Across gaming, “boss fights” typical occur, generally in games involving some form of combat, as checkpoints to a player’s general skill level, or specific degree of competence with something specific. That said, they’d be boring if they were like taking school exams or answering uninspired trivia questions, and because of that, a lot of rightful importance goes into peppering up these boss fights. The more impactful, epic, suspenseful and downright entertaining, the better.
This piece seeks to identify the editor’s top ten best boss fights across gaming. These are difficult, contentious picks, but they are at their core boss fights which were noticeably well constructed.
10. Cyberdemon (Doom series)
Doom is a very fast-paced game. Competitive speed runs, challenge playthroughs, or even just attempting to play the game at a high difficulty level all place the concept of constantly moving around and avoiding staying in one spot for long. When traversing through the average level on one of these types of playthroughs, standing still for long either results in character death or losing so much time that it could easily jeopardize a speed run.
This is why Cyberdemon is such a great boss fight; it thoroughly tests the player’s ability to stay on the move, but it isn’t as simple as running around and brainlessly mashing buttons to win. This boss has the potential to kill a fully armored, full health player in four clean hits. A player with no armor and only 100 health might get killed in a single hit. It might seem as though the big, slow, hulking beast would present opportunities to hit him early and often, but it’s massive rocket launcher clearly presents problems in exploiting these windows. The Cyberdemon takes a lot of hits to kill, doles out tons of damage, is representative of the most important mechanic in the game as a whole, and from a thematically appealing perspective, it has been a mainstay in every single game the franchise has trotted out over the last twenty seven years. To not include it on this list would’ve been a travesty.
9. Adolf Hitler (Wolfenstein)
Hitler isn’t in as many games and doesn’t have the same mechanical representation that the Cyberdemon has. That said… cmon, it’s Hitler. Who wouldn’t love the chance at killing inarguably the most villainous man in world history, and doing so in such an epic way? This boss fight is beautifully crafted, and it’s clear that the developers intended for this fight to make the player themselves feel epic in doing so. When Hitler is defeated, the finishing blow dealt to him by the player is replayed in slow motion, prompting the player to find a stylish way to finish the fight. The fight itself is no cakewalk, so conquering it adds that extra degree of redemption for overcoming the game’s final boss. Because of this, Hitler was clearly worth being added onto this list.
8. Dr Maruki, Azathoth and Adam Kadmon (Persona 5 Royal)
The new antagonist from Persona 5 Royal presented a pretty rewarding and thorough challenge. The fight with Maruki has two phases. Unfortunately, he would’ve been a no doubt top five, maybe top three placement on this list if it weren’t for how poorly drawn up and scripted the ending of his second phase was. Still, the rest of the fight is very entertaining, has an interesting gimmick, comes at the end of a long, excellent game, and has amazing OST to boot. Maruki’s character is very well fleshed out and developed by this point, adding even more intrigue to him as a boss. Because of this, he was definitely deserving of a placement on this list.
7. Tabuu (Super Smash Bros Brawl)
This boss fight was just amazing, a great ending to a well made adventure mode and very mechanically interesting. Unfortunately, it will ultimately end up being lost to time in what was otherwise a horribly forgettable game, which is a shame. Still, Tabuu was an excellent boss for a renowned video game franchise and company. Even on the game’s easiest mode, Tabuu stresses a need for the player to make use of their entire move set in order to win. He has two attacks that, if undodged, instantly kill the character the player is controlling. His move set is unique and fresh and also tests the player’s general skill level thoroughly. The road to this boss fight is long, grueling, and the fight itself is definitely a reward for embarking upon such a journey.
6. Akuma (Street Fighter series)
In an era where games held your hand a whole lot less, Akuma was there to lead the charge. He was easily the most well received secret boss fight, to the point where his status as a secret boss in many Street Fighter games essentially pioneered the concept of a secret boss fight. In each game he appears in, Akuma is relentlessly difficult to defeat. He is overpowered to the max, and only the most skillful of players even have a chance at defeating him. Because of this, he is an iconic villain in the franchise’s long history, and his impact on gaming in general serves to solidify his placing on this list.
5. Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough (Dark Souls 1)
In a game full of underwhelming, easy boss fights, Ornstein and Smough either represent a breath of fresh air, or one hell of a rude awakening depending on who you talk to. This very duo gave Dark Souls 1 its early reputation as being an extremely unforgiving game when it released in 2011, and the pair returned to give players trouble when the game was remastered seven years later. This fight is very mechanically challenging. If fought alone, Ornstein and Smough would prove to be easy opponents.
However, together, they synergize perfectly. Smough is a huge, bulky defensive stalwart who can eat hits all day and dish out huge amounts of pain with his signature Greathammer. Ornstein is an agile fighter, an adept wielder of Lightning weapons and magic who proves difficult to adequately strike. Immediately upon beginning the fight, the player is presented with a challenging dilemma; if they focus on Smough, dodging his attacks and striking back, they will be hard pressed to contend with him and dodge the powerful and fast attacks Ornstein sends at them, that he is able to use uncontested. If, however, the player decides to focus on Ornstein, they’ll need to still keep a watchful eye on Smough as getting mashed by his huge hammer would do tons of damage. However, even if the player is able to defeat one of the pair, the second phase of the fight is what really makes it a thrilling and challenging duel; the one left alive will absorb the remains of the other, inheriting a bit of their power and experiencing a mutation that makes them bigger, faster and stronger. This is one of the most renowned fights in franchise history, and for good reason.
4. Bowser (Super Mario 64)
Bowser is a popular villain in one of the most popular gaming franchises in video game history. However, his boss fights in the Nintendo 64 classic have aged like a fine wine. They aren’t mechanically complex for the most part, but they were well ahead of their time for console gaming and were major checkpoints for a very lengthy game. Also ahead of its time was the thrilling OST, especially the terrifying and unique use of the pipe organ in the final battle. Simply put, Bowser is arguably the most iconic video game villain ever, and his status as belonging on this list somehow was unquestionable.
3. Mewtwo (Pokémon Stadium)
Another fan favorite in an extremely popular gaming franchise, Mewtwo was featured as a boss in the original Pokémon Stadium game. Mewtwo is very well known for being the most overpowered Pokémon ever made in early generation one games, and its power relative to the rest of the game is still easily the most overbearing, a claim that has lasted to this very day. Mewtwo had better stats than any other Pokémon, the best typing in the game, a deep move pool it could use to destroy basically anything and, in general, had no actual weaknesses. No other Pokémon in the game was anywhere close to being it’s equal, and none could contend with it in a one on one showdown.
This is why Mewtwo’s boss fight in this game is so thrilling. If the player managed to eek out the victory somehow, they’ll obtain the services of literally the most brokenly overpowered Pokémon ever known in franchise history. Of course, doing so is easier said than done. As previously stated, no Pokémon in the game can attempt to combat Mewtwo without immediately being at a disadvantage. Strength in numbers isn’t a sure fire path to victory either, as a poorly built team can be ripped apart by Mewtwo simply using Psychic a few times and ripping it to shreds. Mewtwo outspeeds all but two Pokémon in the game, so there is a realistic chance that you might not even be able to land a single blow before straight up losing to it.
Over the years, the ‘best’ way to combat Mewtwo has been to figure out a way to paralyze it, try to wear it down to about half its health, then have a Tauros ready to go to come in and finish it off with Hyper Beam.
However, even this has a very good chance of failing for a multitude of reasons. Mewtwo might simply not get paralyzed if it has a move to outspeed and destroy the paralyzer with, such as using Blizzard on Exeggutor, Submission on Chansey or Hyper Beam on Alakazam. Even if it does get paralyzed, it might have Barrier in its movepool and, if used, Tauros’ Hyper Beam will do paltry damage to it and Mewtwo will prevail. And yet, this remains the most reliable way to win the fight over twenty years after the game has been released.
Because of how prominent a figure Mewtwo is, how challenging the fight can be, and how rewarding victory would end up being, it was a shoo in to appear very high on this list.
