If Mario is the most iconic video game game hero, it stands to reason that his longtime nemesis Bowser is the most iconic villain. First appearing in 1985's Super Mario Bros., The Koopa King has battled the plumber (along with other characters such as a certain green dinosaur) in numerous titles. He has followed the Mario Bros. from the 8 bit era to the modern era. To put it in perspective, Bowser has been around for over 30 years. He has played all different roles, even as an ally on occasion. But Nintendo always has him go back to his roots as a tyrant bent on taking over the Mushroom Kingdom (or sometimes grander, like the whole galaxy) and having Princess Peach at his side.
Just like in Legend of Zelda with Link having numerous iconic battles with Ganon, Bowser has been involved in many fun and notable battles in his 30+ career. From punching whole planets to chasing Mario and friends as a cat, there are quite a few epic finales with The Koopa King. This list will rank the battles where Bowser is the major antagonist and final boss. It doesn't include games with him as a minor boss (such as in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga) games that are mini-game/sport/sticker gimmick based (such as the Mario Party series, the sport titles, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star) or educational games such as Mario's Time Machine. Now, when deciding what constitutes for a great boss fight, of course the actual gameplay is most important. However, aspects such as buildup, atmosphere, and soundtrack are also important when considering. So with all these disclaimers out of the way, it's time we look at Bowser's Final Boss Fights Ranked.
25 Hotel Mario
Starting off this list is the most infamous Mario game of all time. In the defunct CD-i console, Royal Philips Electronics managed to license a few Nintendo characters. Mario was of course one of them and from that licensing deal Hotel Mario was born. The story is the usual stuff: Bowser kidnaps the Princess and the Mario Bros. have to go rescue her (With a little help from the player, as Luigi himself lets the player know in one of many infamous cutscenes.) The unique thing about the story/gameplay is that, as the title states, hotels feature prominently. Throughout the game, Mario's mission is to the close all the doors at each hotel. After battling a fake Bowser (Iggy wearing a costume) Mario battles The Koopa King himself.
The actual battle isn't technically bad. In fact, it's quite unique and even the soundtrack is pretty okay. However, constantly going through doors just doesn't make for riveting gameplay. There's some neat visuals such as Bowser reigning down lightning bolts, but after going through all the other prior hotels, the gameplay is more of a tired concept by the time the player reaches Bowser.
24 Yoshi's Island DS
Yoshi's Island DS is the sequel to the 1995 SNES title. DS follows a similar storyline, with Magikoopa stealing Baby Luigi (along with other babies) and it's up to Yoshi, along with Baby Mario, to save them. What's unique about this game is that it also includes Baby Peach, Baby Donkey Kong, Baby Wario, and even Baby Bowser as playable characters riding on top of Yoshi. The climax has Yoshi enter Bowser's castle, with the Koopa infant thinking Yoshi is there to steal the treasure.
Thus begins the first phase of the final boss fight. First, the build-up to the actual battle is terrible. It's baffling why Nintendo would put such a low key, peaceful theme in what should be a tense atmosphere. So, the player is already going into the battle without that feeling of hype. After the player beats Baby Bowser, adult Bowser crashes into the room. Once again, this should be a tension-filled scene, but the music takes the viewer out of it. The actual Bowser battle is standard, nothing bad but nothing notable. The final phase is Bowser turning giant (you'll see that happens a lot in this list) and the player shoots giant eggs at him. This final battle lacks what made the original game's final showdown so engaging.
23 Super Mario Bros./Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
Super Mario Bros. is arguably the most influential game of all time. It set the standard for side-scrollers and intricate level design. Its direct sequel, known to American audiences as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, upped the ante as being something like an extreme expansion pack. The first game is notable for many reasons, one of the primary ones being the introduction of Bowser. The jumping-on-axe every fourth level is one of the most well known video game moments of all time. This is also why the final battle ranks low on this list.
The final battle in Super Mario Bros. against the real Bowser in 8-4 is over in a few seconds if the player manages to hold onto a Fire Flower or even just a Mushroom. The battle is also similar to all the other end-world stages. The Lost Levels gave a slightly better version of this boss fight, designing the bridge area with smartly placed blocks. Of course, this is only tricky if the player is mini Mario. As a whole, World 8 is an excellent finale in both games, but the final Bowser battle is too simplistic (the player does the same thing in the previous seven worlds) and easy to beat with a power-up.
