
3: M. Bison – Street Fighter 2
M. Bison is still one of the most iconic villains in video-game history, with a distinctive visual design and an infuriatingly-powerful skill-set.
For many of us, Street Fighter 2 is still a real challenge to get through, and reaching the final stage always feels like an achievement. M. Bison himself puts up a tough fight, tossing one brutally-named move after another your way (Psycho-Crusher, anyone?).
While other bosses have come and gone in the Street Fighter franchise, the second game’s final stage is unforgettable.
2: Shang Tsung – Mortal Kombat
Shang Tsung taking a higher spot than M. Bison?
Fans of the Street Fighter franchise might be surprised to see Mr. Tsung himself at number two, but the character’s ingenious design is hard to argue with. As a shape-shifter, Shang Tsung is able to take on the form and abilities of various fighters you’ve already fought against on your journey to the final stage.
This means his patterns are harder to grasp, and keeps the battle feeling fresh on subsequent re-plays. In his own form, Shang Tshung looks like an old man, but has impressive speed and flame-hurling skills.
1: Sephiroth – Final Fantasy VII
Throughout Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth makes for a sinister, intimidating villain – and the build-up to the final confrontation is beautifully done.
By the time you reach him, though, he’s become immensely powerful, and the fight itself is a long, difficult, often irritating process. With Sephiroth able to take on different forms, there are three main stages to the battle: first, he’s a ‘pupa’ version of himself; second, he’s a godlike entity; and finally, he reverts to the standard design we’ve seen many times already.
Everything about Final Fantasy VII’s final fight is incredible, from the stunning visuals to the operatic music: this feels as epic and grandiose as it should, given the massive adventure players have been on to get here.
It has everything you want from a boss battle: fair challenge; weaknesses to exploit; the promise of a huge feeling of accomplishment as a reward for persevering.
Fans will be keen to see how this battle is translated to today’s technology when Final Fantasy VII Remake hits the market – hopefully, it’ll be even better. If not, though, we’ll always have the original.
What are your favourite boss battles? Let us know!