Welcome to the eighth part of a brand new CelJaded list for Top 100 Best Video Game Bosses. This post features entries #30 to #21.
Spoiler alert: This post may contain spoilers for the video games it references.
#30 – King …For Shining Force II
Developer: Camelot Software Planning | Year: 1993
A memorable boss from one of the Mega Drive’s scant few turn-based RPGs.
King and his entourage of other Chess-themed combatants including Queen, Pawn, Bishop, and so on, all have the power level that you would expect from their board game counterparts right down to their specific apparel and movement patterns.
Knowing the rules of Chess will give you a clever advantage against this boss, though going for the “checkmate” straight away probably isn’t the best long-term strategy seeing as you’ll want to grind juicy experience points by slaying all of those pawns!
#29 – Shao Kahn …For Mortal Kombat II
Developer: Midway Games | Year: 1993
The only way that Midway could make the final boss in Mortal Kombat II more iconic than Goro would be to give that new boss a voice, and boy, did they ever!
I don’t mean to undermine the work of body actor Bryan Glynn of course (even if he does look like Lord Humungus wearing a Kabuto), but it’s Steve Ritchie’s incomparable voice acting that really cements Shao Kahn’s position as one of gaming’s most awesome villains.
Whether he’s pausing mid-battle to announce “You weak, pathetic fool!” or “Bow to me!” or my personal favourite: “I rule this world!”, Kahn is never short of a bass-filled quip to help remind you of how screwed you are!
#28 – Yellow Devil …For Mega Man
Developer: Capcom, Lavastorm Analytics | Year: 1987
Mega Man is the first of three different video games that I played in preparation for this very list; such is the game’s distinction when it comes to boss battles of note.
Indeed, this NES platformer holds up pretty well in that regard and even thirty years after its original release did I utter a gasp upon reaching this ominous yellow hulk which shoots laser beams out of its one good eye.
I would guess that the NES was taxed pretty hard in rendering Yellow Devil because as impressive as this boss is to look at, its sprite is completely static! In order to move about the boss’s ochre body disassembles into deadly blocks that fly across the screen in a set order. It’s quite cunning though because memorizing this pattern is key if players wish to avoid getting hit.
When played without exploiting the ageing code, the demands that this battle makes on your wits and reflexes are huge. It’s a memorable encounter based on that fact alone and it might even be one of the hardest bosses in video gaming at that.
#27 – Magician …for The House of The Dead
Developer: Sega, Overworks | Year: 1996
An exceptionally cool boss from Sega’s popular light gun arcade game.
Magician is an enigmatic being who is broadly considered to be the most dangerous boss in the entire The House of the Dead series. This is a reputation that’s well earned too as its lightning-quick strikes and barrages of pyrokinetic energy will deplete your credits faster than the chump behind you can say “I got next.”
#26 – Mecha Sonic …For Sonic & Knuckles
Developer: Sonic Team | Year: 1994
If it hasn’t been clear enough up until now, the Sonic the Hedgehog series isn’t really known for its gripping boss battles.
Sonic & Knuckles certainly makes a better effort though as it features not one, but two epic showdowns depending on which character you’re playing as.
Personally, I slightly prefer Knuckles’ unexpected duel with Sonic’s evil robot counterpart. The spectacle of this one-on-one battle is impressive for a mere 16-bit game as Mecha Sonic weaponizes the captive Master Emerald and uses it to transform into a super-powered state capable of obliterating Knuckles if players aren’t careful enough.
The accompanying Doomsday Zone music is just the cherry on the cake!
#25 – Geese Howard …For Fatal Fury
Developer: SNK | Year: 1991
Some video game bosses want absolutely no nonsense. Fatal Fury’s Geese Howard is one of them.
Aside from being a martial arts master, a crime boss, and an all round dapper gent, Howard is an example of SNK Boss Syndrome at its finest. This unofficial phrase denotes the uncanny tendency for SNK’s fighting game bosses to be ludicrously difficult and near unbeatable without resorting to cheap tactics.
Howard’s brutal assortment of moves hit hard enough when blocked, let alone clean, and his near endless assault of Reppuuken energy waves keeps you pressured at all times. Don’t even get me started on that multi-directional counter throw… Man, I hate that move!
Despite his near invincible status though, you can’t help but love Howard’s almost professional level of commitment to beating you senseless. Only a boss as badass as Geese goes into battle whilst still wearing his Rolex!
#24 – Fume Knight …For Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
Developer: FromSoftware | Year: 2014
There’s a paradox concerning Dark Souls II. Despite it being the most critically acclaimed title in the Souls series to date, a vocal portion of the gaming community frequently rank it as the franchise’s weakest entry.
On reflection there are several reasons for this that are both fair and perhaps a little unfair, but aside from the less inspired music, enemy and/or level design, Dark Souls II commits a pretty big sin – the ‘First Sin’ if you will – with regards to boss design. Yes, in a rare situation of ‘two paradoxes for the price of one’, most of the bosses in this game are incredibly underwhelming and that’s not usually an adjective one uses when talking about Dark Souls.
