Hard boss battles are nothing new to gaming. Dark Souls might not have been around back in the day, but that didn't mean there weren't some rage-inducing fights to grapple with. Heck, extreme difficulty was expected in many cases. Of course, in the times before HD and online gaming, bosses were made so hard on purpose for different reasons. Developers had less memory space to work with and making bosses almost impossible was the easiest way to lengthen game play. Plus, it gave players a feeling of unrivaled achievement to overcome such inflated challenge. Many a kid bragged to their friends about their victory afterward.
But that didn't go for every boss though. For every unbeatable behemoth with twelve health bars that took weeks to defeat, there were plenty of forgettable wimps too. These were the losers who barely posed a challenge. Heck, to call some of these bosses a challenge is almost too generous. Often, players could get past them on their first try with little to no preparation. All the stocking up on healing items turned out to be for naught. For all their failure though, these lame-o bosses have earned their place in gaming history. As a cautionary tale, if nothing else.
We're going to be celebrating both kind of bosses on this list. After a long look through the era before the PS3, the entries here have been chosen for their memorable level of difficulty (or lack thereof.)
These are the 15 Hardest Bosses In Classic Video Games (And The 10 Easiest.)
25 Hardest: Yellow Devil (Mega Man)
The classic Mega Man series, as a whole, was well-known for its high difficulty level. So being known as a hard boss by that standard should say something. But the Yellow Devil fits the bill. Not only does he take up more than half the screen, he's nearly impossible to get a hit on.
The player's window of opportunity to fire on him is small. That's if they get the chance. More often they'll be dodging Yellow Devil's laser blasts or his splitting apart and flying across the screen. Better memorize the pattern if you want to avoid getting hit.
24 Hardest: Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!)
At the time this NES classic was released, the real Mike Tyson was considered unbeatable. His video game counterpart felt the same to many. Iron Mike was a brutal opponent in the boxing ring. He could knock out the player at any moment with only a few hits. Patience was the name of the game to beat him.
Tyson's opening was small and players had to be ready to pounce when he did show it. On top of surviving his onslaught of blows. But for those who could persevere, becoming champion was a fitting reward. Plus, they kept their ears.
23 Easiest: Papu Papu (Crash Bandicoot)
Granted, the first boss in the game isn't supposed to pose the greatest challenge to the player. But even by that low standard, Papu Papu fails miserably. His only attack is spinning his staff around in a circle. That's it. He doesn't even spin it all that fast.
Crash can jump over it without any difficulty and bop Papu Papu on the head. Do it three times and he'll be down for the count. To cut Papu Papu some slack, this was the PS1 era. Developers were still figuring out how to transition into 3D. Doesn't excuse his lameness though.
22 Hardest: Pandemonium Warden (Final Fantasy 11)
We were skeptical about putting an MMO boss on this list, but when the developers have to step in to lower the difficulty, it's earned the spot. Pandemonium Warden was an absolute monster of a boss. This thing had over twenty different forms, each with its own health bar and required strategy, and could take hours to defeat.
One group grappled with the Warden for 18 hours without success, only stopping because they were getting physically ill. Square Enix had to step in to nerf this boss, putting in a two-hour time limit for battles. That's a new level of hard.
21 Hardest: Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
Psycho Mantis takes the prize on this list for the weirdest boss battle. He'll actually break the fourth wall and talk directly to you, the player at home. Thanks to his psychic powers, he'll read your memory card to taunt you and make the DualShock controller shake through the rumble. He'll also dodge every attack you throw at him.
The amount of gamers Psycho Mantis frustrated probably can't be counted, because the way to beat him would never occur to anyone. You have to unplug the controller and plug it in the Player 2 slot. After that, he's a cake walk.
20 Easiest: Old King Coal (Banjo-Tooie)
If players have the Ice Egg item, they've basically already won this fight. Ice is Old King Coal's weakness and it'll do extra damage when it hits him. But even without it, he won't pose much of challenge. All he does is slowly chase Banjo and Kazooie around and occasionally turn the floor into lava.
The lava isn't really dangerous though. There are plenty of spots where players are safe from that and Coal's smoke attack. His whole body is a weak point too, so normal attacks will work just as well. He's barely a boss at all.
19 Hardest: Culex (Super Mario RPG)
Culex makes very clear that Square developed this SNES classic. He's basically a Final Fantasy villain transplanted to the Mushroom Kingdom. And like an FF villain, he's hard as heck. Along with his four crystal minions, his HP tops out at 12, 396.
Yes, he has 12, 000 health.
Not that players can whittle that down too much. His attacks can wipe out a whole party in one move and his crystal minions deal their own damage. Players need to cheat with a special item to make this fight fair. Good thing Culex is an optional boss, or no one might have finished this game.
