So now that we know who the first boss in video game history was, it makes sense to go a little deeper in our ongoing series on “bossness.” In this next installment, we’re going to examine the ten meanest, most pugnacious, hellish boss battles throughout the last thirty-odd years. I’m talking about the kinds of bosses that would make you stop playing a game, that would force you into a corner of your sanity until you were seeing red, and keep pummeling you, again, and again, and again. The ones that made you momentarily consider whether your console would look better as a single integral mass or if it should be tomahawked into roughly two dozen, and punted off the nearest bridge, piece by piece, into murky and unforgiving waters.
But before we begin, let’s have a couple disclaimers shall we? First of all, this list, like any list not thought up by a computer, is subjective. What’s tyrannically difficult for one person may be a cakewalk for another. The contents of this particular list, therefore, are the product of many a fan and gaming analyst, and not merely my own. Though for me, there are plenty of bosses from Dark Souls who would top this list, it’s not cricket to assume that the entire world feels the same way.
So, disclaimers noted, let’s begin.
#10. Psycho Mantis, Metal Gear Solid
This boss fight is a baffling one, wherein the levitating psychic antagonist literally gets in your head. During the boss battle, Mantis takes your control pad and alters the configuration to an insane degree. To shoot becomes to move left, to find cover becomes to move right, and so on. When you’ve spent the entirety of the game up to that point rooted in the routine of the controls, to have them altered during a boss fight is downright nefarious. Many rage quits ensue. Back in ’98, before the days of easily accessible internet help, this must have been a massacre. The solution was to plug your controller into the player 2 socket, reverting your controls to normal, and then proceed to take him down like any old boss. But even then, he’s still moderately challenging. That’s why the number ten spot is going to Psycho Mantis – for a fight that is inventive, frustrating as hell, though ultimately nothing more intriguing than a gimmick.
#9. M Bison, Street Fighter II
All around extremely difficult is how I’d describe this boss fight in Street Fighter II. This time, there are no tricks, no gimmicks, no secrets that need be unlocked. M Bison is just an extremely adept and challenging opponent. That Psycho Crush move, though! His guard is near impenetrable, and his moves strong, sudden, and explosive. God damn! In the long line of ridiculously hard final bosses in 1 on 1 fighting games, M Bison clocks in at the top.
#8. Sinistar, Sinistar
This dude’s name is in the dang title! Expect it to be hard. This boss brings intimidation tactics to a new level. On this space faring shooting game, he announces himself with a deafening: “Beware, I Live!” before hurtling across your screen at a ridiculous angle to crush your tiny cruiser in a single hit. He’s fast, he’s sudden, and he’s deadly. This is ridiculously hard to beat. He can arrive at any time, leaving you tense and expectant. Just when you think you’re doing well, avoiding asteroids and enemies, flying deftly, you hear that terrible roar and mere moments later are forced to confront the game boss, attacking from any direction he so chooses. I personally did not have the reflexes for this, and found this to be nearly impossible and frankly, morally depraved.
#7. Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!
This old school game on the NES is not really that difficult. But the last fight, where you play the eponymous Iron Mike, is insane. Once again, the opponent is just really, really difficult. One good swing from him drains all your health. Your timing has to be perfect, your reflexes quick. Knowing when to release your star power moves also makes it easier. But even then, the fight lasts several rounds. And remember, if you make a single error, you’re good as cooked. This fight is a nail biter, or rather, it would be, as you’ll find your fingers gripping the control pad so damn tight as you dodge and counter, dodge and counter, dodge and counter at that dauntless behemoth in front of you.
#6. Sephiroth, Kingdom Hearts II
While we’re on a tear through ridiculously difficult, but still somewhat straightforward boss battles, you don’t get far without talking about Sephiroth, Final Fantasy’s inarguable best villain. He’s deliciously evil, as conniving as he is strong; a classic, Shakespearean villain who loves to wax poetic and insult you even while he’s pummeling you with hit after hit from his sword with the reach that won’t quit. His health is extremely high, his blocking is ruthless and his attacks are as sudden as they are devastating. To say nothing of his almost as challenging appearance in Final Fantasy VII, his incarnation in the Kingdom Hearts series is nothing if not memorable.
To defeat him you need to be patient, conservative, and methodical. It’s not impossible, it’s just damn challenging. Fighting him is so much fun even when it’s frustrating as hell, and that’s what I love about this battle. It’s such a cool fight, he’s such a cool enemy, it’s just all so friggin cool. Fighting him makes you feel cool too. That’s why The One Winged Angel from Kingdom Hearts II graces us with his inclusion on this list.