22 Yoshi Topsy-Turvy
Yoshi Topsy-Turvy is one of the lowest rated games in the Yoshi series. The big reason is the repetitive nature of utilizing a gimmick, which was the built in gyroscopic controls. Basically by tilting the Game Boy Advance, the gravity in-game shifts, enabling Yoshi to walk on walls and for the player to solve puzzles. The story has the dino's island entrapped in a story book. The cast and cutscenes are admittedly silly, but unlike Yoshi's Island DS, the final battle has some intensity.
By tilting the Game Boy, the player can send bombs toward Bowser. The music is fast paced, giving a sense of urgency. However, it's pretty simple and one of the easiest final boss battles on this list. The final phase has the player go up against Bowser in a tilting contest. The tilting concept is utilized nicely throughout the entire battle, which makes the game an interesting novelty since it will probably never be re-released.
21 Yoshi's Safari
Yoshi's Safari is one of the most peculiar games in the Mario franchise. Released in 1993 on the SNES, the game is one of the few to use the Super Scope accessory. The game plays out like a classic arcade shooter, something we probably won't ever see again in Super Mario. In the story, Peach has Mario and Yoshi go to a place called Jewelry Land to rescue its rulers from, you guessed it, Bowser and his minions.
The final battle has the player shoot down Bowser, whom is encased in a robot suit. This is the first time a "Mecha Bowser" appears and would become a popular concept in some future games, such as Super Mario Sunshine and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. The battle is simplistic, but there's that nice old school shooter feel. After the player blasts away the suit, Bowser in the flesh is the final phase of the battle. Hopefully one day this game will be re-released.(If Duck Hunt can be released on the virtual console, there's no reason why Safari can't).
20 New Super Mario Bros. - Bowser's Castle
New Super Mario Bros. was the big revival of Mario's 2D adventures. It brought the original's 1985 gameplay to modern day, with some new twists (Who can forget getting a Mega Mushroom for the first time?). The final level is one of the franchise's most challenging and, of course, to cap it off we get the big showdown with Bowser.
The final battle is similar to the original game's, but with improvements. For one thing, Bowser Jr. is also there causing trouble, making sure the player has no time to rest and ensuring the battle can't be completed in a few seconds. The music is excellent, perfectly cementing the final showdown atmosphere. The battle is still incredibly easy if the player has a Fire Flower, but remains a solid finale.
19 Yoshi's New Island
Yoshi's New Island is the latest game in the Yoshi's Island series. It takes place directly after the ending of the first game. It turns out the parents the Stork delivered Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to were actually not their parents. The plot then retreads the same exact ground from DS and the original, with Yoshi alongside Baby Mario on a journey to rescue the latter's brother. Just like both games, there's a final battle with Baby Bowser.
The battle is two phases and is pretty much a remake of the original game's boss fight. While not technically bad, it fails to produce the same level of hype and epic the original battle had (To give it some credit, the giant eggs are pretty cool). If the player manages to satisfy a certain condition, adult Bowser arrives as the true final boss. It would be special if it didn't happen already in DS.
18 Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World is one of the Wii U games to own, being Mario's only 3D platformer on the console. For a change of pace, instead of Princess Peach being kidnapped, Bowser captures new characters called the Sprixie Princesses. This was also the first time four player co-op was enabled in a Mario platformer. As per tradition, the final battle is against The Koopa King and it is definitely one of the more interesting ones on this list.
3D World's premiere power-up is the Super Bell, which gives the characters a cat suit enabling them to run on all fours and on walls (Mario even says "meow" after acquiring the item). In a twist, Bowser uses the Super Bell as well to become "Meowser." The battle that ensues is more of a reach-the-end sequence with the enemy trying to stop you. It's flashy and fun, but can't rank too high mainly because it plays out more like a movie scene (gameplay wise, it's incredibly easy) than an actual boss battle.
17 New Super Mario Bros. 2
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the followup to both the first New Super Mario Bros. and the Wii sequel. While praised, it was often noticeable how it was often more of the same, reusing many aspects from the previous two games. The final Bowser battle is similar to both games' at first. The first phase is identical: we have Bowser and the player in the bridge room. There's no Bowser Jr. this time, but Bowser does throw hammers like in Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels. If this phase was all there was to the battle, it would rank a lot lower in the list.
After the player breaks the bridge and sends Bowser down below, The Koopalings arrive and transform the villain into his giant form. There's a cinematic look to this battle as the player has to jump from platform to platform as Bowser's giant hand crushes them. The brief scenes with him shooting fire and the player having to make a long jump were also pretty fun. This battle would rank even higher, but unfortunately it's just too easy, even as mini Mario which is never a good thing.
