Sage's Top 12 Boss Fights

Boss fights in video games are one of the most unique aspects of the medium. They tend to be narrative climaxes and gameplay feats of strength, pushing players to their limits and testing everything they've learned up to that point. Sometimes they even force you to learn something on the fly, but no matter what they usually share something in common; it feels pretty damn good to take one out. That being said, there's a lot that comes to mind when I consider video game bosses and what makes them "good", but I wanted to write about what my favorite and most memorable boss fights of all time are, whether they are well designed or not. Some Boss Fights can hold extra weight thanks to being that wall of our childhood, loving their design, or having a stellar theme, etc, etc. As I was creating this list I was pretty overwhelmed by the sheer number of bosses I've fought over the years, but I've managed to sift through them all and develop a definitive Top 12 for my very favorite fights of all time! Before I get started I just wanted to note, due to the nature of this list and to add some variety, I am limiting myself to one boss fight per series. Fret not, this list won't be all MGS and Souls fights (even though it COULD be)...Let's get started!

Bebop & Rocksteady 
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Despite not being higher on my list, the Bebop & Rocksteady fight is something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life. I have very distinct memories of taking a trip out to my favorite pizza place - Oneida's "Pepi's Pizza" - every Sunday night and dropping a majority of my tokens into the TMNT arcade machine. Rocksteady is the first boss of the game, providing little challenge, with Bebop being the second boss and being a bit tougher. Eventually the game tests your ability to fight them both at once, and defeating them again was incredibly satisfying, even if it was just to make them stop shouting "Say your prayers, toitles!" The TMNT arcade cabinet was one of my favorite arcade games growing up, and I can't help but smile when I think of the "Cowabunga!" shouts echoing throughout the arcade.

Master Hand & Crazy Hand

Super Smash Brothers Melee (2001)

This boss fight is in every installment of the Smash series besides Smash 64, but Melee was my first experience with it. If players manage to complete Classic mode in under 18 minutes, the normal final boss of Master Hand shows up just like normal, but when brought to half health Crazy Hand joins in the fight. Smash in general is such a creative game, so I find this "secret" boss fight to fit right into the game, with Master & Crazy hand having some really insane and goofy move-sets. I found these guys to be extremely difficult when I was younger, and I loved the Crazy Hand tales of woe classmates would tell at school.


Tiny Tiger
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (1997)

Another blast from the past, Crash Bandicoot is a series well known for being well designed, and the Tiny Tiger boss fight is a shining example of this. I find the mechanics of the Tiny fight not only relatively challenging considering the game's demographic but thematically perfect, treating Tiny like a big dumb oaf who doesn't care to pay attention to his surroundings. To this day, whenever I take out Tiny I have to try my best to not break out into the Crash dance.

Mister Freeze
Batman Arkham City (2011)

Boss fights, especially back in the day, tend to fall into cycles. Dodge X, wait for Y and strike, rinse and repeat. By no means is this formula archaic, in fact it is currently keeping me sane while I play Enter the Gungeon non-stop, however Mister Freeze uses a very different formula and it deserves to be noted. Whether you are a fan of Batman or not, the Mister Freeze fight is awesome, thematically, mechanically and even the narrative is solid. Mechanically, Mr Freeze will not fall for the same attack twice, forcing players to consider every tool in their belt (HEH) to outwit the cryogenic genius. It's a fun and tense boss fight, made even better if you're a longtime fan of Batman, thanks to Rocksteady Studio's perfect rendition of Dr. Victor Fries.

Emperor Doel
Legend of Dragoon (1999)

