Friday, July 5, 2013

Feature - Top Ten Video Game Boss Fights

Boss battles are a tradition that spans much of the history of video games, from dnd in 1975 on the PLATO Network all the way to the contemporary bosses of today's gaming such as The Joker from Batman: Arkham Asylum. While they have become pretty much a staple of major AAA productions like the popular Gears of War or Metal Gear franchises, there are only a select few who are so good that people form lists around describing which ones they find to be the best. This is one such list.

The idea came to Tetris_King and I after watching a video made last year by Tyler Uslan for his Gameplay First review show (the series has recently ended, but the video can be found here) in which he made such a list. After watching that video, and subsequently finding other boss lists online, we began to think about what we would put in such a list, partly because there were some we thought that video overlooked. Recently the two of us finally sat down and wrote up a list of who we thought to be worthy candidates for boss selection, specifically trying to follow Uslan's criteria, with a couple addendums:

  • The Boss must be memorable
  • The Boss must be challenging
  • Only one boss per franchise could be chosen (Addendum: Does not apply to Honorable Mentions list)
  • A boss could only be chosen if we played the game they came from
  • Addendum: The last rule is applicable even if only one of us has played the game

After creating that list, it was a little difficult whittling it down to just ten, much less putting them in a specific order, but throughout the process, we always had an idea of what the #1 slot would go to and couldn't think of a boss that would bring it down even one slot.

Before continuing, keep in mind that most of these bosses are contemporary. I've seen Ganondorf and Bowser appear on several best boss lists, usually in the top ten for longer lists, but our first console was a PS2, which means that we don't have the experience or nostalgia to put such bosses on the list. As such, these entries are all, for the most part, pretty recent and if they are included in a game that has been reviewed on this blog, we will link to that review so you may read our opinions on those games.

So, you're probably wondering, who is in this immovable #1 slot? The answer is after the jump, but first are some honorable mentions and the runners up. Our individual opinions will be color-coded as such: EHeroFlareNeos; Tetris_King.

Spoiler Note: Since some of these bosses are final bosses, there will be unmarked spoilers regarding their identities and importance to their parent games.

Opinion Note: This list is very subjective and represents only the opinions of its writers. If you have a problem with the final selection, then make your own list in the comments.

Honorable Mentions

Cycloid Emperor (Duke Nukem 3D)

The main reason the Cycloid Emperor is included on this list is because if we didn't have a boss at least close to being considered retro, then this list would be considered blasphemous.

The other reason, based on my experience with this boss through the PS1 port (Total Meltdown), is that this is the last boss standing between Duke and ending an alien invasion once and for all. If you aren't aware of any shortcuts, the Cycloid Emperor proves to be a difficult challenge indeed as you run around the stadium trying to avoid its attacks as you attempt to fire away at him. Not only is taking this boss down a satisfying experience, it's also hilarious to see Duke proceed to actually follow through on a pre-fight taunt.

Bob Barbas (DmC Devil May Cry)

The fight against Bob Barbas is both creative and satisfying. Throughout a good portion of DmC, he's given Dante nothing but scorn and now the player has the chance to return the favor. The fight begins when Dante travels to the demon world, where he finds the news anchor's special broadcast tower and is sucked into a television signal. Barbas then materializes as a head who taunts Dante and then proceeds to attack with enough variations of weaponized signal static to keep you on your toes as you deliver a good punch before giving his face a straight up beat down. Between that and a couple of segments from the perspective of an independent news camera, there's something that's fresh enough about this boss to not at least mention it.

While Bob Barbas didn't make the final cut, let it not be said that this isn't possibly one of the most creative boss fights ever designed. In what other game can you say that you fought a powerful demon inside a televised news broadcast? Dante's quips during the fight not only make it an entertaining experience, it's one that makes you wonder if you will ever see this sort of creativity in any future boss fights down the line.

Metal Gear RAY (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)

Admittedly this boss is an honorable mention out of its significance to the game more than anything else, but boy is this memorable. After defeating Vamp on his return trip to Shadow Moses Island, Solid Snake is able to pilot Metal Gear REX thanks to Otacon's repairs and is able to use its power to tear through everything in his path. After leaving the facility, who should he come across but Metal Gear RAY, piloted by none other than Liquid Ocelot, the big bad of the entire series. This fight will challenge the player, partly due to getting used to a brand new control scheme, but it's memorable since it's the first time in the franchise that the player is actually able to pilot one of the titular Metal Gears. Not only that, but you are piloting the mech you were supposed to destroy in the first Solid title, which RAY was specifically designed to fight against. Important lesson: Never underestimate how great Otacon is at designing a bipedal machine of death.