18 Hardest: Death (Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse)
We'd think a fight against the Grim Reaper would be pretty one-sided, so maybe it's appropriate this fight is as hard as it is. Death will come at you in two stages in this fight. First, he'll bombard players with spinning scythes as he floats around. You'll be forced to dodge these while trying to get a hit on him.
If your vampire hunter makes it through, Death will take the form of a giant floating skull with its own health bar. The second form is easier but unlike Death, players only have one health bar for this whole fight.
17 Easiest: Big Bob-omb (Super Mario 64)
Bob-ombs are usually bad news for Mario. These little walking grenades will explode after the slightest touch. So bigger must be badder, right? Not for Big Bob-omb. His only danger from his stern words and fat body. Instead of trying to blow Mario up, he'll just try crushing him beneath his girth.
All it takes to defeat Big Bob-omb is picking him up and throwing him away three times. Doing so earns an easy star. His only real value as a boss is tipping you off on how to beat Bowser later.
16 Hardest: Giygas (EarthBound)
No list of hardest bosses would be complete without Giygas. This absolutely frightening being from the cult classic EarthBound is a force to be reckoned with. For large parts of the boss battle, it will be invincible. No attacks work. Many gamers were probably never able to beat Giygas.
Because the only way to hurt it is to use the "Pray" ability, which served no function throughout the rest of the game. Only those with strategy guides knew this though, as there's no indication in-game that's what players should do. If Giygas' difficulty wasn't scary enough, his design surely was.
15 Hardest: Ridley (Super Metroid)
Ridley might have just made his debut in Smash Bros., but Metroid fans have feared him for years. In particular, his boss battle from 1994's Super Metroid. The first time players encounter the space pirate, they're supposed to lose the fight. Yes, it's one of those boss battle.
But his second encounter is no picnic either. Samus will have to dodge Ridley's fire balls and tail swings while peppering him with missiles. His pattern is random too. He has no weak points, so players will have just keep hammering on him. After 30 or so missiles, Ridley will finally fall.
14 Easiest: Bandana Waddle Dee (Kirby Super Star Ultra)
If we're being honest, we aren't even certain this guy qualifies as a boss. Maybe only by technicality. Players will only encounter Bandana Waddle Dee in the Revenge of the King mini-game of Kirby Super Star Ultra. This is basically a boss rush of every other boss in the game leading up to King Dedede.
Bandana Waddle Dee is the penultimate challenger and he even gets his own health bar. But Kirby will still beat him just by inhaling the poor guy. He won't even give players a copy ability. We do give Bandana Waddle Dee points for trying though.
13 Hardest: Shao Kahn (Mortal Kombat 2)
Now this jerk is just cheap. As the final boss of Mortal Kombat 2, Shao Kahn spent most of his battle taunting players. This was also the only opening they had to attack the skull-faced conqueror. The rest of the time he's spamming shoulder charges, sledgehammer attacks, and green lasers.
All of these hit like a truck, devastating a player's health bar. They'd have to be quick on that opening too, because it was followed by an uppercut. Shao Kahn was enough to break out the Game Genie. He might have been an unbalanced frustration, but that's what made him memorable.
12 Hardest: Lavos (Chrono Trigger)
Some boss battles are sprints, while others are marathons. Lavos is definitely the latter. This alien parasite must be fought in three different stages, and each form has a ridiculous amount of health. Sometimes different parts of its body will have their own HP bars. If that weren't enough, it steals attacks from previous bosses.
All of which deal massive amounts of damage and status effects. If you can fight your way to its core and through its defense-tightening minion, this monster will zip you across time before the battle is through. Strategy and patience will win the day.
11 Easiest: GLaDOS (Portal)
Now don't get us wrong here. GLaDOS is one of the best villains in gaming history and her personality shines through in this battle. But the battle itself leaves something to be desired. After the complex, mind-bending puzzles that preceded it, the portal work in GLaDOS' chamber is pretty simple.
It's mostly just dropping cores into the incinerator. Granted, there is a ticking clock urging players along. We won't be too hard on the game for this though. Portal was an instant classic and it's strange enough that a puzzle game has a boss fight. She's a lovely singer too.
10 Hardest: M. Bison (Street Fighter 2)
Unlike his fighting game contemporary Shao Kahn, M. Bison is actually a fair fight. Make no mistake, the leader of Shadaloo is still tough as nails. For the inexperienced player, his Psycho Crusher and other strong attacks will knock them on their butt fast. Try to button mash and Bison will level you.
But with practice and time, M. Bison can be overcome. His openings and patterns become clear. It just takes all the skills, reflexes, and technique players have learned up to that point to defeat him. Huh, a final boss that tests all the game's skills? Fancy that.