#5. Dracula, Castlevania III
Ah, Castlevania. Where would we be without you? One of the first and greatest platformers to grace the NES, Castlevania is a fantastic series, and in its third installment, Dracula is one hell of a boss. It’s not just that the King of Night is difficult in his three incarnations, its that the entire level up to him is one of the most difficult in the franchise’s history. Dracula has three different manifestations, each one sporting a new health bar. The fight is formulaic, as platformers are, but is by no means easy. Part spell caster that teleports all around, part floating head thing that spits acid blood, part giant statue that shoots lasers and moves the floor, Dracula will challenge your mettle and your timing, again and again. And when you die (and you shall), you wind up back at the start of the level. Jesus. Capcom, you ain’t messing around.
#4. Spiritual Larsa, Mushihimesama Futari Black Label
I know what you’re thinking. What is this, some obscure Japanese game that I’ve never heard of? Yes. Yes it is. It is exactly that. And moreover, it definitely deserves the number four spot on our Hardest Bosses List. Hands down. First of all, it is part of the genre of video games known as “bullet hell” and that alone is badass enough. In this boss fight, your ship is forced to fire constantly at the behemoth to the north of the screen all the while avoiding a kaleidoscopic series of lasers, beams, and bombs that looks more like a very serious acid trip than a conventional shooter. Your timing and coordination have to be perfect, or you’re screwed. Seeing people do it effectively is like seeing a person hold their breath underwater for seven minutes – it just doesn’t happen. You might actually have to be a mutant with insane reflexes to beat this boss, I’m not sure.
#3. Ultimate Alma, Ninja Gaiden Sigma
This one was sort of a toss-up. It ended up being between Alma and Senator Armstrong from Metal Gear Revengeance. Both are hack and slash games that require wit, timing, precision, and quick reflexes. Ultimately, however, this boss fight just requires more of the player, and that’s why it made it into the #4 spot. Alma is a flying dragonesque ninja lady armed with laser feet, heat seeking missiles, and a slew of subordinate enemies that coalesce into a river of mess-your-shit-up. Need I say more? Yes? Okay. Her health is extremely high as well, making the fight a slog, testing the limits of your endurance. How often can you dodge that same, sudden, swift move? Hit a couple of times and it’s lights out. She challenges you with a back and forth style approach, tit for tat. And it all happens so quick, sometimes you’ll have no idea what’s happening. If you find yourself taking her on, may the ninja force be with you.
#2. Rebel Flagship, FTL
First off, this is an incredible and unfortunately, somewhat under-the-radar game. Some of you will have heard of it and maybe even played it, but I get the strong sense that quite a few of you have not. For a little context, this is a top down, space ship simulator game that plays in real time as you battle enemy ships while ferrying vital information to your allies, the Federation. Here’s the trick – when you die in the game, you start over. At the beginning. Tensions are understandably high. The boss fight has several stages, each more difficult than the last. In all likeliness, you will die the first time you battle the flagship. This means you have to start over and work your way back up, only to get your ship pummeled back into oblivion. It’s like climbing Mount Everest and finding there is a homicidal yeti at its summit. That’s why this boss fight is so, bloody, difficult. It’s not just the boss, it’s what’s at stake if you lose!
#1. Ornstein and Smough, Dark Souls
At last we get to the number one spot. The reason you’re here. And Lord almighty, this tandem fight is tough. The toughest, point of fact. Dark Souls itself has notoriety for being one of the most difficult games in history. It’s certainly the most tricky third person hack and slash type game out there. Dark Souls developer, FromSoftware, loves to make games that are incredibly challenging, both endearing and alienating the gaming world, depending on where you’re at and what you like. If you’re like me, you’re not a fan of the grittiness, the minimalism, the repetition of getting beaten again and again by enemies whose sole reason for being is to aggravate you.
But even a layman can appreciate the artistic mastery that is the fight with Dragon Slayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough. One is gargantuan and carries an axe the size of a church bell, the other’s a smooth, swift knight with a legendary lance. Together, they are the toughest boss fight known to man. The battle begins without music, no noise save the clatter of your boots as you ascend a staircase to meet them. Once within the battle chamber, the soundtrack is pelted at you, and your two nemeses charge you equally, one slow, certain and deadly, the other fast, probing and cruel. Focus on one or it’s over in a heartbeat. But that’s only half the fun. When one dies, the other absorbs his power, compensating for its deficit. You’re left standing against the perfect enemy: large, powerful, fast, and utterly merciless. Survival is not guaranteed. Your limits for patience will certainly be tested. They may be permanently broken – if any fight in this game were to do it, it’d be this one. Timing your blocking for this can’t be correct, it must be perfect. Every move must be made with certainty, every twist of the c-pad, every mash of the x-button, every trigger pressed; they must eke with the stuff of champions. For those of you that have beaten this boss, you have my sincere congratulations, as well as my envy.
To give you some idea as to the general mayhem, epicness, and insanity of this boss fight, watch the video: