Bosses have become an integral part of gaming. How would you know if you’d reached the end of a level, if there wasn’t a hulking pig-man waiting there for you brandishing a battleaxe the size of a studio apartment? You wouldn’t, that’s how. The same way that slices divide a pizza into sweet, sweet segments of tasty goodness, boss battles do the same for video games.
Bosses have found their way into just about every genre. There are the obvious ones, like RPGs, beat ‘em ups and such, but they’re also now a part of rhythm games like Guitar Hero, racers and everything in between as well.
The fact of the matter is, though, not all bosses are created equal. These battles run the gamut from simple tutorial affairs to post-game slogathons you’ll need to have mix-maxed your party to stand a chance against. Back in the day, toppling one of these behemoths would make you a celebrity in your nerdly little friend group at school. Nowadays, you’re looking at a spangly new achievement/trophy for your troubles instead. Either way, it’s all good.
With all of that said, what makes a truly stellar boss battle? It’s got to be memorable, for one, whether significant in story terms, boasting a rocking theme, just plain fun, or all three. To be notorious, such a fight really just needs to be as tough as Henry VIII’s diamond-encrusted titanium codpiece. Just like these. Steel yourselves for 15 of the Hardest Video Game Bosses to Beat.
15 Tabuu (Smash Smash Bros Brawl)
Let’s start the list with something a little out of left field. When it comes to Super Smash Bros bosses, that dastardly duo of gropey hands probably springs to mind. At the end of a single player mode, depending on the game and the difficulty you’re playing, you’ll face off against two gigantic, disembodied hands: Master Hand and Crazy Hand. These guys had a whole slew of different attacks to keep you guessing, but they’re small fry compared to Tabuu.
The ultimate Smash boss appears at the climax of Brawl’s Adventure mode. Tabuu is the leader of the Subspace Army and the range of super-hard-hitting moves he can shatter your soul with had to be seen to be believed. This guy's taking you to your Final Destination indeed.
14 Father Gascoigne (Bloodborne)
I’ll get this admission out of the way from the off: Bloodborne was my first Soulsborne title. My Dark Souls cherry was taken swiftly, bloodily and pitchfork-stabbily, and I couldn’t get enough of the macabre PS4 exclusive.
As you’d expect, then, I was woefully bad at it. Father Gascoigne is the game’s second boss, the first obligatory one, and he flayed my innocent young cheeks to ribbons. This was the player’s first encounter with a fellow hunter, a fellow lightly armored, swift and deadly warrior. He has all the same abilities you do, plus the whole party trick werewolf-transformation-out-of-no-damn-where thing he had going on.
I was entirely unprepared for this encounter and the skills it required, and almost quit Bloodborne for good this early on.
13 The Sorrow (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater)
The Sorrow, if we’re being technical, can’t be ‘defeated’ in any real way. But hell, let’s get on board with this one anyone.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is well known for its boss encounters, most of which being on the nutty-ass end of the spectrum. In my view, though, this guy took the cake. The encounter takes place on a nightmare riverscape, with you wading past ghostly visions of every enemy you’ve killed through the course of the game so far. In my case, I’d Ramboed my way through just about everyone, so this took FREAKING AGES.
When you do finally reach The Sorrow himself, you instantly die. Did you remember about that pill in Snake’s teeth? Because if you didn’t (like my sorry butt), confusion ensues.
12 Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!)
The much-beloved Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is remembered as one of the highlights of the NES roster. This arcade boxing sim cast us as newbie pugilist Little Mac and tasked us with trying to get the scrawny dude to the top of the rankings. To get there, of course, there was a whole heap of face-punchin’ to do.
Mac’s opponents are the reason the game’s such a classic. From Bald Bull to Soda Popinski (a family-friendly replacement for the drunken Russian stereotype), they were full of character, hilarious in their animations and required varied strategies to defeat. None more so than the final boss: Mike Tyson himself.
You don’t screw with Iron Mike. Not if you don’t want to end up looking like Van Gogh in that sad sans-ear self portrait. He was fast, unpredictable and his hits were lethal.
11 Dr Wily (Mega Man Series)
I haven’t specified a game here. There’s no need. Whichever iteration of the series you’re playing, Wily’s going to appear. When he does, he’s going to make you hate everyone and everything forever. Trust me on this, it's what he does.
The Mega Man franchise is notorious for being really, really damn difficult. The original series are some of the most fiendishly-crafted action platformers you’ll ever see, boasting challenging battles against a different Robot Master at the close of each stage. After all of those came main antagonist Dr Wily, bringing you the final battle in a Robotnik-esque death machine of his own.
The last thing you’ll see in this life is a blur of bullets, spikes, saws and other things designed to eviscerate your teeny robot body.
10 Emerald Weapon (Final Fantasy VII)
Oftentimes with RPGs, the core campaign isn’t all that difficult at all. Final Fantasy VII is one of the most celebrated genre entries of all time, but would you really call it super hard at any point? No, no you wouldn’t, unless you were some kind of filthy liar. Stop those filthy lies.
Still, there’s the opportunity for you masochists out there to get your asses whupped, if that’s what you’re into. For the biggest challenges in a lot of RPGs, you must go above and beyond and dive into the sidequests and optional battles. As far as VII is concerned, the big daddy is Emerald Weapon. This was a hell of a fight. Remember Aire Tam Storm? The more powerful your party was, the more this attack would screw you over.
9 Seven Force (Gunstar Heroes)
Generally speaking, retro 16-bit shooters are some of the hardest games you’ll find anywhere. To a casual observer, a bullet hell title looks completely impossible, with your teeny ship occupying the only half a square inch on the screen unobscured by projectiles and/or explosions. As such, you can bet that the bosses that come packaged with them will be forces to reckon with too.
