Some video games live and die by their boss fights. A game can be really well made, fun to play, and have a great story but it needs to have boss fights that leave a lasting (positive) impression. A bad boss fight can be enough to ruin that entire experience and leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth, especially if that fight is their final memory of the game.
It’s a fine line developers must walk, because an overly challenging or unfair boss has ruined many a video game, while too easy a final battle leaves a player ultimately dissatisfied. But strike the right balance with a great fight and it will be so memorable that it leaves the player thinking even more fondly of the game they just played. Having a memorable boss fight can be incredibly important to developers because nobody wants to read reviews about their game and hear players say they can’t even recall a single boss fight from their game.
What is it that makes a boss fight memorable? Sometimes it’s the way it simply caps off a great story, or it could be one that we rammed our head against until we finally got through, or maybe it was a total twist we didn’t see coming. A memorable boss fight doesn’t necessarily have to fit into any particular category, but the common thread in the great ones is that there’s immediate recall for gamers. Here, we’ll look at the cream of the crop, the ones that will come up the most in any boss fight conversation with fellow gamers.
Bowser (Super Mario 64)
Bowser himself isn’t any more memorable than the average final boss. He’s the typical monster at the end of the game that Mario defeats to save the princess. He’s notoriously easy in some Mario games and no fight of his is particularly challenging. The reason he’s on this list though is because of his appearances in Super Mario 64. For years Bowser was just a small sprite that was only slightly larger than Mario. We knew he was big, but he didn’t feel insurmountable. Then in Super Mario 64, we witness just how much bigger this monster is and it hits us that, yes, this is a 3D game. Defeating him isn’t too challenging, but it’s the size and scope of what a 3D Bowser represented for video games that got him on to this list.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
Feelings on Final Fantasy VII aren’t as overwhelmingly positive as they were when everyone wanted that first PlayStation, but the memories of overcoming Sephiroth at the end of the game still hold up to this day. FFVII is, like every Final Fantasy, a game about saving the world from an evil force. However, the way the game teases the player throughout the entire adventure of the eventual conflict between Cloud and Sephiroth, all coming together at the end for one final showdown, is an experience that many players hadn’t had until they played Final Fantasy VII. That might be a common occurrence in games today, but for many players, this was their first JRPG and that driving force of Sephiroth is what pushed them to the end. There’s a reason this game is considered by many as the perfect entry point into the JRPG genre.
Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!)
There was nobody in the late ’80s more powerful than Mike Tyson and his arcade boxing game reflected that. Punch-Out!! is a simple enough game. Take the little boxer who could, Little Mac, and bring him to the title through a series of boxing matches. The trick is to figure out every fighter’s hint and counter it on the way to victory. Through a series of increasingly difficult matches and patterns, the player will eventually overcome all of them. Until they reach the end and find Mike Tyson waiting for them. The hint is well known now, look for when Tyson winks to dodge, but this was the era before internet guides. So you either had to go buy a game guide, find out the secret in Nintendo Power, or figure it out on your own. If you didn’t figure it out though you were probably going to lose because one punch from Tyson can be enough for an instant loss. This boss fight is obviously memorable because of the years of headaches he probably caused children as they tried to defeat what felt like an unstoppable force.
Do not let the video above fool you. Dracula was a brutal boss fight in the original Castlevania for the NES. Speedrunners have gotten Dracula down to a science now, but when this game first came out it was one of those titles that only the best of the best could beat. Castlevania is already a hard enough game, with plenty of tough bosses, but it made sure to tack on a super tough boss at the end to remind you that they aren’t messing around. The only saving grace is that continues are unlimited. However, the player has to start over from the beginning of the level upon the use of a continue, so if you can’t beat Dracula within your three lives then it’s back to the start!
Every ’90s kid had this moment. They collected a team of six Pokémon, got all eight gym badges, and even reached the Elite Four. After powering our way through the Elite Four we finally did it. We defeated Lance and became the champion, or so we thought. Turns out we were right behind the true champion, our rival for the entire game, Blue. He was always one step ahead of us the entire way and now he’s standing in our way one final time. It’s time to shove it in his smug face and show him who the true Pokémon master is. This twist caught so many of us off guard as children, but that satisfaction of finally defeating Blue’s ultra powerful team at the end was truly special.