While it’s usually fun to decimate typical enemies in a video game, boss battles are the ones you always remember. Whether it’s for bragging rights, a way to earn some shiny new loot, or the capstone to a story that’s totally enveloped you, boss battles are an experience like no other. It’s rare to find that amazing blend of challenge and gratification, only the best boss battles manage to attain it. I’ve conquered many virtual foes in my time, and here are the ones that will always stick with me:
Honorable Mention: Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid, 1998)
Psycho Mantis is only an honorable mention because I never played Metal Gear Solid myself. I only watched my brother play it, but witnessing the battle against this psychic terrorist was still an experience I’ll never forget. Seeing Mantis play tricks on the player character was already pretty weird, but it got creepy when he started messing with my brother. He made the controller vibrate randomly, and even turned the screen black in order to make us think our Playstation had turned off. My brother was so pissed when he realized that he had reset the console for nothing. No boss battle had broken the fourth wall in such an inventive or unsettling (and eventually hilarious) way before, and I’m fairly confident none have since. Years later I learned that Psycho Mantis was also capable of reading your Playstation’s memory card for certain games, and mentioning them mid-battle too.
Professor Nakayama (Borderlands 2: Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt, 2013)
The main antagonist of Borderlands 2’s third story DLC pack, Professor Nakayama seeks to bring back an old enemy of, and kill, the player character, the Vault Hunter. Immediately after a separate and particularly difficult boss battle, Nakayama shows himself, and it seems like he might accomplish the latter of his goals until… Well, this happens, turning what I thought was going to be an incredibly frustrating, unfair fight (considering I was almost completely out of ammo) into a highlight of the DLC, and the Borderlands franchise.
Albert Wesker (Resident Evil 5, 2009)
You (and hopefully your co-op buddy, the partner AI is truly terrible) fight Wesker a couple of times throughout RE5’s campaign, and it’s the earliest of these scuffles that left me the most impressed because it felt like something from Metal Gear Solid franchise. The fight starts with Wesker, who’s superhuman speed, strength, and durability put the players at a disadvantage, says he has “seven minutes to spare” trying to kill you. My brother and I initially went after Albert, but we weren’t skilled enough with the controls to stop him from killing one of us each time. Eventually, we just started hiding, hoping the perfect opportunity would present itself, which it kind of did seven minutes in. Once Wesker realized that time had passed, he just left. My brother and I both let out a sigh of relief, and I still smile whenever I think about that simple, yet unexpected method to defeat what we thought was a borderline unbeatable boss.
Monster Ock (Spider-Man, 2000)
2000’s spectacular Spider-Man game takes an unexpected, horrifying turn in its final moments as Doctor Octopus and Carnage combine into the nightmarish creature, Monster Ock. Every other villain had some trick to beating them or weakness to exploit, but not this abomination. All you can do is web-sling and run as fast as possible to avoid dying at the hands/claws of this monstrosity. That chase would probably seem less harrowing if I went back to it now, but it was one of the most surprising and scary gaming experiences I’d had by age eleven, and is the one of the most memorable moments in any Spider-Man game I’ve played.
Laura (The Evil Within, 2014)
The totally deranged “landscape” that The Evil Within takes place is host to many, many grotesque creatures, but none made my blood run as cold as Laura. She moves and looks like a mash-up of the ghost from The Grudge and a gigantic spider, two things that are unsettling alone, yet even scarier together. Also, she’s usually immune to just about every attack you can throw at her. I’ve played many survival horror games in my time, and The Evil Within is one of the very few with moments that haunted me long after the credits rolled, and that’s thanks to Laura. I don’t use the term “nightmare fuel” often, but that’s exactly what she is.
The Thirteenth Colossus (Shadow of The Colossus, 2018)
I was still having difficulty deciding which boss battle in Shadow of The Colossus was my favorite when Lauren and I wrote our co-review, but after spending a little more time with the game I can say that the thirteenth colossus is the best in show. It’s easily the biggest creature in the game, and in order to defeat it you have to ride your horse alongside it, jump onto it’s back before it takes off into the sky, and make your way along the serpent’s hide to find it’s weak points while holding on for dear life as it flies high into the air. Paired with Shadow of The Colossus’ absolutely phenomenal score, it’s one of the most exhilarating moments I’ve experienced in a video game, boss battle or otherwise.
Jack Baker (Resident Evil 7, 2017)
The patriarch and scariest member of one of gaming’s most twisted families, Jack Baker stalks the player character Ethan as a nigh-invulnerable slasher villain through several parts of Resident Evil 7’s campaign. Emptying most of your ammo into Jack only temporarily stops him, so you quickly learn that the best way to survive and save bullets is to run and hide from the sadistic psychopath whenever he comes looking for you. However, you are eventually forced to face him. The horror and anxiety I felt scrambling to hide from Jack or find something that I could use to (hopefully) put him down for good cement Resident Evil 7 as one of the scariest games I’ve ever played, and easily place my encounters with him on this list.
