Well-executed boss battles can often be the most exciting and challenging moments in video games. Not only do they present the greatest tests of a player’s skill, but conquering them rewards the biggest bragging rights. After all, you don’t see Destiny players boasting about how many grunts they gunned down; they’re sharing how they narrowly overcame that nigh-impossible raid boss.
A select few games go as far as to feature these epic encounters exclusively. These experiences act as gaming’s equivalent of Captain Crunch’s Oops! All Berries cereal–eliminate the adequate filler and let fans dive straight into the main event. With the boss-focused Sinner: Sacrifice for Redemption now out in the wild (check out my review), let’s spotlight other titles that place these grand encounters front and center.
Shadow of the Colossus
Team Ico’s sophomore title easily towers as the most famous example on this list. A young man named Wander alongside his steed, Agro, must scale and topple 16 massive colossi in an effort to revive his beloved. I don’t think it’d be a stretch to credit Shadow for popularizing the premise of a strictly boss-focused game. The epic sense of scale sells the David vs Goliath-style showdowns. A beautiful presentation and melancholy themes hoist Shadow up as one of gaming’s go-to examples of games as art. Anyone unfortunate enough to have missed out on this masterpiece back in 2005 thankfully have a stellar 2018 remake to turn to.
Titan Souls can aptly be described as Shadow of the Colossus’ retro cousin. Players battle a pantheon of mythical, stone-like creatures but from a top-down perspective. The game differentiates itself with a unique “one-shot” premise. The protagonist is armed with a single arrow used to topple bosses that drop with one hit. The challenge lies in bypassing the creature’s formidable defenses in order to pinpoint their weak point and land that one-in-a-million shot. By combining tense, thoughtful strategy with giant-slaying, Titan Souls stands as a somewhat forgotten gem of this generation.
This stylish action game combines three popular elements: twin-stick gameplay, hack-n-slash, and bullet hell, to fun but challenging results. A sci-fi sword/gunman must escape a hi-tech prison by cutting down its ten powerful guardians. These jailors throw everything but the kitchen sink at players, including elaborate patterns of projectile fire ala Ikaruga or Sin Mora. If the player can survive those onslaughts, they’ll have to master white-knuckle melee and parrying exchanges. Though an overall solid adventure, be warned: Furi’s blistering difficulty is not for the faint of heart.
God of War fans looking for another digital fix of Norse mythology should give 2015’s Jotun a look. It weaves the tale of a slain Viking who seeks entry into Valhalla by slaying gigantic elementals called Jotun. Exploration and puzzle-solving bind these battles together. At one point, players scale the massive branches of the world tree, Yggdrasil. Thunder Lotus Games’ striking hand-drawn art evokes 1980’s animation and helps Jotun visually stand out. Combat and general movement could be smoother, but this Norse-flavored boss rush offers a solid good time.
Monster Hunter Series
Capcom’s monstrously successful series centers on large-scale battles against often titanic foes. The fierce creatures behave like real animals, possessing various behaviors, preferred habitats, and unique diets. Thus, the process of locating quarry and determining the right approach to do so can be as involved as the typically prolonged fights themselves. Hunting alongside friends eases that process and makes for a great time to boot. Combining preparation, skill, and wits to bring down a mighty foe can create a feeling of triumph, and relief, unmatched by few in video games.
You may not have realized it back in the day, but the Punch-Out games are really just a collection of boss battles. After all, it’s not like Little Mac goes around knocking out trainers or sparring partners in between his bouts (that we know of). Each opponent acts as a major encounter by sporting unique patterns, special attacks, and don’t drop easily save for Glass Joe. Every match, even the repeats, feels like an epic confrontation that can push the player’s skill to the limit. For my money, Mike Tyson still holds the title as the toughest boss fight on this list even 30+ years later.
What are some of your favorite boss-focused video games? Let us know in the comments!