Though I have not played any of the Metal Gear games, I have seen enough of the Solid titles in action to know the importance of this fight. It's always interesting to see something be taken down by the very thing it was meant to counter, and this fight is no exception. What I think helps this fight further is not only the condition Metal Gear REX is in at this point in the timeline, but also that it is still able to fight with all of its strength despite not having all of its initial arsenal from the first Solid title. This is definitely a fight that must be seen to be believed.

Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)

Yeah, there's another Metal Gear entry on this list, but there are so many great bosses from that series to choose from that it's hard to not mention a couple on the Honorable Mentions list. There are a couple of reasons for Psycho Mantis' inclusion here. One, this is a boss we felt Tyler Uslan missed in his video, and is thus the inspiration for this list, but also because of how memorable and groundbreaking he was. Though I wasn't there when he was first introduced to the world, Psycho Mantis hasn't failed to amaze all with his abilities. The challenge comes from his ability to read your mind through the controller, while the memories come from his demonstration of his psychic powers to the player and the fact that I have yet to see a boss whose key to defeat relies on the player realizing that the very room they are in holds the solution. If only more bosses could encourage such thinking beyond the dimensions of the screen.

Again I state my lack of hands-on time with Metal Gear, but I don't see why this boss doesn't show on Top Ten lists more often. Like Bob Barbas above, this is a very creative and intuitive fight, though the surprise trick on how to beat him may have become less of a surprise over time as players have described this fight in great detail when talking to an outsider. Even then, I commend the thought put into the fight with Psycho Mantis, something that has only ever been matched by the later Screaming Mantis fight in Metal Gear Solid 4. This is a fight that really gets you to think outside the box (both figuratively and literally) and I have yet to see another boss fight be handled in such a manner.

The Final Cut

10. Lewis Legend (Lollipop Chainsaw)

Lewis may not be the best boss on this list, but he earns the Number 10 slot almost purely out of how utterly badass his fight is. As the fifth and final member of the Dark Purveyors, Lewis is the zombie rock god which represents Rock n' Roll, and he certainly looks the part. When the actual fight begins, he hops on his motorcycle and drives circles around Juliet Starling as he fires bullets from his guitar gun. After he's stopped, his motorcycle is revealed to be the transforming Ellyphant, which turns the boss into an epic multi-stage battle with awesome music to boot. The challenge comes from trying to avoid Lewis' attacks and keeping up with Ellyphant and the whole fight is so awesome that I've purposefully gone through the arduous process of replaying his entire level of the game just for the opportunity to fight him again. It's a pain, but getting to fight him again is always worth the effort.

Lewis Legend is quite possibly the most badass boss I have ever had the pleasure of fighting. While the fight itself can prove to be a challenge, just the way everything screams "metal" is enough to keep you going in the fight, as well as the equally amazing and memorable rock music that plays in the background. This is especially so when you get to a multi-stage fight where Lewis pilots his Ellyphant, a transforming mecha that possibly puts Ghost Rider to shame. The fight may get easier as Juliet levels up, but this is a fight I would definitely play over and over again, especially if I didn't have to slice through hordes of zombies to get there.

9. The Queen of Hearts (American McGee's Alice)

I haven't played American McGee's Alice, or seen this boss in action for that matter, but from what I understand there's definitely a reason she's on here and I won't disagree with it, especially considering what I've been told.

So you've come to the end of Wonderland after braving several new horrors, infiltrated the castle, and reached the Queen of Hearts, the center of Alice's madness. She is the one that rules all over the land and is responsible for how twisted Wonderland, and Alice's mind, has become. Her form is twisted enough already, but once she transforms into her true self, you know you're in for a difficult fight, which is only somewhat mitigated once you find the Blunderbuss off to the side of the giant platform that serves as the stage for the final battle. She is a formidable opponent indeed, but you keep going anyway knowing that this is the answer to helping cure Alice's insanity following the death of her parents in a house fire. The Queen of Hearts is practically the physical manifestation of madness, and once you defeat her, you breathe a much-needed sigh of relief as Alice is finally released from the asylum in good mental health...until the next game, that is.