Crawmerax the Invincible (Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, 2010)
The first raid boss (an enemy so challenging that they require multiple people working together just for a chance of success) I ever tried to take down was this gargantuan beast. A colossal crab worm capable of downing max-level characters in a single blow, Crawmerax the Invincible almost lives up to his title. It took the combined effort of myself and two others more than a couple hours to bring him down for the first time, but all that nail-biting tension and hair-pulling frustration was worth it. Not only was I able to claim I defeated every boss in one of my favorite video games at the time, but the amount of legendary loot that rained down after Crawmerax’s demise was unreal.
David (The Last of Us)
The Last of Us is filled with many horrific monsters, yet the most abominable thing Ellie or Joel encounter through the game is just a man. While seemingly decent at first, David’s less-than-noble intentions are eventually revealed, forcing Ellie to defend herself from the machete-wielding maniac in the world’s most intense game of hide and seek. Ellie is eventually able to deliver a finishing blow after managing to get the drop on him a few times, but the trauma she experienced thanks to David won’t be forgotten, by her or myself, anytime soon.
Atheon, Time’s Conflux (Destiny, 2014)
Like Crawmerax, Atheon is a raid boss that packs a serious punch. Unlike Crawmerax, there were also puzzles and patterns my friends and I were forced to figure out while fighting Atheon AT THE SAME TIME. The amount of coordination and teamwork our six-man fireteam put into defeating Atheon was insane, even the smallest mistake could have disastrous consequences. I never thought we would be able defeat Atheon, but thankfully I was proven wrong. And just like Crawmerax, the bragging rights and gear made it all worthwhile. Destiny was given three additional raids through its lifetime, but none felt as epic or fun as The Vault of Glass, the raid that ended with the battle against Atheon.
Driviks, The Chosen (Destiny: The Taken King, 2015)
Driviks isn’t just one of the most challenging bosses in Destiny, he’s also the hardest to find. If you were on the right Daily Story, a campaign mission that was randomly selected every day, you could take an alternate, secret passage filled to the brim with Taken enemies and a ten-minute countdown. If your group was coordinated and fast enough, you could clear each room, and then try to defeat Driviks himself with whatever time was left. The few groups that managed to beat him, mine included, were awarded with one of the best sniper rifles in the game, the Black Spindle. It was a weapon many Destiny players sought after, but few earned.
Redmaw (Horizon Zero Dawn)
The world of Horizon Zero Dawn has many deadly mechanical monsters, and in my opinion, Redmaw is the most dangerous. An extra aggressive Thunderjaw (which is basically a terminator tyrannosaurus) known for killing dozens of skilled hunters, Redmaw is a beast capable of killing multiple people with just one tail swing. In addition to its overwhelming raw strength, the murderous monster has a wide array of ranged, explosive weaponry at its disposal, and can track the player pretty easily. I waited until I got the ultimate armor set near the end of the game before going after Redmaw, and even then it still wasn’t easy to bring it down.
Giga Bowser (Super Smash Bros. Melee, 2001)
On my most anticipated games of 2018 list I wrote that “each iteration of Nintendo’s crossover brawler franchise holds some of my favorite gaming memories,” and my first fight against Super Smash Bros. Melee’s secret boss is one of those memories. Fighting a powered-up form of Bowser that takes up nearly a quarter of the stage would be tough enough, but his damage and durability get a massive boost as well. However, if you were able beat him without continuing you’d obtain a sweet virtual trophy in your gallery that you could show off to your friends. Maybe it wouldn’t be as challenging now that I’ve spent years playing the later versions of Smash Bros, but I’ll never forget the triumph I felt after beating Giga Bowser for the first time.
Poseidon (God of War III, 2010)
In a series known for some of gaming’s greatest boss battles, the first one in God of War III is my favorite without a doubt. The game’s opening pits you against one of the three most powerful greek deities from the get-go, and you’re fighting him on the back of the Titan Gaia as she’s climbing and being pulled off of Mount Olympus. It’s an inventive battle against a colossal opponent that sets the tone for the rest of the game. And once defeated, Poseidon is subjected to one of the most brutal deaths I’ve ever seen in a game. Seriously, I had to put my controller down for a little bit after this one.
Master Hand (Super Smash Bros. series)
Master Hand is the most prominent boss in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, often making an appearance as the final opponent in Classic Mode. Considering that all the fighters in Smash are supposedly toys, a disembodied hand is pretty creative foil for the large, and ever-growing roster of gaming icons. And depending on how high your difficulty setting is, Master Hand can be be an absolute nightmare to go up against, with many bizarre attacks at its disposal, a few of which take up a good chunk of the stage.
General RAAM (Gears of War, 2006)
In Gears of War you play as Marcus Fenix, one of the most badass fictional soldiers of all time. He drops dozens of Locust bodies without breaking a sweat and kills giant monsters with minimal effort. And as tough as he is, General RAAM gave Marcus a run for his money. A unique Locust capable of controlling kryll (essentially flying piranha that hunt in the dark) and strong enough to carry around a mounted turret gun with one hand, RAAM was an absolute beast. In the final battle against, players must run from cover to cover while staying near the smallest of light sources and taking potshots at RAAM. That fight was the only time I felt like I was truly outmatched in the Gears of War series, and none the boss battles since have been anywhere near as incredible.
The Stranger (God of War, 2018)
Like its precursor, the fourth main entry of the God of War series has its best boss battle at the very beginning. Kratos killed loads of Greek monsters, Titans, and pretty much the entire pantheon in the original trilogy, and the Stranger, who claimed to know about the Ghost of Sparta’s past, picks a fight with him. At first I was impressed by the sheer arrogance the Stranger displayed with his threats, and then chuckled because I knew the Ex-God of War was going to crush with with minimal effort… But then my jaw dropped to floor when he sent Kratos flying with just one punch, and it stayed there for the majority of their earth-shattering brawl.
Joey Ultraviolet (Borderlands 3 – Revenge of the Cartels, 2020)
Borderlands 3 has more than a few bosses that I could’ve put on this list, but sadly, the best one was tied to a limited-time event and is no longer accessible. Revenge of the Cartels tasked players with combatting the eridium cartels, and the last part of your mission was to take out their big cheese, Joey Ultraviolet. Like everything else in the event, Joey and his goons were clearly inspired by 80’s pop culture, which I adore. The arena you fought him in featured lots of neon lighting, killer synth music, and piles of
purple cocaine eridium lying around. The battle itself was also excellent, and there was a wide range of enemies that could show up to assist Joey, forcing you to keep moving around and making sure subsequent battles never felt the exact same. Additionally, the exclusive loot dropped by him and his sub-bosses included some of the best gear to be found in the game thus far.
Update: Revenge of the Cartels can now be accessed at any time in Borderlands 3, so hunt Joey down if you haven’t already!
The Hunter (Dead Space, 2008)
In my opinion, Dead Space is the scariest video game ever made. Nothing in the survival horror genre has yet to match its isolating environment, bleak story, or horrific enemies (aside from maybe the likes of Jack Baker and Laura). Necromorphs, reanimated and transformed human corpses, are some of the most frightening monsters in all of fiction. The “normal” ones move faster than humans, can travel through air ducts, have bone claws the size of swords, and require nothing short of dismemberment to stay dead… Then a mad scientist devoted to an insane religion made one with the ability to regenerate lost limbs. Nothing in your arsenal of tools or weapons can kill the Hunter, so you’re forced to get creative in order to survive. Different iterations of it show up in all three Dead Space games, but I’ll never forget the sheer terror I felt running for my virtual life during my first encounter with the Hunter.
Red (Pokémon Gold/Pokémon Silver, 1999)
Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, the second pair of games in the world-famous series, are my favorites. They introduced the best mechanics, characters, and pocket monsters of any generation, and featured a phenomenal endgame boss battle. Once you’ve beaten all sixteen Gym Leaders, you can proceed deep inside Mt. Silver to battle against the most powerful Pokémon Trainer in the game: Red, the character you played as in the original games. With a well-rounded and high level team of fully evolved starters, an Espeon, Snorlax, and Pikachu, Red is a force to be reckoned with. Only after defeating him in a spectacular battle could you really call yourself the very best like no one ever was.
Safer Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII, 1997)
In order to save everyone on the planet Gaia and beat Final Fantasy VII, you and your in-game comrades must confront one of gaming’s greatest villains. Sephiroth is one of the most memorable antagonists in any game I’ve ever played, and that’s partially because the battle against him is absolutely outstanding. Once the battle begins, it doesn’t take long to realize that Sephiroth, now in an even more powerful form, more than lives up to his reputation as a being of unfathomable strength. He has multiple attacks that can almost instantly wipe out the entire party, and can cause a ridiculous amount of status effects to boot. Further heightening the intensity of the battle is Sephiroth’s theme, “One Winged Angel” – the first song in the Final Fantasy series to feature vocals – playing in the background. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it…
And there you have it, those are my most memorable video game boss battles! If you liked what you read and want more, like my top video games of 2017, follow me and some other awesome people on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and/or middleofrow.com.