We like to try new things here at TopTenz and this is another first for us. Two of our favorite authors have agreed to have a verbal fight to decide who are the most difficult video game bosses. The talented writers defending their choices are Karl Smallwood and Dustin Koski. Both are long-time writers for our site and we were excited when they took the challenge. Each writer gave their 5 choices for the toughest bosses and then the other writer gave a rebuttal. See if they are able to convince you they know best when it comes to the best of the worst villains in video games. Please let us know what you think about this list. Like it? Hate it? Hope we do this style more often? Good feedback means we’ll try this again. Let us know!
First up, Karl gives his 5 selections for hardest boss.
Karl’s Top 5 Hardest Video Game Bosses
In these more peaceful times, for many people in the Western hemisphere, their most intense and physical fight is going to be with a video game boss. But what makes a video game boss difficult? That varies so much from person to person, so Toptenz consulted two experts on it to get a broader range of answers. Also, since video games with bosses are all about conflict and fighting, Toptenz decided to pit the writers against one another to see who could refute the other’s claims and sell us on their choices the best.
5. Death, The Sims.
Karl: I think I may have taken a more liberal interpretation than you when it comes to what I consider to be a “boss”, Dustin, but I’d still like to argue my case for The Sims universe’s concept of “Death” being one of the hardest bosses to defeat in video games history.
At its core, the idea of a video game boss is a person, creature or thing that stand between you and your goal and in The Sims since your goal is basically to live (which you can do indefinitely in the first game) I consider Death to be the final boss of The Sims series. What makes Death such a difficult boss to defeat is that he never stops being a threat, regardless of how much you level up your character he is always one burnt meal and a malfunctioning fire alarm away from defeating you. I distinctly recall creating a character in The Sims who only ordered pizza and had 12 ladders leading into his pool and Death still managed to beat me when my neighbour came into my house and set off a firework in my living room. In later games they made it harder by introducing the concept of “old age” meaning no matter how well you play, Death will always get you in the end.
It’s my wholehearted belief that The Sims is actually a Final Destination movie simulator and that you’re never actually supposed to beat the game, you’re just supposed to learn a lesson. And for me that lesson was normally, don’t sleep with your neighbour’s wife.
Dustin: Well, while that is thinking outside the box, I’m not sure I can go along with abstract concepts and game mechanics becoming bosses. If we go that way, then the “boss” that got me most often was the yawning abyss during the jumping level. That or maybe the thing that beat me the most often when playing games growing up was bed time.
But thanks for the reminder of my mortality.
4. Shao Kahn, Mortal Kombat
Karl: Fighting Shao Kahn is like trying to solve racism with a time machine, the further back you go, the more difficult it becomes. This is because as the technology behind games has improved, so have the ways of beating the emperor of Outworld and in the newest Mortal Kombat game, you can beat him by spamming the same move over and over again. In Mortal Kombat II however, Shao Kahn can literally block every attack you throw at him while slowly reverse-moonwalking his way over to your side of the screen at which point he’ll destroy your life bar in three moves, most of which will be shoulder tackled delivered with the force of a freight train coated in frozen mercury.
I’m not even ashamed to admit that during my formative years, my copy of Mortal Kombat 2 spent at least half the time I had it out of the case being thrown across the room and/or yelled at.
Dustin: Dude, didn’t anyone tell you? The way to beat Shao Kahn is to just keep your distance until he starts coming for you, then to hit him with a combo or a ranged attack. All the commenters that I’ve seen online were consistent on that and I can totally vouch for it after I tried that. Admittedly back in the day it was harder to get in touch with other gamers than it is now and it might have been embarrassing to ask how to beat a boss, but this was why being a really good gamer back then was not for people with any degree of shame.
3. Through the Fire and Flames, Guitar Hero 3.
Karl: Before I explain my choice, yes, I consider the harder songs in this game as bosses because they stand in the way of progress and also because I can.
Moving on, one of the biggest arguments surrounding the entire Guitar Hero franchise is which song in the series is the hardest to play. Some purists like to contend that it’s Buckethead’s finger-destroying masterpiece Jordan due to its intensity and the fact it needs to be played with a bucket on your head for 100% completion whereas others insist that title belongs to Raining Blood because the only thing that requires faster, more precise finger work than that song is giving CPR to a humming bird.
Personally though I think the title of hardest song is the song you play during the credits of Guitar Hero 3 after beating the game’s final boss, Through the Fire and the Flames. Not because the song is hard (though it is really freaking hard) but because it’s my favourite song from the entire series and it kills me that to this day, I still can’t get through it on anything above medium difficulty. Meaning I will never be a true guitar hero because I can’t play the song my guitar heroes wrote. Like I said, there are harder songs, but I don’t think there’s a harder pill to swallow than never being able to pick your favourite song because you know you can’t beat it.