8. Dr. Nefarious (Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal and Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time)

I'll admit that I don't have experience fighting Dr. Nefarious either, but that doesn't mean I have nothing to say about it. While he's delivered some of the funniest lines ever written, and has some of the oddest quirks, seeing how difficult he can be in action and witnessing a near controller-breaking rage gives me a good idea of how it feels to face him. This is only part of the story when it comes to his inclusion on this list.

Dr. Nefarious is my absolute favorite video game villain of all time, mainly due to his quirks and being totally hilarious. Unlike others on this list, this is a boss that is faced in more than one game, but I'll try to make my reasons for his inclusion as short as I can make them. His fight in Up Your Arsenal lasts multiple stages, during which you must go through a large wave of enemies to get from the first phase to the next. It is not only getting through these enemies, but also making sure you have enough ammo to keep firing away at him that can cause some great frustration, but it's definitely satisfying once you finally finish the fight. As for his fight in A Crack in Time, while the Groovitron and Mr. Zurkon make this one a little easier, it can still prove to be quite a challenge (I've lost track of what the fight is like due to having played so many Ratchet & Clank games in a row, so forgive me). What I can say, though, is that what adds to the weight of each fight is stopping each of Dr. Nefarious' schemes; the first time it's to stop him from making everything organic robotic and the second time it's to stop him from forever damaging the space-time continuum. Still, it's his personality that makes me keep coming back for more, and I hope to see him again someday.

7. Senator Armstrong (Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance)

The Metal Gear franchise has plenty of challenging and memorable bosses, which also applies to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. But then, after finally defeating every Desperado PMC member, as well as Jetstream Sam, Raiden manages to uncover who is behind everything he's had to face so far: Senator Steven Armstrong. After managing to take down Metal Gear Excelsus, Raiden comes face to face with this man and looks turned out to be very deceiving. Armstrong is not just memorable for his insane rhetoric and desire to revive the war economy, but also the way that he curb stomps Raiden before the cyborg ninja gains possession of Sam's sword. In a confined space, Armstrong manages to test every single skill the player has learned and makes sure that only absolute masters can get past him. To top it all off, the vocal theme playing in the background is a perfect summation of what's going on in both Raiden and Armstrong's heads and makes this pulse-pounding fight one to remember. Once it's all over however, you find yourself wanting to fight him again and again to see if you can do it better and faster. This man is very powerful and throws many surprises at you, but that's why he's good enough to make it to the #7 slot on this list.

Despite never having played any Metal Gear games myself, I still find Senator Armstrong memorable, mainly for his "batshit insane" ideals on helping America and his somewhat memetic explanation of his nanomachine powers. While I cannot comment on the gameplay, I don't doubt that he's a very tough boss to take down.

6. Xemnas (Kingdom Hearts II)

There are bosses meant to challenge the player's knowledge of the game's mechanics, but then there are those who know how to keep throwing something new at you and keep you glued to the TV in anticipation of their next attack. While he's not the hardest boss in the game, Xemnas certainly fits the latter as its final boss, going through multiple stages, each one more difficult than the last. While Sora's attempts to beat him can be made easier by leveling everything up to maximum, the challenge isn't completely erased and still requires some laser reflexes and precision dodging to avoid his heavy hitting attacks. Once you manage to get past two of his forms in the air, including one where he's in control of an entire ship, Xemnas takes on the form you see above inside of a white void and uses so many trick moves that you'll have a hard time dodging his lasers, which can double as palm lightsabers, and snaking thorns of darkness. You even get to control Riku at one point, which mixes things up. When Xemnas gets down to 1 HP, you must then deflect a constant barrage of lasers from all angles by alternating between X and Triangle, where one wrong move could cost you the game. Xemnas is a very intense boss and is more than qualified for the #6 slot on our list.

This is a boss I sort of have experience with, if only because I at one point helped with the button mashing needed at the end, but just from watching I found the structure of this fight to be rather interesting, especially in terms of where it takes place for most of the battle. His mere presence confuses the Kingdom Hearts timeline a bit (even my brother has a hard time keeping track and he's actually played the games), but he is memorable nonetheless.