Emperor Doel is a major antagonist in the first disc of the Sony Interactive Entertainment epic; Legend of Dragoon. It feels like the entire first disc of the game is leading up to this encounter, as Doel's ambition hangs heavy, leading to multiple tragedies (No spoilers!). The Doel fight takes place in "The Black Castle", the center of Kazas, the capitol of enemy territory, which makes the setting appropriately dark and tense. Doel is one of the first truly difficult fights in the game, thanks to his powerful move-set which can be devastating if not managed properly. His strongest move "Judgement Storm" does massive damage, and forces players to take the defensive occasionally. Once Doel is defeated there is an exchange of dialogue where Doel expresses how proud he is of Albert, his nephew, and offers some crucial information, as well as a Dragoon Spirit for another party member. Ultimately, my favorite part of the Doel fight is the narrative surrounding Doel and his downfall, and how it moves the plot forward, which is a very intricate tale. If you've never heard of/played Legend of Dragoon I definitely recommend it. It is one of those games that doesn't get the praise it deserves, in my opinion.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Team Ico has a remarkable knack for creating gaming experiences I can only describe as magical. To anyone familiar with Shadow of the Colossus, you're probably not the least bit surprised to see one of these guys on my list, but for me Malus has the most emotional impact of any of the fights in the game, so he was an easy choice. Not only is Malus the Sixteenth and final Colossi, concluding the wonderful (but cryptic) tale, he is by far the most interesting fight. Players are forced to approach this massive opponent using a network of tunnels as to avoid being pegged by fiery bolts of energy Malus tosses your way. Once you make it to Malus, climbing up his body and attacking each sigil is a puzzle in it's own. Shadow of the Colossus is a truly epic game, and as open ended as the narrative is, it leaves many things open for interpretation. Malus is the most human looking Colossi, possibly a reference to Wanderer's own humanity. Malus is the only boss fight which occurs in the rain, the theme is incredibly somber, and once you make it to his upper portion, he seems to stop trying to fight back. Based on your interpretation of the game, this makes a lot of sense thematically, making players question why they are doing this in the first place. Shadow of the Colossus makes a heavy argument for the common discussion "Are Video Games Art?", and in my opinion, Malus drives the point home.

   Ludwig Von Tokkentakker
CarnEvil (1998)   

Back to Pepi's Pizza for my number 6! As I mentioned above, my family took weekly trips to Pepi's Pizza for quite a long time, and after a while a lot of games were going out of order for weeks on end and the small pizza joint never really got any new games. Week after week I was pretty content to play Street Fighter 2, TMNT, The Simpsons and a few others but I did wonder if Pepi's would ever get anything new. Enter CarnEvil, the newest and shiniest game at the arcade. Pepi's managed to get a brand new cabinet for the light gun shooter, and people were pretty excited about it. There was usually always somebody playing CarnEvil, but due to it's horror carnival theme I wasn't too ecstatic to jump in to play when I was younger, not to mention it had a steeper price. (it was a whole FOUR TOKENS to start a game up!). Eventually when I did get to playing CarnEvil, I found it wasn't actually that scary and much to my own surprise, I was pretty good at it! It wasn't long before I went toe to toe with the game's final boss "Ludwig Von Tokentakker", the mastermind of the sadistic carnival. Tokkentakker wasn't particularly super difficult, but at the time his name was terrifying to me. The 12 year old version of myself clutched my pocket full of tokens tight, eyeing his name "TOKKENTAKKER" like a sick premonition of what was about to happen to my allowance. Much to my surprise, he is pretty easy to stun-lock, and even though he does pretty nasty damage it's nothing too ridiculous. CarnEvil was the first light gun game I ever beat, and Tokkentakker's boss fight was super memorable to me, especially since the opening cutscene loops around to make it canon that he has been defeated before, but gets resurrected whenever some sap comes along and raises the CarnEvil carnival again. Also that death scene. Oh yeah.

Asura's Wrath (2012)

Asura's Wrath was a very polarizing video game, utilizing a plethora of quick time events and cinematic combat. For some people, these traits make a game completely unplayable, but I rather enjoyed Asura's Wrath, giving off the same feeling as an anime. Augus, previously of the Seven Deities, is very similar to Asura in a few ways, with one of the major similarities being utter strength in combat. Throughout the Asura vs Augus fight there's a pretty badass exchange of dialogue between Asura and his former mentor on top of the insanely over the top fight that takes place...on the moon. Even out of context, this fight is epic, displaying what makes boss fights so great when it comes to story telling.

Luca Blight
Suikoden 2 (1998)