Dustin: No doubt many of the songs on Guitar Hero are very difficult, but that’s apparently only if you’re a novice guitar player. Numerous professional or semi-professional guitar players note that it’s much harder to use a real guitar than the guitar hero one. While that might not seem fair and someone would say “well, it’s easier to go on a shooting spree in a game than in real life!” the fact there are more sixteen million guitar players in America alone means that there are an awful lot of people who regularly do something much more difficult than how the game simulates the activity.
2. The Guy at the End of Mile High Club on Veteran difficulty – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Karl: Despite the fact that the unnamed terrorist at the end of the bonus level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare can’t actually harm you in anyway save for making you fail the mission, I still consider him one of the hardest bosses in any game ever made due to the utter slog required to actually have a chance to put a bullet in his dome.
Basically in Mile High Club you have exactly one minute to reach the second floor of a hijacked plane to rescue a hostage who has been kidnapped. Standing between you and this hostage is a gauntlet of enemies with enough firepower to scratch Superman’s ass and level a small country with reasonably sized mountains. The level is so difficult that the only real way to beat it is to throw flashbang grenades at your own feet and run in a straight line hoping you don’t die (just like a real soldier). To top it off, if you get to the end and don’t kill the final boss with a headshot, you fail instantly while the message “real veterans get headshots” appears on screen. That happened to me after about 3 hours of replaying the level (which amounts to about 250 tries) and if I swear that if I’d possessed the upper body strength to throw my TV out of a window at that moment, I’d be writing this article from my room because I’d still be grounded.
Dustin: Well, yeah, you throw the flash grenade at your own feet. That’s where people throw the things meant to kill you. Anyway, having only a minute to reach the guy actually is a bit of a relief because it means that there isn’t too much time spent replaying the level to reach your target, even if you only have seconds to get a headshot. Imagine if this level were made minutes longer and there was more stuff you had to redo every time. That’s what it’s like for me for some timed levels like the Zoidberg level on the Futurama game.
1. Vergil, Devil May Cry 3
Karl: Throughout the story of Devil May Cry 3, Vergil is thematically portrayed as being the diametric opposite to your character, Dante his identical twin brother. He’s calm, collected and can fire magical ghost swords using his mind and in your first encounter, he utterly trounces you. In your second you’re both shown as being about equal and in your third and final encounter, you, the player are shown to be the superior one. It’s an awesome way of demonstrating how you get better at playing the game as you progress, it’s also as annoying as hell.
Because the story stated that I’m supposed to win the final battle against Vergil conclusively and because I’m a jerk, I refused to let him hit me once. If at any point during the fight Vergil landed a single hit on me, I’d start it again.
I know there are harder bosses in other action games like Father Rodin from Bayonetta and Alma from Ninja Gaiden but at least when I tried to beat those I was able to take a single hit and keep playing. With Vergil, that just wasn’t an option, because if a video game is going to give me an option to beat my virtual brother, I’m going to do it perfectly to make up for all those Tekken losses.
Dustin: If you put super high standards on yourself, you can make any boss difficult. Like you can make Bowser in the first Super Mario Bros one of the hardest bosses ever if you play with your eyes shut. It’s more revealing about you that Devil May Cry III was able to play such effective headgames with you than it is Vergil’s difficulty as a boss.
Next, Dustin gives his 5 selections for hardest boss to beat.
Dustin’s Top 5 Hardest Video Game Bosses
5. Culex from Super Mario RPG
Dustin: Culex wasn’t a required boss to beat this game. He was essentially a large easter egg. While most of the game was basically a kid version of a role-playing game with the low amounts of damage inflicted, the fact even the harder enemies were designed to be cute, Culex was clearly meant to be tougher than the rest with a larger hit count, more powerful attacks, and an edgier design. He was meant to look like a character from the Final Fantasy game series. He wasn’t even the worst part: It was those damn five living crystals he had with him. The worst was how one of them would hit you with a spell where any of your characters without a particular item would become unusable because they were turned into mushrooms! First couple times I played the game as a kid, I thought he was meant to be unbeatable.
Karl: I think it’s a bit unfair to pick a bonus boss as for one of these since by design, they’re supposed to be way above anything else you face in the game, usually purely as a screw you to dedicated players because they can’t possibly reward you with anything you’d need. That said, while I agree one-hit-kill attacks are kind of annoying, they’re fairly standard in RPG’s and with proper preparation, they shouldn’t be an issue. It’s probably a bit mean to stick such a difficult boss into a game aimed at kids, but since he’s an optional boss, you can just walk straight past him and beat the game anyway, which is the same as winning in my book.
