Readers discuss the most enjoyable boss encounters of recent years, including the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4 and Bayonetta.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Fellows, and was limited to games from the PlayStation 3, 4, or 5 era (although Shadows Of The Colossus got mentioned a lot, thanks to its PlayStation 4 remake).
The consensus was that boss battles are still an important feature for modern action games, with titles as recent as Metroid Dread being praised for their interesting set pieces.
Never the End
The End in Metal Gear Solid 3 is one of my favourites. Rather than the usual early frantic mayhem of finding weak spots you’re given a vast area of jungle to vanquish the legendary sniper any way you wish to and can do so at your own leisure.
Final encounter with Malus in Shadow Of The Colossus. An astonishing artistic achievement for a PlayStation 2 game culminates into one of the most atmospheric battles ever, especially after the traumatic loss of Agro.
Nemesis in Returnal. The whole game is fantastic and this guy is a 3D bullet hell maelstrom.
Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’s shark fight. Yes, he’s not super tough but in terms of sheer visual spectacle it’s unrivalled. It really feels like a Nintendo boss fight from a 2030 Mario game.
Bloodborne’s Abhorrent Beast in the Chalice Dungeon. Half of the other bosses in this masterpiece could take this spot. Father Gascoigne, Lady Maria, and the rumble on the beach with Orphan of Kos (though some say Kosm) are all unforgettable but this was my favourite. The little tricks like rushing you if you heal added an extra layer and I loved his final phase. How this game avoided nominations for the best game ever made is beyond comprehension.
Boss battles are a vital ingredient for me. From Bayonetta to Zelda and even ones in Gynoug (being re-released soon) they’re a source of pain and pride in equal measure.
Might just be recency bias, but my favourite modern era boss battle is Z-57 in Metroid Dread.
I think I like it so much because it’s like older style boss battles with plenty of different patterns that are fun to work out how to dodge, while simultaneously controlling a character that is super responsive.
Good boss battles aren’t as prevalent these days, though surprisingly most of my recent faves are in games that were Western developed: Sonic Mania, Cuphead, and the aforementioned Metroid Dread (though that was a collab with Nintendo).
Speaking of Nintendo, I loved the way you strike the final blow against the last boss in Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I just couldn’t land it for 20 minutes before the (very simple) solution hit me over the head. The final, and best, usage of the game’s mural gimmick, which itself was a fantastic mechanic.
I was also very impressed by the Scarecrow boss levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum, which were very creative (although the Bane Venom bosses in the same game were awful).
First boss that comes to mind is fighting Jecht on Final Fantasy 10 but I guess PlayStation 2 is no longer modern era!
PlayStation 3 best boss is fighting Liquid/Ocelot… I’m getting tingles just thinking about it.
PlayStation 4 best boss? Probably the first mini-boss of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, before the chained ogre. This guy took me about 20 attempts but once I had him I knew I would be able to forge ahead and get to the end of the game, culminating in that awesome final boss with multiple phases.
I would say fighting your dad in Final Fantasy 10 and the nostalgia inducing Metal Gear Solid 4 finale give me fonder memories of final bosses. Don’t think I died or found either too challenging, but they were both very impactful.
Sekiro was more of a pat myself on the back victory.
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I have a lot of love for the dragon bosses in both Dragon’s Dogma and Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning. I’ve downloaded it on my PlayStation 4 as it’s being given away for free to PSN users this month. The character creation options are… rubbish. I had forgotten by how much. Seriously, Oblivion and Skyrim are better. Hell, even the first Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Nah, that’s a bit too mean. But the final boss was fantastic.
As I didn’t complete Super Mario Galaxy 2, I feel that Odyssey has had the best bosses in the series thus far. The final bosses of Undertale surpass those in Persona 5 – even though the bosses in Persona 5 are pretty clever. A Hat In Time shone in this area as well. My favourites being the Snatcher and… a haunted outhouse.
If you were to force me to name the best boss of the eighth generation then I would have to say it’s Maligula from Psychonauts 2. It’s bloody amazing and thematically similar to Pious Augustus in Eternal Darkness. I should say no more than that, of course.
But, of course, Bayonetta is still the highest standard if you’re going to count games from the seventh generation. The Platinum standard, you might say. One that I don’t think even they have matched. (I haven’t played Bayonetta 2 – but neither Astral Chain or NieR Automata were quite as good).
Seriously, if you think there’s been a better boss since Jubileus, I want to play it. It’s everything you could want from punching God in the face and more. You have to steer her soul into the sun and then smash up her stone corpse before it crashes back down to Earth. I mean, how do you top that?!
My favourite modern boss battles are in Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 and the No More Heroes games. I love the bright and sunny graphics of the Super Mario games and the inventive bosses and ways of dispatching of said bosses. When I am playing a 3D Mario I always have a big grin on my face as the games are super fun and very uplifting.
I’m getting No More Heroes 3 for Christmas so haven’t played that yet but I love the various bosses in No More Heroes games as they are very individual and quirky and Suda51 has really got some imagination, in a good way, with his games. I’ve also been playing Shadow Of The Colossus remake recently on PlayStation 5 and I like the boss fights of that game, although I was struggling with colossi 9 as I found it quite difficult and frustrating compared to the others I have defeated so far. Just realised that that game is from the PlayStation 2 era, which was when I first completed it but I am playing the remake on PlayStation 4 so I hope that is OK for this topic.