16 Yoshi's Woolly World
Yoshi's Woolly World is the latest game starring Mario's green dinosaur buddy. The art style was one of the primary selling points. Good-Feel, the company that did Kirby's Epic Yarn, brought their signature yarn look. Woolly World plays out like the Yoshi's Island series and just like in those games Bowser is the final boss. The first phase is identical to what we've seen before, but the second phase is different enough to put it higher than the Yoshi titles earlier in this list.
After Kamek turns Baby Bowser giant, Yoshi has to chomp gigantic yarn balls and hurl them at the infant enemy while dodging some attacks. It's a fun, fast paced fight and, of course, the yarn aesthetic is adorable.
15 Super Princess Peach
Super Princess Peach is an interesting installment in the Mario saga. It's the only game to date where Peach is the sole protagonist. In the story she has to rescue her kingdom (including Mario!) from Bowser. Armed with her talking umbrella Perry, she uses an attack called a "Vibe," which is basically weaponized versions of the emotions joy, rage, gloom, and calm. After her treacherous journey, the Princess finally arrives at Bowser's Villa for what is the greatest role reversal in the history of gaming.
The battle is two phases. The first one is straightforward: the player has to dodge Bowser's attacks while attacking The Koopa King head on. It's bright and fun, not to mention Bowser can also use a Vibe attack. The second phase has Bowser turn giant and Peach has to dodge different kinds of attacks and projectiles. The final shot of the battle is a satisfying scene of Peach smacking Bowser away with her umbrella. Getting to play as the Princess for once in a fun, straightforward battle against her kidnapper manages to secure the game's climax a decently high spot on this list.
14 Yoshi's Story
Compared to games like Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong 64, Yoshi's Story isn't that popular. The game is similar to its future sequel Woolly World in that it's up to the green dinosaur (no Mario this time) to stop Baby Bowser. Unlike almost all the other Yoshi's Island sequels, the final battle in Story doesn't try to be a copy of the original.
First, the dialogue between Baby Bowser and Baby Yoshi (yes, in this game you play as the miniature version of the title character) is excellent. Baby Bowser is portrayed as pure evil. Then the battle ensues and it is one memorable fight. In the first phase, Yoshi has to hit Baby Bowser (whom rides on some creepy green monsters) by striking the ceiling spikes. The second phase is a straightforward, intense battle. The music is excellent and the art style throughout the game is unique. Out of all the entries on this list, Yoshi's Story's final battle might be the most underrated.
13 Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Paper Jam is the latest game in the Mario & Luigi series. It's notable for being a crossover with Paper Mario, the other big Mario RPG series. The plot is very straightforward: Bowser and Paper Bowser team up to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. There's no big plot twists shaking the story, making it the most simple game in the Mario & Luigi series. Of course, there's technically nothing wrong with being a straightforward crossover between two dimensions. Like all final boss battles in the series, the showdown against Shiny RoboBowser is a long, hard, satisfying finale.
After some fun dialogue between the Bowsers and heroes (one of the best lines must be, "Did you not notice that we're TWO BOWSERS?), the battle commences. The first phase begins with an onslaught of fireballs from both Bowsers. It's pretty straightforward, but then the second phase comes into play. In a well done cutscene, Paper Bowser absorbs a bunch of enemies and becomes a giant robot suit that 3D Bowser puts on. With a change in music, the stage is set for a battle that puts everything the player has learned up until that point to the test.
12 New Super Mario Bros. U
New Super Mario Bros. U is the latest game in the New Super Mario Bros. series, and presumably the last. At this point, the question has to be asked: what could this game do differently than all the other installments? The final battle answers that. The first phase is exactly the same as previous games: dodge the fireballs and jump on the axe. It's the second phase where the scope goes big.
Yes, we've seen Giant Bowser by this point many times. This game, however, does the best job in truly demonstrating how small Mario is in comparison. Unlike the other installments prior on this list, there's more physical action against Bowser. After Bowser takes his first hit, he unleashes a barrage of fireballs that reign down on the player. It's cinematic and awesome to play in. It's not just the actual fight that's memorable; it's also the soundtrack and scenery.
11 Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Unlike Paper Jam, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has a fairly complex storyline with some twists and turns. In the climax, Princess Peach and Starlow unite their powers to destroy the Dream Stone, which Bowser was going to use to further his agenda. In a well done dramatic moment, The Koopa King shouts "Not yet!" and absorbs the remains. His new form is called Dreamy Bowser, one of his most menacing forms to date.
The battle features everything from Bowser summoning an airship to shooting giant fire blasts that the Mario Bros. have to carefully outmaneuver. Dreamy Bowser will also heal himself, prolonging the battle if the player doesn't adapt. It's a brutal fight, which makes completing it all the more accomplishing. It also might have the greatest battle theme in the entire Mario & Luigi series.