9 Hardest: Death Egg Robot (Sonic The Hedgehog 2)
Most of Dr. Eggman's (or is it Robotnik's) mecha suits won't give Sonic and the players too much trouble. The Death Egg Robot is the exception. Fought on the Death Egg Satellite, there are no rings around so Sonic and Tails will lose a life and have to start over if they get hit.
And get hit they will. The Death Egg Robot has massive spiked fists players have to avoid to deal damage. If they make it through that gauntlet, the robot will jump up and try crushing them beneath its feet. It takes twelve hits to bring down.
8 Easiest: Mysterio (Spider-Man 2)
Spider-Man 2 is famous for breaking the movie tie-in curse, but it wasn't above having some fun with gamers. Consider its take on classic Spidey villain Mysterio. After terrorizing New York with bizarre illusions and UFO-like drones, Spider-Man finally tracks Mysterio down to a convenience store he's robbing.
The villain gives his monologue and his health bar fills up three times over. Clearly an epic boss battle is in order. Then Spidey hits him once and all that health vanishes. Mysterio loses his goofy fishbowl helmet and begs not to be hit again. Easy boss battle? No doubt. Hilarious? Oh yes.
7 Hardest: Cloud Of Darkness (Final Fantasy 3)
Cloud of Darkness was already a difficult boss in the NES version of this classic RPG. She could use multiple attacks per turn and instant KO characters. But the DS remake upped the challenge. In that version, different parts of her body are only weak to certain types of attacks and it can cause status effects.
The battle is even more difficult if the final dungeon's other four bosses aren't beaten first. But Cloud of Darkness' greatest challenge may come from the players patience. If they fail, they'll have to replay 30 minutes of the game to get back to her battle.
6 Hardest: King K. Rool (Donkey Kong Country)
For Mario spin-offs, the Donkey Kong Country games proved surprisingly difficult platformers. The challenge was clear from the final boss and Kremling Commander, King K. Rool. Don't let his goofy appearance fool you. This king takes effort to dethrone.
He's got many tricks up his sleeve. He'll use his crown as a boomerang, shoot cannonballs across the screen, and try to stomp on Donkey and Diddy. K. Rool will even fake his demise and bring up the game credits at times. The pattern to defeat him can be discerned pretty easy, but settle in once you do. Beating him takes time.
5 Easiest: The Leader (The Incredible Hulk)
A final boss battle is supposed to test all the skill and experience the player has learned up to that point. So it would make sense for an Incredible Hulk game, which focuses on strength and destruction, to be an epic brawl. Right? Well, this 1994 game didn't get the memo.
We can't even call the final confrontation with The Leader a battle. He just stands there, unprotected, making no attacks whatsoever. The Hulk can take him out in one hit. Heck, there's even a power-up nearby to increase his strength. You call that a final boss?
4 Hardest: Malus (Shadow of the Colossus)
Shadow of the Colossus is a game of nothing but boss fights, so this one has to stand out. If a colossus is good for anything, it's standing out. Malus is the final colossus of the game and it takes some work just to reach him. Though he doesn't move, players will have to dodge deadly lasers as they approach.
Once you actually get on Malus, he'll have multiple weak points to hit while he tries shaking the player off. So they'll have to climb up his moving limbs and make accurate jumps. One fall means certain doom.
3 Easiest: Golem Overlord (Chrono Trigger)
Square must have been playing a joke on players with this boss. Before you meet him, an NPC will talk up the Golem Overlord as a huge threat. The monster himself will begin counting down to a powerful spell. It seems like you're going to be in a for an extended knock down, drag out fight.
But once he reaches zero, he'll forget the spell. He doesn't even attack you because he's afraid of heights. The Golem Overlord will even try running away from the battle. Just open up with all your strongest moves and you'll roll in that sweet XP.
2 Easiest: Cloud N' Candy (Yoshi's Story)
Having a boss that's defeated by a base attack is one thing. Having a boss that heals players when they attack is another. Cloud N' Candy from the N64's Yoshi's Story does both. All Yoshi has to do to defeat him is tongue attack the giant ball of cotton candy. He'll shrink with each lick until players can just eat him.
Cloud N' Candy's only defense is jumping out of the way and trying to stomp Yoshi. He even tells players how to beat him before the fight even begins, saying "You can't lick me." That is just too easy.
1 Easiest: Flash Man (Mega Man 2)
The idea with bosses from classic Mega Man is that players are supposed to gather weapons from other bosses first. Each boss is weak against another boss' weapon. But Flash Man from Mega Man 2 doesn't follow this pattern. He can be defeated with Mega Man's basic buster cannon.
In theory, he should be a challenge. His Time Stop weapon will freeze players in place while he shoots them. But more often he'll freeze players while they're jumping, out of range of his blasts. And if they've beaten other bosses first, their weapons will make Flash Man an even bigger pushover.