Bosses have been around ever since video games were first made. They come in many shapes and sizes; some re-appear across a series and others have fallen by the wayside but the very best ones linger long in the memory. Here is our list of the Ten Greatest Video game Bosses of all Time....
M Bison may be fantastically hard. He may have the moves. He may, indeed, fulfil all the prerequisites of being a great boss, but I can’t take him seriously. His name shouldn’t be “M Bison”. He’s called “Vega” in the Japanese version. “M Bison” in the Japanese version is the boxer who looks remarkably like Mike Tyson. Capcom changed the name in the West because they were worried that Iron Mike might take them to court. I don’t really understand why they decided that calling the boxer “M Bison” would be a good idea in the first place (surely Mr Tyson is aware of Japan) and I’m certainly not sure why that means they had to call this large Russian looking fella “M Bison” instead. Whatever, maybe they’d had a heavy weekend or maybe it was a bet - I just wish they’d called him something else and then we could focus on him instead of his name.
When Sega developed Sonic the Hedgehog in the early 90’s they needed an arch-enemy for him to battle. They had a blank slate, plenty of money and some of the company’s greatest creative minds at their disposal. So what did they come up with? Well, after lots of thought, collective head-scratching and false starts they came up with a rotund, Theodore Roosevelt lookalike, mad scientist with a massive red moustache and a predilection for toddler tantrums when things don’t go his way. Is it any coincidence that this was released in the same year as Street Fighter II? Maybe they were all at the same party.
Thargoids appear in the classic 1984 game Elite. Elite doesn’t have stages, or an end, so bosses in the traditional sense are pretty redundant. What Elite does have, however, is the frankly terrifying witchspace. Witchspace is hyperspace’s evil twin, and sometimes the player ends up there by mistake if a planned jump goes wrong. Witchspace is also home to the Thargoids, a race of warlike insects who will attack anybody who stumbles into their territory. They are infinite and will keep coming until the player dies. The only way to escape is to have enough fuel left to jump back out - otherwise it’s game over. Thargoids are a boss that can never be beaten, and they made everybody think twice before pressing that jump button.
Bowser is Mario’s greatest nemesis. First appearing in Super Mario Bros, he has appeared in pretty much every Mario game since. His aims are simple - rule the world, marry the Princess (I’m not even going to think about how that would work) and defeat Mario. His methods also follow a similarly tried and trusted pattern - kidnap Princess Peach, construct some kind of trap for the ubiquitous plumber and then invest heavily in missiles with angry faces and turtle henchmen. However, as much as this demonstrates his lack of innovation and an apparent inability to learn from past experience there is always a place in the world for the dependable and the reliable. You know where you are with Bowser and for that he should be applauded.
It is hard to pick the best boss from a game like Dark Souls. It is a game absolutely, creakingly filled to the brim with great bosses. From the Freudian nightmare that is Gaping Dragon, to the jaw-clenching difficulty of Four Kings - the game provides endless challenges and high points. However, there are two bosses that stand out even in this exalted company. Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough are a great team. One is all quick lunges, the other pure power - and together they are almost unbeatable. They attack in tandem, hounding you around a massive ornate hall, smashing stone pillars as they go. The chances are that you will be smeared across the floor in pretty short order but, if you get particularly lucky, then you might kill one of them. At which point the other one will absorb his fallen friend’s power and turn into a massive, even more lethal version of himself. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? In a game as wonderful as Dark Souls it takes something special to stand out from the crowd, but Ornstein and Smough manage it brilliantly.
Donkey Kong is the daddy of all game bosses. He was a boss when Mario was still just an unnamed Italian plumber. Since then he has gone through some big changes (primarily from villain to hero) and has come a long way from sitting on top of a frankly rickety-looking girder and ladder based structure chucking down barrels. He now has his own side kick, a blossoming kart franchise and he’s appeared in 468 different Donkey Kong games across every conceivable Nintendo platform. Well done DK.
Psycho Mantis is memorable. From the outfit (gas mask and bondage gear, a brave look) to the actual fight itself (he can read your memory card and make the controller vibrate) he makes quite an impression. However, my overriding emotion when I think of him is pity. His mother died during childbirth, which made his father hate him. When he found this out with his psychic powers he destroyed his entire village, killing everyone, and burning himself extensively in the process. By the time that gung-ho ubermensch Solid Snake encounters him things have gone from bad to worse. He has taken on the personality of a serial killer and, let’s face it, he’s a bit messed up. Unfortunately he doesn’t receive the positive intervention that he is so clearly crying out for and is, instead, unceremoniously killed. Yeah! Go Snake! You’re such a hero.
Ah, Sephiroth. Where would any self-respecting list of villains be without him? There are some things that the Japanese do very well and floppy-haired, katana-wielding, planet-destroying, lifeforce-merging, meteor-summoning, angst-ridden, dysfunctional, seething manga anti-heroes are definitely one of them. However, even with this in mind, Sephiroth takes it to a whole other level. A normal villain might want to rule the world, not Sephiroth. He wants to destroy the world, merge with its lifestream and become a god. You can’t fault him for ambition. Not even that but he also finds time to pick on girls in his spare time. Killing Aeris ranks up there as one of the greatest crimes ever committed in a video game, which makes it all the more satisfying to finally get to face off with him. The only problem is that it’s not really Sephiroth you’re fighting, it’s his extra-terrestrial symbiote/mum. Did I say that the Japanese do a few things very well? Well, incomprehensible plots are another one.
OK. Let’s make something clear. I KNOW that this isn’t a Hitler robot. I KNOW that this is, in fact, just Hitler in an armoured power suit - with 4 miniguns on his arms. And I am sure that there is a discussion to be had about what turning a man who killed millions of people into a comedy video game villain says about our society. You are more than welcome to have that discussion somewhere else. For the moment I would like you to really, really look at that picture. That is Hitler in an armoured power suit - with four miniguns on his arms. I’m not sure what else even needs to be said.
Who doesn’t love a homicidal, testing-obsessed robot? Nobody, that’s who. GLaDOS isn’t just one of the greatest bosses of all time, she is one of the greatest comedy characters ever created. Portal is truly brilliant but it just wouldn’t be the same without GLaDOS’ dulcet tones guiding you, encouraging you and then messing with your head and talking about cake. Imagine for a minute that she didn’t provide the commentary for Portal, imagine that she didn’t appear in Portal 2 as a potato with a bird phobia, imagine the whole cake thing had never happened - she would still get in this list just for her song Still Alive. THAT is how good she is. Bow down to her, acknowledge her and then chop her into bits and chuck her in a blast furnace. It’s what she would have wanted.