5. Vergil (Devil May Cry 3)

While multi-stage bosses are a way to introduce a set of new challenges when taking down a major villain, there's always the type of boss who is capable of having multiple levels of challenge in one package. Devil May Cry 3 is a challenging game, but no boss demands more skill and agility than Vergil, also known as Dante's twin brother. Vergil is fought multiple times, but it is the final fight between the Sons of Sparda that really deserves mention. At this point in the game, both have their own powerful arsenals, have access to unique combat styles and Vergil is even capable of performing Devil Trigger. Thanks to his great speed and cunning, it is necessary to not only outmaneuver him to get an attack in, but also outsmart him to be able to take advantage of what little weakness he has. If you aren't breaking your controller in agony, then your adrenaline is certainly pumping from finally being able to get through him. Vergil is a challenge, but a very worthy one at that.

Having not actually played the original Devil May Cry series, I'm not sure what I can say about this boss. However, the closest experience I have is Vergil from the recent DmC Devil May Cry, which I found to be challenging even on Easy, with even a similar arsenal of weapons from what I understand, so if this boss fight is anything like in the alternate take that I am familiar with, then this Vergil deserves the #5 spot on this list.

4. Tycho (Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4)

We've gone at length about how good the Penny Arcade Tetralogy is, but didn't have the opportunity to discuss how well-designed this boss is. After defeating the Four Below, the Startling Developments Detective Agency soon finds out that their work still isn't quite finished. When Tycho is possessed by the Necrowombicon, he reveals himself to be the final thing preventing his goal to rebuild the world by destroying it from coming to fruition. Using your best team of monsters, which are no doubt fully leveled up by this point, you must find just the right combination of luck, skill, manufactured luck and patience to whittle away at his monstrous amount of health. You may fail a few times as he continues to grow stronger every time he takes a turn, but when you've discovered the right path and manage to take him down, you'll find yourself fist pumping in excitement of your victory. It's not every day that the final boss turns out to be someone you've come to like over the course of four games.

This is a rather unexpected boss fight, even within the context of the game. This is definitely a boss that tests not only your skill at using your monsters, but also your luck. Like the Queen of Hearts mentioned previously, this is a fight where you feel a sense of relief and victory once you finally take him down. In retrospect, this is also a rather heavy fight, since defeating him means that his plans to destroy the universe for reformation will also come to pass. Part of you doesn't want this to happen, but deep down you know that going through with this fight is something that must be done. It's truly an excellent end boss to cap off an excellent tetralogy of games.

3. Zeus (God of War III)

The #4 slot may have gone to someone we've come to care about over an entire series, but #3 goes to someone we've grown to dislike, if not outright hate. While Zeus once helped out Kratos, his own son, something happened to make him try his hardest to kill the former God of War. Though Athena got in the way of Zeus' death in God of War II, revenge against the Father of the Gods can finally be yours in God of War III. A difficult fight across Mount Olympus and the insides of Gaia leads to the most memorable scene, the point where you, and by extension Kratos, can finally unload all of your frustration against Zeus and punch him until you're completely satisfied. This cathartic moment is something I wish could happen with other bosses, but that's what makes the boss battle with Zeus all the more special.

Zeus is the Father of the Gods, and this title translates very well into this boss fight. After giving his son Kratos nothing but crap since God of War II, the Ghost of Sparta finally unleashes all of his rage when Zeus presses his buttons with Pandora and the murder of Kratos' wife and daughter. The fight begins inside Pandora's Temple, where you must survive a Mortal Kombat-esque duel with the God of Lightning as he does whatever he can to defeat you. The battle continues inside the Titan Gaia as you disrupt her vital organs just to try and kill this boss in an epic struggle involving illusions and a tug-of-war with the Blade of Olympus. But even that is not enough to stop him as the clash eventually has you stripped away of all your weapons. In a first-person view, Kratos uses his fists and Blades of Exile to punch Zeus to death, but the fight isn't over until you have finished pressing the Circle button to let out all of your rage (I once pressed it repeatedly for an entire minute until my arm got tired). This sense of immersion at the end is what helps make this boss battle memorable and deserving to be included on this list.

2. Mr. Freeze (Batman: Arkham City)

Plenty of bosses get onto lists for their ability to challenge the player physically. Our #2 entry, however, gets on here purely for his ability to challenge the player mentally. Inside the icy laboratory, Batman is supposed to perform a few take downs on Mr. Freeze and can approach him any way he wishes. The problem? Freeze will hear Batman if he makes a sound and will relentlessly attack once he finds him. That's not all though, because Freeze is a boss that can actually adapt to the environment and when he recognizes how you managed to get the jump on him, he will freeze that part of the environment so you can never do that again. This really forces you to consider the entire room in four dimensions, since he's also pretty fast. Your only salvation is the fact that he can only see forward, but since when has that stopped anyone?