10 Super Smash Bros. Melee
Super Smash Bros. Melee is one of the most beloved fighting games of all time and to many it's still the greatest Super Smash Bros. One of the many notable things about it is that it was the first game in the series to introduce Adventure Mode. While there's technically no story in Melee's Adventure Mode, it's still a well designed trek through various Nintendo worlds (Who doesn't remember the Zelda stage with the ReDeads?). For the last part, the battle takes place on the stage appropriately titled Final Destination and Bowser is the character to beat. The special aspect about this showdown that puts it in the top 10 is the second phase.
If the player completes Adventure Mode within 18 minutes on normal or higher difficulty without using any continues, something big happens. In a legendary cutscene, Bowser's trophy rises and transforms into something huge and horrifying: Giga Bowser. This new form is an extreme version of The Koopa King, from appearance to attacks (Good luck beating it on Very Hard difficulty). He even gets a remix of the Final Destination theme.
9 Paper Mario
Paper Mario is the second ever Mario RPG (the first being Legend of the Seven Stars) and the first of the Paper Mario series. At its core, it's a classic Mario vs. Bowser story. Paper Mario grabs that concept and explodes it into a long, enjoyable RPG adventure. The game's opening act features Peach's Castle being lifted into space by Bowser (now we know where Super Mario Galaxy got that idea) and from there the stage is set for an epic final battle way later in the game.
The battle is a satisfying conclusion and the dialogue before, during, and after is fun. The writing perfectly balances comedy with an epic final showdown. There's a sense of awe when Peach grants Mario the ability to shoot a beam that nullifies Bowser's invincibility. Out of all the battles against Bowser in the RPG realm, Paper Mario's is well deserving of making it into the top 10.
8 Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine is perhaps the most unique of Mario's 3D adventures. It takes place in a Hawaii-like setting called Isle Delfino. Mario is armed with a water nozzle machine named F.L.U.D.D. in order to combat the goop that is infesting the island. There are a lot of fun aspects, from challenging level design to Mario getting tried in court. The final level, Corona Mountain, (which is one of the hardest levels in a 3D Mario game) leads to the big showdown with Bowser and Bowser Jr.
The buildup is intense (part of the reason of course is that we get to hear Bowser speak) as the screen zooms out to reveal a giant Bowser residing in the sludge-filled hot tub. Both Mario and the player are taken aback as the battle begins. It's technically one of the fastest final boss fights on this list, but there's a great sense of urgency. Every time Mario would ground pound a platform, it would start to break, forcing the player to act quickly, otherwise even a somersault jump won't be enough to make it back. Add to the fact that F.L.U.D.D. appears to be breaking down and we have a fast-paced, dramatic climax to one of the greatest games of the previous decade.
7 Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is one of the most revolutionary games of all time, as it set the standard for 3D platformers. It is also easily the most challenging Mario platformer to date. There are many iconic aspects, one of them being the Bowser battles. No one can forget King Koopa's theme as he walks into the stage with some mean dialogue for the hero and swinging Bowser by the tail is the stuff of legend.
The final battle is more of the same with a few differences. A big one is the change in music, which is just as iconic as the previous battle theme. Unlike the prior battles, the player has to throw Bowser at a mine three times. This may seem like a little, but aiming correctly is extremely challenging, especially on the last hit. It can be repetitive and enraging, but it does make completing the battle all the more accomplishing. In pure difficulty, this is probably one of the hardest boss battles on this list, earning it a spot into the top 10.
6 Super Mario 3D Land
To date, Super Mario 3D Land is the only built from the ground up Mario 3D platformer on the small console and the build-up to the final showdown is excellent. Mario works his way up to the tallest castle where Princess Peach is being held to the flag pole. Bowser arrives slamming the ground, which then breaks said ground. This sets the stage for a memorable sequence.
The battle is similar to 3D World's final showdown in that it's basically one long chase sequence. However, 3D Land's is far superior in many ways. First, there's more of a sense of danger as Bowser constantly attacks the player. Mario has to even walk on a tightrope while dodging incoming fireballs. It's fast paced and a real challenge unlike 3D World's. Bowser even jumps right in front of Mario, so the player is forced to dodge his attacks head on. The run to the final switch is heart-pounding as Bowser chases the player from behind. All of this combined with excellent music earns this boss fight a high spot on the list.