4. Lady Comstock from Bioshock Infinite
Dustin: It became fashionable to call BI’s gameplay and story overrated, but this fight is still as intense and difficult as everyone said it was in the beginning. She’s essentially a ghost who constantly reanimates hench people for, and you have to fight her several times in different locations. She and her minions killed me time and again until I developed some strategy to approach her. And by “developed some strategy” I of course mean that I went on Youtube and looked for someone who took her down and aped their method. The above linked video has some useful advice on how to approach this.
Karl: This is the reason boss battles just don’t work in first person shooter games, they all basically boil down to “shoot the thing until it dies or transforms” and I don’t see anything different with Lady Comstock. There’s no deviation from the game’s already pretty standard formula for beating bad guys, you shoot or punch the ghost until it explodes. There’s no puzzle solving, no weak point to aim for, you just punch it. The only difficult part is the other enemies you’re forced to fight at the same time, which is a crappy thing games like to do to artificially increase the difficulty of a given fight. It’s like driving to work in the morning, the only reason it’s difficult is because of the other cars on the road, the journey itself is straight-forward and fairly boring. Like this boss fight.
3. Paula from Shadows of the Damned
Dustin: Paula is a pretty surprising villain, in that the whole game is about the character Garcia Hotspur trying to rescue her from Hell. In the end, she goes temporarily insane, sprouts six angelic red wings, and leads us on a chase through some twisty tunnel.
How hard is this enemy? Well, we need to shoot her small wings as she flies through the air, which are pretty small and fast moving targets. We have to navigate a tunnel or “darkness” will catch up with us. Darkness means essentially that we’re standing in a portion of a room which lowers our health. Oh, and also she’s attacking us intermittently and so are her demon minions. If you let the demon minions get into the dark areas, then they become invincible.
Karl: I never thought I’d say something bad about a guy called “Garcia God-Damn Hotspur” but apparently that’s the world I live in now. Similar to the last example, this boss fight is only difficult because of the smaller enemies you’re forced to deal with, it doesn’t make the fight difficult, it makes it frustrating which is an entirely different argument. There’s a whole TV Tropes page about this concept and it notes that few, if any games manage to pull this off without it being annoying. By the sounds of it, this game falls into the annoying category.
2. Sigma from Mega Man X
Dustin: I’m sure I’m not the only one who considers this one their favorite Mega Man game, but the final boss fight is my least favorite. That’s in no small part because I missed fighting Dr. WIley in his ridiculous contraptions. Sigma just seemed much less fun than that since he’s essentially a brawler, even though he has that nice cape at first.
First, you have to fight his dog, who’s a pretty fast opponent who does a lot of damage. Then you have to fight him and if you say on the ground, he’ll charge at you invincibly. If you beat this especially tough first version, then his head merges with a larger machine where you have to climb up the wall to get a shoot at him. He’s completely invincible to anything but a fully charged shot, so you have to be holding down another button while you dodge his claws and climb the walls.
You know, describing it this way, games sound less like “fun way to play” and more like “very mild voluntary torture.”
Karl: As difficult as Sigma is, each form really only has one way of attacking you, if you’re able to dodge each of those attacks successfully, you’re golden, he literally can’t touch you. The fact he takes so little damage means the fight goes on way too long to the point you’re being tested on your stamina, not your skill. It’s like drinking a beer without throwing up, being asked to do it once isn’t hard, being asked to do it 10 times in a row without messing up once is just unfair.
1. Mike Tyson from Punch Out
Dustin: So imagine you’ve managed to reach the final level of a boxing game, and then the enemy knocks you down for the count with one punch. Of the sequence where even when you block Tyson’s punches, you still suffer damage. Also there’s the fact he’s Mike Tyson in general. Even if neither of those things get you, throughout the match, he will throw uppercuts that will knock you down with one hit.
Yeah, I’m pretty confident in putting that one at #1.
Karl: I’ll give you one thing, this game’s final boss accurately represents what it would be like to get into a fistfight with Mike Tyson, you’d get your ass kicked (punched?) until you realised you’re actually fighting an old man with a very specific way of beating you up. The game is the same, while it’s difficult at first, once you learn to recognise Iron Mike’s pattern, which haven’t changed in 2 freaking decades, you’re just punching an old man who doesn’t know any better. That’s not a boss fight, it’s a PSA for the most depressing charity ever.