I do like boss battles if they are done well and are not too frustrating, but I have had to quit games in the past that have got too hard at a boss or final boss. I quit Guacamlee 1 at the final boss, as I found it too hard which I was disappointed about having almost completed the story and I never started 2 because I hadn’t completed 1’s story.
I also struggled with the final boss on Metroid Prime 1 on the GameCube, and I struggled with it so much that I deleted my save after so many failed attempts. Outland by Housemarque on Xbox 360 was another one I got stuck on for a few years, as in that game if you started a boss battle you
couldn’t leave until you had defeated it.
Eventually I used a YouTube guide three or four years later and I got past that boss and within a few days I completed the rest of the game, which was not as hard as that boss I got stuck on (the flying dragon) and saw the ending which I was very pleased about.
I think lots of people will mention some amazing examples by FromSoftware and I’m struggling not to dwell on them too much. Still, I’ll quickly name drop Artorias Of The Abyss and Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower from the DLC for Dark Souls and Bloodborne, respectively. Both incredible smaller scale duels that are more intimate than the typical monstrous encounter but all the more satisfying for it.
My focus, though, will be on two more recent games, one of them still by From because they clearly deserve it.
I often feel like too many Soulsborne fans didn’t click with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and I admit it probably took me a while to understand the timing and rhythm required to posture break enemies. I spent most of the first playthrough chipping away at enemy health instead, fully aware I must be missing a trick.
But when you start to understand how the game punishes you for being too hasty with your strikes and you settle into the groove needed to properly defeat each enemy as the game intends, there are few more satisfying fights in gaming. The best example being each stage of the final boss in the game.
You start off facing an antagonist you’ve encountered a couple of times before but if you’ve done your homework you can destroy him as if you’re Neo in that corridor at the end of The Good Matrix™. But good luck with the subsequent three phases as the game severely punishes you into remembering everything it has taught you and demands that you execute it all with perfection. When you do, it’s like the game itself has become a cross between Mr Miyagi and Pai Mei from Kill Bill.
As such, of course it has to culminate in you pulling off the most powerful move you’ve learned to devastating effect, but unlike so many cool action climaxes in games nowadays (read: God Of War), you’re more in control here as you bring the full force of your enemy’s power down on top of him.
The other boss I wanted to highlight is Hyperion from Returnal. I don’t actually know if there’s much that’s really memorable when it comes to attack patterns or visual design but everything leading up to the boss in terms of atmosphere and sound (including the ambient foreshadowing music from the very start of the area) is something that’ll really stick with you.
It’s a bit reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica’s treatment of a certain well-known tune and I’ve actually loaded up YouTube just to listen to the amazing pipe organ arrangement that just builds and builds to an almost unbearable peak. I’ll even stick my neck out and say it’s also an homage to Zelda: Ocarina Of Time’s final ascent of Ganon’s tower.
I suppose I wanted to include both these examples to underline how a great boss fight can be determined by a range of varied factors, from action to presentation.
Hard to top
I bloody love a good boss, so this Hot Topic has been hard for me to narrow it down to just one from so much choice. I was initially going to pick from Cuphead or Sekiro, and I think The Last of Us 2 deserves special mention for some stonking boss encounters. However, and very mild spoilers for Devil May Cry 5, it’s that game’s final boss that stands out in recent memory.
As well as being a technically incredible fight it feels like an amazing bookend to the game and even the whole series up to this point. The boss’ identity certainly wasn’t a surprise, but that didn’t diminish the impact it had.
The fact that you get to smash them up as another character afterwards, as a sort of victory lap to the game, was just icing on the cake and the only worry I have about Devil May Cry 6 is how they’re going to top its predecessor.
Some say Kosm
The Orphan of Kos was probably the toughest boss fight on New Game+++ in Bloodborne’s DLC. New Game Orphan wasn’t so bad. The New Game +++ version, like Ludwig the Holy Blade, is the one I look back on as frustrating, but I also have positive memories from overcoming defeat to take the victory.
But the Soulsborne games are pretty much like that in general anyway. From a storyline perspective Final Fantasy 7’s Sephiroth and Liquid (Revolver) Ocelot in Metal Gear Solid 4 are also great.
From a game mechanics point of view, I find games like the more modern Zelda and Mario games up there. Kingfin in Super Mario Galaxy was a pretty interesting and tense experience, fighting this Leviathan type creature. But Bayonetta to me was the best one, from the first game on the PlayStation 3. The already epic game takes you from the battlegrounds amongst the landscapes of Terra Firma to the skies above, taking on many alien celestial angelic entities, getting more epic all the time!
You then reach the outer atmosphere and on into space to take on the alien god itself – Jubileus or the creator! Defeating this boss is by epically booting it into the sun after an epic battle. Then after, along with your rival Jeanne, you very violently take apart the statue on its way back to earth, and together destroy the physical part or vessel of the main boss of the game.
Truly breathtaking and such a great rush visually and technically, a memory which will definitely live with me for a long time. Modern day bosses are just as good as the retro bosses from the past but in their own respective way. A well-designed boss, I think, is really key as the icing on the gaming cake, changing a good game into an all-time great.
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