2. Slave Knight Gael (Dark Souls 3)
Gael is simply one of the hardest bosses ever seen in a FROM Software game. However, fighting him is so tense and fast that it gives the player a rush as they attempt to face him. Even in defeat, a loss is more tense and refreshing than it is frustrating… At least, unless you lose to him a whole lot, which is entirely possible. He uniquely has three phases, and becomes more bad ass and awe inspiring in each phase. He has options of dealing damage up close and at a mid range in all three phases. But he is fast and tends to close the gap quickly with many different, unique types of weapons. The biggest reason he ends up this high on the list, however, is what he means to the game from a lore and structural perspective. Considering that this will be the last Dark Souls game ever made, not counting remasters, Gael represents the last boss the series will ever throw at the player. Thematically, this is unique for a final boss fight. Gael isn’t a lord, he isn’t a huge dragon, he isn’t a king or a noble or anyone with any sort of plot prominence at first glance. Gael helps the player earlier in the DLC as they do battle with Sister Friede in the Painted World of Ariandel, so why is he the final boss? Towards the end, as the player, who had been helping Gael in his quest to burn away the Painted World, succeeds and reunited with Gael within the ashes of the Ringed City. It is here, however, that Gael has been corrupted by the Dark Soul, demands the player’s portion of their own Dark Soul, and viciously attacks them when refused. The way the fight has been constructed both mechanically and lore-wise is great, and it was a great albeit melancholy way to send off one of the most notable franchises in PlayStation history.
1. Darkeater Midir (Dark Souls 3)
There are plenty of good, even great boss fights out there, but I maintain that it is simply impossible for any boss fight, at the time of writing this, to truly stack up with this one. Darkeater Midir is a perfect boss fight, one which all boss fights should try to aspire to become. The fight itself is mechanically brilliant, the lore and backstory of Midir is incredible, the soundtrack is amazing, there truly isn’t any negative criticism to be had about this fight.
Midir is a thrilling challenge for new and veteran players alike. Uniquely, his AI is intelligent and reactive, and while that would normally mean he can easily be manipulated, he was made to be strong enough to defend against this; he hits quite hard, is incredibly tanky, boasts a number of resistances to various common attacking types and is overall difficult to consistently take advantage of. Midir has a healthy blend of attacks to cover ground quickly, attack players dwelling far away from him seeking to defeat him with projectile spam, and he has a number of powers that can damage players intent on sitting behind their massive shields, waiting on an opening to come out of hiding and hit back.
However, the brilliance behind this fight isn’t how brutally unfair and challenging Midir it is. This fight is actually very well balanced and rewards skilled players for making good decisions on the fly. Midir takes extra damage to attacks that hit him in the head, which rewards players for making aggressive plays in his face, albeit presenting the risk of being left open to Midir’s counterattacks. Midir also has some very specific weaknesses to very specific weapons and powers, giving players who can bring them to the table a unique advantage. Many of Midir’s attacks, while boasting terrifying power, can be dodged by skillful use of the rolling maneuver, where Midir will be left open for a couple of hits by players who dodged his attack. Having a good grasp of one’s weapon/moveset and determining how many hits a player can afford to dish out before putting themselves at too much risk is hard to do given the fast paced action, but players who can successfully do this will fare well. Players finding themselves continually losing to Midir will need to really evaluate their gameplan going in and see how they can make good revisions to be successful. More than anything else, this fight tests a player’s brain, not just how quickly they can use their thumbs to mash various buttons. For these reasons, it has been masterfully crafted.
The lore behind Midir also gives this fight a lot of depth that really distinguishes it from your average dragon-slaying duel. According to lore, Midir actually used to fight for the forces of good as he opposed the Abyss (hence his title ‘Darkeater’) but was corrupted progressively overtime and eventually lost the war of attrition with these dark forces. Thus, it isn’t just slaying some dragon who hoards wealth, has stolen a princess or is simply terrorizing a town; it’s granting mercy to a noble, valiant warrior who did his best to protect a civilization, not threaten it.
That and, again, the soundtrack for both phases of this fight is straight up ear porn. Absolutely beautiful.
Without a doubt one of, if not the single greatest boss fights in gaming