I knew for some time that I wanted to do a list regarding that great moment in video games: the boss battle. But the problem was I couldn't figure out how to do it. I wasn't sure what the criteria should be. We usually shy away from straight-up "best" lists around here because, one: they usually just aren't that interesting and two: narrowing down what is best can sometimes stir up mixed feelings amongst us. I'm all for speculation where my lists are concerned but I would like to avoid all-out debate. Obviously all our lists are subjective but I at least try my best to back up my selections with more than just simple opinion.
So anyway, after considering "Best Super NES Boss Battles", "Most Epic Boss Battles" and a few others, I decided to settle on "Most Memorable". I hope you don't think of this as a cop-out on my part as I am well aware "memorable" can be a pretty flexible term. With series full of great bosses like Contra, Metal Gear, Megaman, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Zelda and others, this was still a really difficult thing to put together. I came very close to doing a list dedicated to "Most Innovative Boss Battles" until I realized I'm not the best person to make such a list because of my own video game experience as well as the fact that I'm not too personally interested in boss battles that were innovative anyway. Here are the most memorable.
5. Granfaloon - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This was neither the most difficult nor most important boss fight of the game, which featured many, but I do consider it to be especially memorable. It's funny looking back now as the game is going on twelve years old but even in 1997, what with the crazy surge of "next gen" games on the 32 and 64 bit systems, which were pretty much all at least partially in 3D, many gamers such as myself still craved a more "old school" style of game. Symphony of the Night delivered in its beautiful, simplistic 2D sidescrolling action. Another treat was the boss fights which reminded us of the old NES games while still adding something new. The best example of this was the Granfaloon. Found far beneath the Castle proper in the Catacombs, in a room littered with skeletons, this monster was basically just a mass of wailing, writhing corpses that you had to hack away at. The bodies would come to life when they hit the ground and come at you and even though they were fairly weak and easy to kill, there were just so damn MANY of them. And as you progressed in slashing off the grisly outer shell, the monster revealed beneath resembled something out of Metroid - another old-school side scroller with great bosses - a tentacled being complete with a devastating laser attack that could deal considerable damage.
4. Mother Brain - Super Metroid
And speaking of Metroid...This is the final battle in Super Metroid and I find it memorable simply because beating the game was such an accomplishment for me at the time. It was the culmination of several weeks' work and I had to rent it about three times (from the neighbourhood corner store), each time praying my saved game hadn't been erased. The fight is pretty straight-forward and isn't too difficult providing you picked up all the powerups along the way. But that dramatic moment where the metroid hatchling sacrifices itself to save you was pretty cool and unexpected (I didn't see it coming anyway). And even though it's not technically part of the battle, your frantic race to your ship to escape the planet before it explodes is really intense. It was another thing I hadn't seen coming (maybe I was just stupid?) and so even though I knew the way, I was still extremely tense making my way through the areas as the final countdown flashed on the top of the screen. I am proud to say I made it on my first try and that helps makes it a really memorable gaming moment for me - a great ending to a great game.
3. Ultros (Opera House encounter) - Final Fantasy VI
He may have been basically a gag character but losing a battle to him still had the same result as falling in any other battle - you die, game over. Ultros would attack you again and again throughout the first half (World of Order) of the game and he was always pretty formidable. His tentacles could bring down a character in one hit and he would constantly blind you with his ink, which was...well, pretty annoying. But it's his appearance at the famed Opera House that stands out the most. As revenge for his past defeats, Ultros vows to "bust up your opera". His brilliant plan involves sneaking to the rafters above the stage to drop a large weight onto the actors (including your party's Celes, in her stunning opera debut). If you make it to him in time, you can prevent him from dropping the weight but he does still pretty much succeed in busting up the opera as you all fall onto the stage during a scene. The audience thinks it's all part of the show, however, and you duke it out with the crafty octopus to the music of the house orchestra. It's one of the quirkier battles in popular RPGs while still being fairly challenging and its conclusion features the first appearance of Setzer.
2. Bowser (first encounter) - Super Mario 64
From the old-school to the new (relatively speaking). Getting to face King Koopa in glorious full 3D for the first time was a pretty mind-blowing moment. Remember when you first saw him? He was freaking huge! Dropped onto a flat, featureless floating island, it was just you and him. You had to run and dodge to stay out of his reach and just trying to get behind him took quite the effort. Because getting behind him was the key to defeating him - you had to grab hold of his tail, then using your fancy new controller, swing him around faster and faster before sending him for a flight through the air. Now THAT'S how you do a battle in 3D. The first encounter was obviously the easiest, you only had to throw him once, I think. And you didn't have to aim the throw like you would later on. But as it was the first fully 3D boss fight for so many of us as well as featuring two of the best-known enemies in the gaming world, it was a truly memorable battle.
1. Andross - Star Fox
This fight is insanity. I mean, this game featured lots of cool boss fights but they sure didn't disappoint for the final battle. In the end, you're fighting this crazy huge FACE and pulling out every trick you know just to stay alive. And you most likely ran out of neutron bombs ages ago. I remember the attacks, I remember the music and I remember the intensity. I've had similar experiences in several RPGs but Star Fox is a shooter and relies even more heavily on quickness, reaction and raw skill. Honestly, even I'm a little surprised this battle made number one, but here we are. It's one of the first fights I thought of when deciding what sort of list this would be and as I whittled my way down, I realized nothing on this list could actually beat it. This is "Most Memorable" and no other entry had my heart pounding more when all is said and done. Watch that Super FX Chip do its work.