Boss encounters are the pinnacle of game design. Too easy, and the player will wonder why you even bothered to make them watch the preceding cut-scene. Too hard and they might stop playing all together, pushing them out of the mythical “flow” design state into the murky depths of the “boredom” zone.
Arcade games made bosses (and their entire purpose) were a way of cutting the player off and forcing them to cough up another quarter to continue. Early games on the NES and SNES followed this pattern of this design, but as the years went on and technology progressed, the focus fell away from this and onto other aspects. That said, that doesn’t mean you don’t get any gut-wrenching boss fights in gaming in the modern era.
Here are ten examples of some real doozies from recent years…
10. Seth – Street Fighter IV
You could pick from a number of end-game fights presented to by modern fighting games. Akuma in Tekken 7 has a health bar that could stretch across three monitors, Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat X will wreck you in mere seconds if he wants to, and M.Bison has made more than a few players shatter controllers into pieces.
I’ve included Seth mainly because he’s not only very difficult to beat because of the punishing nature of fighting games, but the fact he can switch between fighting styles at will means it requires immaculate reactions to be able to conquer him.
Also because he can change his move set on the fly, the CPU can pull off some ridiculous combos that keep you in the air for so long you accumulate air miles.
9. Matriarch Benezia – Mass Effect
Mass Effect’s final boss of Saren is a real tough cookie, but it’s more likely that you’ve upgraded your character to a decent enough level to at least have a fighting chance. Matriarch Benezia however can catch you mightily off guard, and make players who choose her as one of their first encounters want to jump back in time to change the past.
Any boss that has minions in their arena can be a real pain if the counter isn’t balanced properly, and Benezia’s Asari Commandos will be a continuous and dangerous annoyance, and her stasis abilities your squad from being effective.
You have more of a chance beating her if you’ve sunk time in your Lift ability and have some Hammerhead rounds to spare, but the Matriarch is not a woman to be taken lightly.
8. Vergil – Devil May Cry 3
Devil May Cry as a series has been home to some real humdingers in terms of bosses, with the Vergil fight in DMC 3 being a battle that stands out in memory for all the wrong reasons.
What makes Vergil a menace is that he is just so damn fast, wiping you out before you realise you’ve been hit. Often throughout the fight he’ll be completely invincible to any of your attacks, meaning you spend good chunks of the duel just trying to survive until he’s vulnerable again.
Vergil is a tough nut to crack in general, but playing this part of the game on Dante Must Die difficulty will only make your experience that much more rage inducing.
7. Father Rodin, The Infinite One – Bayonetta
The criteria to be able to fight the shopkeeper Rodin are pretty steep, needing 10 million halos and purchasing his platinum ticket for 999,999 (a real bargain). Entering this secret boss battle for fun is not advised though, even for an Umbra Witch with guns on her shoes.
Rodin’s boss fight does not allow items to be used in the encounter, so you’re already limited before you’ve landed a blow on him. Without a very strong assortment of weapons to reply, Rodin will make you regret ever setting foot in the ring with him.
He can close the distance on you in just a few frames and has projectiles that are just as deadly. If you do choose to still go head to head with him, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
6. Crawmerax the Invincible – Borderlands
Added in the “Secret Armory of General Knoxx” DLC in the first Borderlands, Crawmerax the Invincible was an absurd boss even by Borderlands’ crazy standards, decimating fully upgraded squads of four Vault Hunters without breaking a sweat.
The fact that the mission to defeat him is called “You. Will. Die.” should tell you something about what to expect from him. He’s as deadly as he is enormous, and will always be four levels higher than the host, and the Craw Maggots he sends out against you will be one level up from you. Even his minions can cut you down to size if they swarm you heavily.
Voracious from Borderlands 2 is also a ridiculous fight to partake in, but Crawmerax is the OG Borderlands raid boss that could give a veteran player nightmares.
5. Queen Myrrah – Gears of War 3
Myrrah had been pulling strings behind the scenes and making life hell for Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad for three whole games, culminating in a final battle that would make a Saint burst a blood vessel on Insane difficulty.
Myrrah and her huge beetle thing, aka Tempest, would fly around, pushing you from cover to cover while shooting huge beams at you that would kill you almost instantly. If she wasn’t trying to melt your face off, she would turn her attention to the energy generator, and if she did too much damage to it, you’d be given a game over.
If that wasn’t enough, there are periodically spawning Elite Guards, some carrying Torque Bows, that ruin your day faster than you can say “this really isn’t fun you know”.
4. Orphan of Kos – Bloodbourne
Bloodbourne is known for its brutal difficulty, and the boss encounters in particular are infamous among gamers that haven’t had the pleasure of being slain by them for the umpteenth time. You could make a case for most of the bosses being on the list, particularly Gehrman or Ludwig in either form, but Orphan of Kos is another level.
Kos is relentlessly aggressive, screaming and swinging his arm-blade around without a care, ripping your health down to nothing in just a couple of strikes. Even with upgraded weapons, his health refuses to deplete, and he’ll continue raining down blows on you. And this only gets worse when he enters his second form.
Like all enemies, Kos does telegraph his attacks but his start-up animations are completed so quickly, reacting to something that will almost certainly finish you in one hit is a tough ask for even the most skilled Bloodbourne player.
3. Manus, Father of the Abyss – Dark Souls
Like the Bloodbourne series, the Dark Souls series has a litany of bosses you could choose from and label as the hardest. The deadly duo of Ornstein & Smough, the hidden Black Dragon Kalameet is fiery customer, and the Slave Knight Gael has made countless players see the dreaded “YOU DIED” message.
Found in the DLC “Chasm of the Abyss”, Manus, Father of the Abyss is more than worthy of being the final hurdle of the downloadable add-on. For starters, he has a number of attacks with borderline stupid range on them, and don’t even think about trying to get a cheeky backstab on him, he’ll whip you off him in a moment’s notice.
His magic attacks are just as fierce, but if you are skilled enough to vanquish him, he’ll drop the Soul of Manus which can be used in various ways to gain tens of thousands of souls.
2. Ender Dragon – Minecraft
For most players, Minecraft is a pleasant and serene game to enjoy with your friends and is about the infinite task of building and living in your world. The journey to defeat the Ender Dragon though moves it from a casual roam around into a hellish experience, much like the End Zone itself.
The Ender Dragon is necessarily the toughest boss on this list, but by the same token taking him out is no cakewalk. Your aim will need to be on point and without diamond weapons, there’s no point in attempting to do battle with him. The real crux of the fight is the price of failure.
Being defeated by the Ender Dragon or anything in the End Zone will not simply back to the beginning of the fight, but plonk you right back in your normal world, meaning you’ll have to venture all the way back into the depths to start again.
1. Awakened Alma – Ninja Gaiden
Taking on Ninja Gaiden on the hardest difficulty either means one of two things; you’re a gaming god that fears nothing, or you’re a complete madman that enjoys playing various parts of games over and over again.
Ninja Gaiden is a game where even standard enemies can bring true misery to the person controlling Ryu Hayabusa, but the boss fights turn it up to eleven and test whether your gaming ability can handle the heat. She’ll fly around her arena, shooting fireballs at you and laying down vicious attacks, one of which pulls you in so she can pick you up and smash you around like a bug.
This is before she’s even evolved into her Awakened form, that gives her a new attack where she can crush Ryu with her gigantic scorpion tail. Put that on top of other normal enemies taking pot shots at the master ninja, and you might just develop an aneurysm trying to beat her.