To anyone that has been following our blog right along, I don't think you're too surprised to see me take a chance to write more about Suikoden 2. I touch on Luca Blight specifically during Part 2 of my storytelling and immersion blog, highlighting how he is pretty much pure evil. Luca Blight is presented to players as the living embodiment of everything wrong in the world, and while that may seem cliche' it's actually relieving in a way. In the war torn world of Suikoden 2, amidst the tale of betrayl and tragedy there seems to be one solid truth; which is - Luca Blight is an evil bastard. Known as "The Mad Prince" in the world of Suikoden 2, his cruelty and bloodlust is unmatched. He is a sadistic, murderous psychopath and I can't even begin to list the evil deeds he commits without writing an entire essay. His most notable atrocity is burning down the small village of Ryube, and forcing a civilian to beg for her life by acting like a pig. The woman does so much to Luca's amusement, but he murders her anyways, exclaiming "DIE PIG!" between his fits of laughter. Luca is fought multiple times throughout the story, mostly during the massive war battles. However, during the night raid climax, you finally corner Luca utilizing almost your entire army, and fight him 18 on 1, barely slipping through. Ultimately, the fight becomes a 1 on 1 duel between Riou and Luca, (who was just bombarded with arrows) where he continuously attacks Riou with reckless abandon. Before dying by Riou's hand Luca's last words are -

"Look at me!!!
I am sublime!!!!!
I am the true face of evil!!!!"

Okay, man.   

The End
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)

I purposely didn't include a video for this boss fight because I couldn't find one that does this the justice it deserves. "The End", the legendary ancient sniper of the Cobra Unit is one of the most interesting boss fights I've ever fought on every account. At this point, Metal Gear Solid is incredibly well known for having very crazy boss fight mechanics (thanks Kojima) and by comparison The End is relatively tame. You simply have a sniper duel with an old man in the forest of Sokrovenno. However, the first time you fight The End is absolutely terrifying. Before you understand the mechanics, it's borderline impossible to move around the forest, because you will be sniped. Boasting that he is "one with the forest", The End utilizes some insane camouflage, can photosynthesize and has a spotter in the form of a parrot, so it feels like the odds are aggressively not in your favor. While I believe The End fight loses some of its potency once you understand how the fight works, that first encounter is my favorite boss in MGS history, and that's saying something.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening (2005)

I don't think difficulty makes or breaks a boss, if anything I believe difficulty can be considered a bit too heavily when it comes to boss fights. Some of my favorite boss fights aren't particularly difficult (Tiny!). However, in this case, Vergil is an absolute monster. He is incredibly fast, does massive damage, his katana "Yamato" has better reach than Dante's Rebellion and he has his own Devil Trigger form as well. There are no gimmicks for defeating Vergil either, you must weave between strikes and look for your chance to counter attack. Gameplay aside, this fight is incredible thematically as well. To make a long story short, Vergil is Dante's twin brother, born from the legendary Demon Knight Sparda. Dante chose to walk the path of his human half, embracing humanity, while Vergil chose the opposite, embracing his demonic side. As edgy as that sounds, it sets the stage for a very climactic boss fight.


Gwyn, Lord of Cinder 
Dark Souls (2011)

This one was a no-brainer for me. Gwyn is my favorite boss fight of all time, easy. Anyone who played Dark Souls is aware of how critical Gwyn is to the overarching storyline, being the Lord of Sunlight. To anyone who is not familiar, Dark Souls utilizes a very cryptic and vague narrative style, and I'm not going to completely describe Gwyn's place in the world. Essentially, Gwyn was an all powerful warrior and was renowned as a god, fighting alongside the other lords against the dragons long ago. Gwyn sacrificed his soul to kindle the first flame, unnaturally prolonging the Age of Fire (age of the gods) and therefore creating the curse of the undead. Players are tasked with either succeeding Gwyn (sacrificing themselves as he once did) by linking the flame in the area they defeat him, or simply leaving, ushering in the Age of Dark, or Age of Humanity. While this may or may not mean anything to you, it was a perfectly cryptic ending to Dark Souls, which gets built up on a bit in later titles. Mechanically Gwyn is a fierce opponent who reacts to your movements more so than any other enemy in the game, which makes him appropriately difficult. Gwyn wields a massive blade enchanted by fire which adds to his damage. One of my favorite traits of Gwyn is his humanoid stature, which is ironic upon first meeting him after taking down some of the monstrosities in the rest of the game. I love Gwyn's design, his theme is incredible and I even love his arena. Leave it to Dark Souls to leave such an epic impression.

  This list was pretty difficult, as I mentioned. I was originally going to write an honorable mention list, but that got way too long in itself. I would like to say Ornstein and Smough was endlessly frustrating in the best way possible, Senator Armstrong is legendary, the power ranger fight from God Hand plays in my head randomly and I have to try not to laugh and I absolutely love the final boss of Jamestown. So what about you? What are your favorite boss fights of all time? Let us know in the comments! 
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