So not so long ago I went on a bit of a rant about bosses that beat the ever living crap out of me. Whilst an absolute pain to beat, they were a fun challenge and satisfying to defeat (apart from that arsehole Capital B). Whilst challenge should certainly be an aspect to a boss battle – after all they are there to test your skill – a good boss battle doesn’t necessarily have to be tough to be a fantastic experience. A combination of the right challenge level, sound and visual design, and sometimes doing something a bit unexpected can lead to a tremendous scene that will prove memorable for years to come.
So here are 5 awesome boss battles that have stuck with me. Usual rules apply: only one game per franchise, only games I have played and bosses I have beaten. You won’t find a disappointing Vaas knife fight here! I’m not including Scarecrow from Arkham Asylum though, as that was so good it practically feels like cheating.
Oh, and spoilers obviously!
The End – Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
First off, a series famed for its boss battles. I had this game at university, and I always remember a housemate of mine describing this fight as “a deadly game of cat and mouse”. Whilst amusing, it’s actually a pretty accurate description of the encounter. The End is an elderly sniper and member of the elite Cobra Unit that Snake needs to take out. He can be seen at various points in the game, and you can even kill him before the boss encounter if you’re quick. But doing so means you miss out on an incredibly tense and varied battle.
In a large forest arena you’ll need to find and defeat The End, who is trying to put you down with a sniper rifle. Most of the time you can’t see him so finding him is half the battle. This is where Kojima and co managed to put together something rather special as there are so many ways to go about this. You could use thermal goggles, or perhaps try spotting his bird to indicate his location. Maybe you’ll watch for the sun reflecting off his sniper scope. Sometimes the camera will shift to seeing through The End’s rifle to hint at his position. You could beat him by sneaking up on him altogether or, as some players discovered, by not playing the game for a week and having The End die of old age. Such a smart experience as you sneak, watch, and try to outdo this master sniper.
Flowey – Undertale
I was super late to the party with this one and had a lot of concepts in the game spoiled for me. I put this one off for a long time because of that but I’m glad I finally settled down to play it. The story was interesting, the characters varied and the battle system very much out of the ordinary. Talking to the monsters rather than fighting them? It felt pretty novel to me. And whilst I haven’t gone for a pacifist or genocide run yet, the final boss of the neutral run was completely unexpected.
In Undertale, you survive by moving your heart to avoid attacks in a bullet hell style. The final boss really pushes your ability to the limit in this regard, but also messes with you as a gamer. You’ll suffer damage from a series of attacks, then Flowey will save the game’s state and load it up again several more times to cause that same damage multiple times. If you die, Flowey will shut the game down and when you launch it again he’ll taunt you over how many times he’s killed you and how much he’s looking forward to tormenting you forever. Going from a heart warming game to this insanity was unexpected and unbelievably memorable.
Bell Gargoyle – Dark Souls
I was torn between this one and Father Gascoigne from Bloodborne, but I went with this as the location felt great. For me, this is where Dark Souls really started and felt like my first real challenge. Whilst getting here certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me, the Bell Gargoyle trounced me several times more than any previous encounter. I suspect that the fact it was the first real hurdle for me helps make it more memorable.
The battle takes place atop a church with the city sprawled beneath you. The gargoyle swoops down to land on the roof and just goes crazy on you. Once you get through the early onslaught and start causing some damage you feel pretty positive…then his friend shows up and you get a two on one battle to the death. The environment, the desperate struggle to take down one enemy only to have his buddy show up, and finally surviving to ring the bell atop the tower. It all comes together as a memorable encounter that tells you what this game is going to be going forward.
Senator Armstrong – Metal Gear Rising
Right, this one is allowed in alongside Metal Gear Solid 3 for two reasons. Firstly, because this is technically a spin of and is arguably its own franchise. Secondly, this is my list and I feel like cheating a bit so nyah! This game is full of crazy boss fights, including building sized mechs, robot chainsaw dogs and ninja cyborgs. Picking just one of these is difficult enough, but I’ve gone for the final encounter.
A loud metal soundtrack, sword wielding robots, an inferno surrounding the combatants and an evil senator with even more bonkers policies than Trump (not trying to get too political here). This is a boss fight that will really test the skills you’ve developed throughout the game (and took me a while to beat). Taking down Armstrong is no easy task, requiring skillful use of your blade slicing abilities and well timed dodges. This is Platinum at their absolute best and I’d dearly love a solid current gen port of this.
Bob Barbas – DmC: Devil May Cry
Ok, so this wasn’t the most well received reboot with many arguing (myself included) that the series didn’t really need one. However, this is actually a pretty damn good character action game, with solid controls, a well thought out soundtrack and a werid interpretation of Dante that I’d prefer not to think to hard about. It also has some top boss battles! Ferris wheel demons and underground slug monsters were certainly memorable, but it was the manipulative news anchor that stole the show.
This is easily one of the most visually creative boss fights I’ve ever seen. It uses the fact that Bob is a corrupt news anchor and runs with it by having the whole fight be themed around a news report. You’ll fight through the perspective of a police helicopter’s camera, charging down a path made of news channel logos and listen to Dante’s name being slandered through propaganda infused reports. Dodging lasers and explosions whilst approaching Bob’s digitised head to cause damage may be the way to win, but the framing of the encounter is what really makes this. How many boss fights manage to make facing additional enemies interesting? I certainly can’t think of many.
Some honourable mentions as ever. I’ve mentioned Metal Gear Solid’s Psycho Mantis in the past as being very creative (that series is just incredible when it comes to bosses). The Sephiroth battle in Kingdom Hearts was impressive for many reasons. It was unexpected, challenging and full of fan service. Jecht from Final Fantasy X is one I found quite memorable due to the catharsis is provides Tidus. Whilst the encounter itself wasn’t all that incredible, the significance of it certainly is. And Wyzen from Asura’s Wrath was a sight to behold. Whilst the fact it was almost entirely a QTE works against it, the visual spectacle more than makes up for it. Oh, and there was this guy from Serious Sam:
I notice that many of these are fairly recent. Are modern boss encounters really more impressive than older ones? Or did I just not play the right ones as a youngster? Let me know if there are any I should experience!