The 'End of Level' Boss is a time-honored tradition in video gaming history and it's hard to think of a genre that doesn't have a superior foe for you to prove your skill and triumph over. From the earliest days of gaming to the modern era, these figures have evolved and grown with the nature of the immersive narrative, which has been cultivated by some of the best writers in the genre.
This is a look at some of my favorites, bosses who tested my skill, whose look and dialogue crawled under my skin and the most satisfying take downs in my gaming career.
The original NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (...Hero Turtles if you were in the UK) was a frustratingly tough game. I remember distinctively the underwater Dam level and the hellish boss battles which sapped your precious energy. I almost cried losing turtle after turtle, seeing my dreams of completing the game vanish as each of them retreated into their own shell. Well, after roughly twenty years of trying, finally, I reached the Technodrome. In the Cartoon series, this metal cyclops is something to behold, originating from Dimension X, it's usually seen bursting from below ground to terrorize the inhabitants of New York.
This beast fires off not only projectiles but also spews an energy barrier at you and for good measure unleashes a slew of Foot Clan Robots at the hapless player. But one of the most memorable moments about this Boss is not the battle itself, but how you find it. To find the Technodrome, you must search through various caves, many of them hiding some vicious and lethal opponents. As you begin to lose turtles, the search to find this boss becomes more and more desperate. When you do, the relief quickly turns into a frantic battle to survive.
Dracula - Castlevania III
Castlevania is a recent discovery for me. It's been two years since I took the plunge and bought a copy from my local retro store in Ireland, but it's been a game series that I return to over and over again. The stand-out title for me has always been the last game released for the NES, Castlevania III, with it's branching story paths and ability to swap characters with distinctive move sets, giving the player genuine choices on how to approach the various levels. It's a truly innovative title in the long running, dark action-adventure platforming series. It's final boss is inevitably the Lord of Darkness himself: Count Vlad Tepes - Dracula.
I guess Konami listened to their fans complain about Simon's Quest having the easiest Dracula battle ever because this is a particularly grueling and tough battle. You must take on and defeat his three various forms, each having their own health bars and move sets, before finally laying him to rest. The three aspects to this demon are inventive and grotesque. We begin with the traditional depiction of Dracula, brooding complete with opera cape, seated on his throne, mocking our young adventurer. This gives way to a five faced demon head, with its various brains exposed. This when defeated, gives way to the final, true form of Dracula - the Wind Demon Pazuzu. This winged beast fires beams of fire and energy from his hands and eyes as the floor begins to give way. A mighty end to an exciting game.
Jublieus, The Creator
Bayonetta is one of the most beautiful, fluid games that I have ever played, with its intermix of sword and gun play acrobatics and tunes which you can't help but hum over and over. It's game design which definitely pushes the genre into the realms of high art. Equally impressive are the enemy designs of the angels attempting to stop our protagonist on her journey, the gigantic bosses that look as though Hieronymus Bosch imagined Heaven instead of painting Hell. It's fitting in the world of Bayonetta that God would be a woman, a nine stories tall, angelic beast of a woman in fact.
This is another multi-form boss battle with the supreme Antagonist altering the world around you as she battles your thumb blistering combos. One can't help but marvel at the beautiful and unique character design in this final boss, the environment shatters, melts and melds into stunning eyeball scorching visuals. The final moments of this fight, where Jubileus is stuck the ultimate blow and soars across the universe to be finally burned alive by the heat of the cosmic sun is absolutely breath taking. It's not every game that allows you to take out a Goddess in such a manner!
Prince Lorian, The Elder and Prince Lorthric The Younger.
Dark Souls III brings an incredible amount of gravitas to this hardcore boss fight, the narrative setup is absolutely genius. As you walk into the throne room you expect to do battle with a mighty king, instead you are greeted by something unexpected: a sickly little boy and his brother, who is a cripple. Lorian carries a mighty demonic greatsword and Lorthric is a powerful sorcerer. There's an impactful backstory to these antagonists which goes along with the amazing character design and vocal talent. Lorthic has abandoned himself and his realm to darkness as he was unable to fulfill his heroic destiny expected of him, horribly weakened by the resulting curse. He relies on his brother, Lorian, a noble fighter who readily shoulders his brothers darkness, to help protect him.
This battle is a challenge typical of Dark Souls standards. The first phase of the assault begins with Lorian teleporting around the room. This begins the fight with you immediately off balance. The second phase sees the brotherly duo combine, with Lorthric clutching onto Lorian's back and augmenting their attack by enchanting Lorian's already powerful sword while casting powerful projectiles at the player. It's an intense, unique Boss battle which possesses a unique flavor that only Dark Souls is Capable of.
For the next Boss confrontation, I'm going back to the 16 Bit Era and a game whose popularity has never waned through the years. Seven Force, from Treasure's Gunstar Heroes, is an ever transforming machine which attacks the player in an underground mining level. It transforms into seven different forms such as: Soldier Force, specializing in ground combat; Eagle Force which specializes in aerial combat or as Tiger Force, which charges at you on all fours. Each of the transformations shows off the fabulous and jaw-dropping 16 Bit sprite work the game is infamous for.
The back story of the boss is one regarding treachery, with the betrayal of your former teammate Green, who pilots the weapon in order to destroy you. As the name suggests, this boss has a total of seven different transformations. But whichever game difficulty setting you choose dictates how many transformations you must defeat to utterly destroy this challenging Boss with Hard difficulty forcing you to destroy all seven forms in one sitting! This is a fantastic Boss battle from a challenging and diverse title of yesteryear.
Final Fantasy is a game series with rich and charismatic villains, but it's the antagonist of Final Fantasy VI who captures my imagination the most. He's dressed as one of the most sinister of all creatures in pop culture: The Clown. Initially, the player will mistake him for some sort of evil sidekick until about halfway through the game, when he does something that no other Final Fantasy character has done before: He turns himself into a god, destroying half the world's population in the process.
In order to defeat him, the player must take his characters and journey to a floating continent and defeat Kefka's many guardians before facing the new God of Magic himself. After ascending a giant statue, the amazing signature theme of Kefka begins to play - appropriately called The Dancing God. At the tip of the statue we find our villian, who has been transformed into a winged angelic deity.
There's many events and themes of Kefka which foreshadow the next villain in the Final Fantasy franchise, Sephiroth. The desire to rise to Godhood, transforming into an angel and a beautiful, intensely memorable soundtrack, Kefka is definitely a 'parent' to Final Fantasy's most popular villain.
These are just a few of my favorite bosses of all time and as usual, I'd love to hear your suggestions of what yours are.