5 Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a legendary game and some still call it the greatest Mario installment. It introduced many mainstay concepts in the franchise, from diverse power-ups to The Koopalings. The final battle, just like in the first Super Mario Bros., takes place in World 8 against Bowser. The buildup is also similar with fireballs heading Mario's way, but the actual showdown is more memorable to this day.
Once Mario enters the room, Bowser arrives and the music switches to a fast paced theme. Bowser attempts to ground pound Mario, forcing the hero to be on the move. The way to beat Bowser makes for a fun strategy to implement. It's technically a simple boss fight, but it's well deserving of making it into the top 5.
4 New Super Mario Bros. Wii
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the first sequel to the original New Super Mario Bros. and arguably the best. The storyline is what we've seen before in the first game and the final battle is the same...until the second phase. After jumping on the switch and sending Bowser down below once more, things get interesting.
As expected, Kamek turns Bowser giant. But instead of battling The Koopa King, the player has no choice but to run away. The thing is that the player can't proceed without Bowser destroying the blocks ahead of the character. This makes for a heart-racing, strategy-filled dash to escape. It's well designed and just a lot of intense fun. It's great with just one character, but with four player co-op things get even crazier. Did we mention the music is outstanding?
3 Super Mario Galaxy/Super Mario Galaxy 2
Both Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are known as two of the greatest games of all time. With utterly flawless level design, it's easy to see why. The first installment featured a grand storyline and one of the chief aspects was that Bowser was portrayed as a truly evil antagonist. Bowser had been portrayed more as a comic relief villain prior to this game, so it was great Nintendo brought him back to being a force to be reckoned with. The final battle is a satisfying, epic conclusion. First, the buildup with the music as Mario jumps the staircase to where Bowser is keeping Princess Peach captive is excellent. The actual battle is similar to the previous confrontations, with the final phase featuring an epic orchestrated theme.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 kicks it up a notch by having Giant Bowser literally punch the planet Mario is battling on. The scope is immense and the soundtrack (awesome choir) makes this a fight the player will never forget. To cap things off, just when Mario has The Grand Star in his grasp, Bowser comes back and eats it, propelling him to perhaps his largest size to date. As The Koopa King states, "...this is finally the end. The end of you!" the player has a sense that this is their battle to end all battles. The sequence following is one of Final Fantasy quality. The Galaxy games are testaments on how to make a Mario vs. Bowser story epic. The fate of the universe is truly felt in these boss fights.
2 Yoshi's Island
Yoshi's Island has been mentioned a lot on this list; finally we've made it to the game that started it all. Chronologically, Yoshi's Island is the first game in the Mario franchise. Baby Mario has to ride on Yoshi on a journey to rescue Baby Luigi. The final part of the game features the heroes arriving to confront Kamek. Imagine the surprise when the background goes from black to revealing Baby Bowser's room. The infant Koopa King awakens, kicks Kamek away, calls Yoshi a "gween donkey," then ground pounds Baby Mario off of Yoshi. The first phase is a challenge as Yoshi has to avoid Baby Bowser's quick attacks. The buildup and actual battle are excellent, but it's the second phase that helps secure the boss fight at the #2 spot.
After Baby Bowser's room gets destroyed, we see Yoshi standing on the broken platforms outside with debris falling. He then turns forward to see giant Baby Bowser slowly rising in the distance. The antagonist lets out a disturbing roar where he summons more debris to fall on Yoshi. The dinosaur then has to dodge incoming fireballs while aiming large eggs at Baby Bowser. This boss fight is amazingly well done. There's a sense of urgency as Baby Bowser walks closer and closer to Yoshi. That urgency skyrockets when Baby Bowser starts dashing to the hero. The 3D effect is really great and the battle itself is a fantastic challenge. The Yoshi's Island sequels (and few Mario games for that matter) could not match the scope, atmosphere, and genuine awe of the showdown in this game.
1 Super Mario World
Well, here we are. Super Mario World could be the greatest Mario game ever made, so it makes sense its final battle would be outstanding as well. This Bowser battle does everything perfectly. It has the perfect buildup, atmosphere, and challenge. Mario stands atop a castle roof as Bowser's Clown Car descends. The music is pitch perfect; it builds up to the reveal of Bowser in the Clown Car. The atmosphere is excellent, from lightning flashing in the background to seeing Princess Peach briefly shouting "Help!"
The battle is three phases, and the brief cutaways, between phases with the Clown Car riding into the camera with the soundtrack stopping , add to the terror of what comes next. The final phase is an excellent way to end it, as Bowser has had it and the Cloud Car literally starts ground pounding in hopes of crushing Mario. It really doesn't get any better than this.