I’ve always been quick to praise Dark Souls II and I think its sheer scope and breadth of content still makes it worthy of that treatment now. As a complete experience though, Dark Souls II does spread itself thin and the boss battles were an unfortunate casualty of FromSoftware’s sudden pressure to make the game as big as possible.
Put simply: there are far too many bosses in this game and they fall into the trap of re-hashing things which players have already seen, sometimes with overly simplistic gameplay or awkward gimmicks. Many of them are too easy or unbalanced for cooperative play, and too often do they feel lacking in spectacle or diverse art direction.
However, when FromSoftware were given the opportunity to create a trilogy of premium DLC episodes for Dark Souls II, it also presented a chance for them to recapture some of the familiar magic that the base game had lost. The re-focus on quality here is noticeable and from Sanctum City to the Frigid Outskirts, players will discover many remarkable new sights as well as some vastly improved boss battles.
It’s during the Crown of the Old Iron King that we venture deep into the bowels of Brume Tower and at the lowest level stands the Fume Knight; arguably the hardest and most exciting boss that Dark Souls II has to offer.
Let’s be clear; this foe does little to address the criticisms of the base game’s art style. Raime the Traitor; as he’s referred to in various in-game item descriptions, is an undead humanoid who wears scorched armour and wields a massive greatsword. Hardly all that original considering what you’ll have seen of Dark Souls II up until this point.
Fume Knight isn’t an attempt to change the status quo; Drangleic and its surrounding environs are deeply linked with the motifs of war and so Raime’s ‘dude in armour’ look makes perfect sense considering that he’s the exiled bodyguard of King Vendrick himself.
This is a thrilling fight and it’s one that gives you plenty to think about despite its rather standard presentation. Players must destroy the cursed idols surrounding the arena if they don’t want the boss healing himself. That same health value also scales up as more players enter the host’s world and anyone who walks through that fog gate whilst wearing the helmet of Raime’s hated brother Velstadt will be in for a rather nasty surprise too!
Fume Knight is a deep and satisfyingly difficult opponent – FromSoftware even revealed statistics that named him as the most ‘died to’ boss in the game – and once you bear witness to his staggering array of attacks and many subtle tells, you’ll come to realise that this boss does all the things that Dark Souls II had already done, only better.
#23 – Shiva …For Streets of Rage II
Developer: Sega, Overworks | Year: 1992
Taking his name from a Hindu deity, Shiva devastates players with blindingly-fast kicks and high priority slams in this classic side-scrolling beat ’em up from Sega.
Shiva is a martial arts master and it’s more than evident in his excellent sprite work that showcases acrobatic flips, soaring mid-air kicks, and even a pseudo one-inch punch; all in glorious 16-bit. It’s not often that a penultimate boss fight steals the show, but that is most certainly the case here.
Shiva is also notable for being one of those Nineties video game characters that shout the name of their own signature move… “Final Crash!”
#22 – Professor Kukui …For Pokémon Sun and Moon
Developer: Game Freak | Year: 2016
Unlike every other game in the series, players don’t face a League Champion during the final moments of Pokémon Sun and Moon because there isn’t one. The Alolan Islands are holding an inaugural tournament to decide their first ever champ and your victory over the Elite Four puts you directly into the winner’s chair. Result!
Only there is still one piece of business left. Game Freak couldn’t rightly send you home without a proper final boss and so in walks your mentor, Professor Kukui. This Pokémon Professor is truly an Oak for a new generation; he’s knowledgeable, he’s ripped, and his crack team of Pokémon is more than a match for your own.
The really cool thing about Kukui’s unexpected challenge though is how his balanced team of Pokémon use strategies that are befitting of a real world competitive player. His sneaky tactic of using Tailwind in combination with Whirlwind and Stealth Rock is simply genius and players will need to approach things very carefully lest they get caught out by his team’s potent coverage moves.
#21 – Imperial Defense Unit Bacharsuha …For Panzer Dragoon Orta
Developer: Smilebit | Year: 2002
I’ll let you in on a little secret: the bosses in Panzer Dragoon Orta are actually pretty easy! Only the final boss and this one are any real threat, though all of them are so exciting to fight that it doesn’t really matter.
Bacharshua gets top billing here due to its compelling design; a huge battleship comprised of various modules that eerily resemble a human form. As the battle progresses, each module will open up to reveal an intimidating attack formation that’s all laser beams and collisions. Exactly what you need when fighting in such a confined space!
As a gameplay experience what we have here is more akin to an endurance test than anything else, though players can’t slouch too much as the boss’s salvo of attacks in phase 2 will soon start to wear down your dragon’s health pool.
Similar to many entries on this list, this battle is enhanced by some utterly tremendous boss music.
Continue to Part 9