Cult Mega Drive classic Gunstar Heroes splices these sorts of ideals with the run-and-gun platforming of Mega Man, and comes up with something truly special. As far as boss encounters go, the highlight has to be Seven Force, a transforming robot that adopts seven entirely different forms. Along with their own HP bars, making for (depending on the difficulty you’re playing) several super hard showdowns in one.
8 Liquid Snake (Metal Gear Solid)
Earlier in the list, we took a look at Snake Eater’s bizarre Sorrow battle. Before he was even conceived, though (although not really, because the games weren’t released in chronological order, but let’s not be smartasses about that), Liquid Snake was the very last word in Metal Gear bosses.
Because this guy JUST WOULDN’T FREAKING DIE, however many flaming helicopters you dropped on his face, you fight him several times over in the latter stages of Metal Gear Solid. First the Hind D chopper, then Rex itself, then a hyper-masculine sausage fest shootout in jeeps… By the time he finally (fox)dies, Liquid has taken on the role of a campy faux-British horror movie villain, jumping back out at the hero repeatedly right when he thinks he’s finally prevailed.
7 Orphan of Kos (Bloodborne)
Let’s have a heart to heart now, Bloodborne players, just you and me. Maybe you don’t share my earlier gripes about Father Gascoigne. That’s totally cool, it’s all relative. He’s on the list largely just for that first encounter. One thing I think we can agree on, however, is that the Orphan of Kos is a raging asshole.
This creepy customer surfaces right at the end of the game’s The Old Hunters DLC, born from the corpse of the slain great one as you arrive on the shore. The circumstances of its ‘birth’ are horrifying. Its speed and aggression are horrifying. Its transformation is horrifying. The bizarre placenta chicken wing weapon it crushes your hopes, dreams and will to live with? That’s double horrifying. Some rank this as the hardest boss in all of Soulsborne.
6 Nemesis (Resident Evil 3)
STAAAAAAAAAAAARS. I never quite knew what to make of Nemesis. On the one hand, he’s a hulking eight-foot beast in a leather jacket with a rocket launcher and that’s enough to make anyone think twice about bringing him home to meet ma and pa. That said, though, battles with him never quite did it for me.
The shonky movement and aiming of early Resident Evils made these many encounters (and man, did this guy show up a lot) more frustrating than the tense brown pants-athons I was hoping for. Still, like Liquid Snake, you’ve got to admire the guy’s tenacity. He just would. Not. Die. Definitely the most iconic stalker-style enemy in the series. He’s like the Tyrant, only with fashion sense. I can dig that, I really can.
5 True Ogre (Tekken 3)
If there’s one thing that fighting games love, it’s dropping a stupidly overpowered opponent at the end of the Arcade mode. Tekken 3 is one of the most critically acclaimed entries in the genre ever, so you can bet that it wanted in on that action too.
The game’s plot centers around Ogre, an immortal being from… y’know, wherever. It’s not important. What matters is that you fight it once, in its regular skinny-green-dude form, before it shows its real self: True Ogre. If you want to complete Arcade mode, you’ll have to whup this thing, which took some doing. Did I mention it breathes fire? Of course it does, look at it. This match was a bad time whichever way you sliced it, but you did get to play him yourself. If you made it that far.
4 Nameless King (Dark Souls 3)
Now that Bloodborne’s had its say, it’s only fair that Dark Souls gets to throw its hat into the ring too. In a notoriously ball-busting series like Souls, it’s hard to pick out a single boss as the hardest of all. Everyone has their own opinion on that one, but for me, The Nameless King (who earned himself all kinds of colourful names during my struggles with him, let me tell you) is right up there.
There are two distinct phases to this match. The King first rides in on dragonback (because that’s a word) and you have to put down his trusty steed. With that finally done, you’ve no respite before a duel with the man himself. The speed, power and reach of his weapon make this one hell of a fight.
3 Red (Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver)
Now, sure, the Pokémon games don’t immediately spring to mind when it comes to the hardest ever video game bosses. In this cutesy world, the sun shines out of everyone’s butts and the challenge is toned down a little. After all, little urchins across the world are playing this. Do you want to make them cry?
Yes. Yes Game Freak do. Play it and weep, Little Jimmy, as your beloved Pikachu Norman is crushed into spam before your eyes by the dreaded Red. This guy pulled no punches in HGSS. His ace was a beastly level 88, and the rest of his squad wasn’t far behind. They had perfect coverage for every type as well, making for an unusually darn difficult AI battle.
2 Shao Khan (Mortal Kombat)
As we’ve seen, fighting games do like to dial the crazy up to eleven with their boss fights. When the popular and goretacular Mortal Kombat franchise was rebooted a few years back, it resurrected a favorite villain from the past: Shao Khan. Man, is he a tough customer.
Khan is the Emperor of Outworld, a master of dark magic and all-round unfriendly dude. As the last opponent on the game’s arcade ladder and story mode, his fighting style is swift and brutal, difficult to punish and completely relentless. He sets the entire plot of the (2011) game in motion by destroying Raiden, the Thunder God, which probably tells you all you need to know about what this guy is capable of. Very, very cheap stuff.
1 Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition)
The Mega Drive edition of Jurassic Park is something really, really special. It’s utterly batcrap crazy, for one, which is something I can always get on board with. It sets you up as Dr Grant, arms you with electric guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers, pits you against InGen agents, the army and a band of ravening dinosaurs, and unleashes you on the levels. What’s not to like?
The highlight of the experience was the final battle, in which you take on the Tyrannosaurus from a tiny dinghy against the backdrop of the burning island (yep, really). Your shots could only stun it briefly, letting you progress towards the exit and safety; this was some tense stuff right here. The terribly animated tiny-legs-dangling-from-its-mouth death that awaited if you failed was hilarious too.