Aside from being a memorable villain in Batman's rouges gallery, Mr. Freeze proves himself to be a memorable boss in the Arkham series of Batman titles. While I haven't actually played either Arkham Asylum or City, I have seen and heard enough about Mr Freeze to know that, even with my skill at video game puzzles, this guy would probably give me a run for my money. While challenging, yet rewarding bosses are always good to have in a game, a thinking and learning boss like Mr. Freeze is much harder to come by.

1. Chakravartin (Asura's Wrath)

You just scrolled all the way down to see this, didn't you?

We've gone over bosses who have multiple stages, adapt to the player, are funny or become memorable thanks to feelings developed over time. However, we didn't think that any of them could top the one who takes our #1 slot. In a game filled with awesome and memorable boss fights, Asura's Wrath has one which rivals those who were designed to top the grandest of scales. He is the creator, destroyer and recreater of the planet Gaea; he is the spinner of all Mantra in the world; he is the reason that Asura is able to approach the insane levels of power which put Kratos and Bayonetta to complete shame. His name is Chakravartin, and he holds the top spot for a reason.

Chakravartin's appearance was merely alluded to with the introduction of the Golden Spider, which turns out to be a form he took on to troll/aid Asura on his quest for vengeance. After the Gohma Vlitra is finally destroyed, thus bringing a major conflict to an end, Chakravartin makes his presence known aboard the Karma Fortress to reveal that he is looking for an heir and has been training Asura to be the new creator of Gaea so that he himself may go to other worlds and begin the process anew. Asura refuses and, after receiving an upgrade back on Gaea from Yasha, goes into space to confront the creator himself. In this stage, Chakravartin is large enough to be seen despite being on the other end of the galaxy and casually throws planets and fires lasers at Asura's Destructor form to damage him; he even makes the sun go supernova in an attempt to kill him!

Once Asura reaches Chakravartin, another tough stage ensues in a one-on-one close range fight against a relentless barrage of lasers and energy orbs. If you manage to survive all that, then a trip through Naraka leads to another confrontation, but with the difference that Chakravartin has revealed his true Creator form and is even stronger than before. As you manage to whittle away at Chakravartin's life, the Creator finds himself struggling against Asura, which reveals that he has Sanskrit-labeled QTE's of his own that gradually begin to fail against Asura's. This section requires using several Bursts against him in a row, but it is then that Asura fully gets his revenge against this god and delivers one of the best lines from the game that demonstrates how protective he really is underneath. The battle with Chakravartin is long, but his difficulty and the amount of insanity that piles on will help me remember this one for quite a long time.

But then you just kept scrolling, didn't you?

Oh lord is this an insane boss fight. When you first face Chakravartin in space during the major battle with him, not only is he throwing celestial bodies at you, but he's so big as to draw in nearby galaxies just by existing; At this point the scale between Asura and Chakravartin is so large, not even the scales of Bayonetta and God of War III (which uses literal scale) are able to top this. When you get through this stage, Chakravartin tries to get Asura to take his place as Creator for the planet Gaea, but Asura refuses as he punches the Creator before him in the face, continuing the fight as you dodge magic attacks between battles in a near-empty void and Naraka. When things get too much for Chakravartin, he ends up ditching his magic in exchange for just straight-up punching back.

Once you overcome this, Chakravartin reveals his true form, at which point his attacks becomes even stronger and the fist fights become tougher. After a successful Burst, it is revealed that the boss has his own QTE's, which he eventually ends up failing as Asura overpowers him; this, I think, actually enhances the fight, as it adds another layer to showing the helplessness of the boss in wake of a much greater power. As Asura finishes off Chakravartin, he delivers a string of Bursts, each one enhanced by a growing Kanji behind the button prompt. This particular moment is intensified as Asura lists off Chakravartin's wrongdoings, ending on the Creator's biggest crime: making his daughter cry. This not only enforces the kind of person Asura is, but it also ends with the ex-Guardian General finally eliminating his wrath. Though Chakravartin can only be accessed through a bit of DLC it is a truly exhilarating boss fight and one that, I think, trumps every other boss on this list. Words alone cannot describe how epic this boss is; you must fight him yourself in order to truly enjoy it.

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