For a number of years between the late 2000s and mid-2010s, it felt as if video games (and their developers) were purposefully softening the difficulty of their boss battles.
With the likes of games such as The Last Of Us, Detroit: Become Human, and virtually any game produced by Telltale Studios before the company’s abrupt closing opting to do away with huge enemy health bars and action-heavy fights in lieu of more narrative-driven confrontations, it seemed for a while as if the industry as a whole had done away with the concept of a more “typical” boss battle.
Thankfully, the renaissance of indie games in the late 2010s has helped the video game industry shift away from this and back towards more traditional boss battles; ones that have more to offer players than a series of button-mashing events or quick-time events. After all, there’s nothing quite like utilizing the skills you’ve learned throughout a video game’s plot to take down the title’s ultimate big, bad, evil antagonist—even if it presents a far more challenging scenario than a more narrative-centric title.
This week, I’m covering 5 of the most difficult boss battles in video games, be they older or newer in terms of their release. Keep reading to see which encounters were picked and why!
1. Twin Emperors of Ahn’Qiraj — World of Warcraft
For the better part of 20 years, Blizzard’s award-winning MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) has captivated fans of action-adventure titles and RPGs alike. Though the game and its parent company have come under fire more recently for a number of reasons, the game’s initial format prior to the release of subsequent expansions (dubbed “Classic WoW”) presented players with a challenging series of raid dungeons that required teams of 40 players to infiltrate and take down the enemies within.
Classic WoW’s penultimate raid dungeon, the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj, took players deep underneath the shifting war-torn sands of Silithis to destroy the Old God, C’thun. Before players could get a chance at C’thun, however, one final challenge stood in their way: the Twin Emperors Vek’lor and Vek’nilash.
What made this pair so challenging to players was the fact that Vek’lor was immune to all physical damage and Vek’nilash was immune to all magical damage. To add to this challenge, the two enemies would spam each other with healing spells for 30,000 HP each second whenever they were brought too close together, forcing players to keep them separated at opposite ends of their throne room.
However, the Twins would also teleport every 30-45 seconds, swapping places and running towards each other unless properly controlled. This meant that even if players managed to wear down the Twins’ shared health bar of 1.6 million HP, a single error could place the two foes back at almost full health while the raiding party struggled to keep up.
2. Shao Khan — Mortal Kombat (2011)
Between 2001 and 2010, NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat fighting series became noticeably less innovative and engaging, both in their narrative storytelling and action. Considering the latter is the core element of the fighting game series, players were understandably frustrated by the lack of challenge each new title presented.
Thankfully, that changed when the studio opted to retcon the series’ storyline with their 2011 title, placing players back in the seat of Earthrealm’s fighters striving to protect their world from looming destruction at the hands of Shao Kahn, Emperor of Outworld. While Kahn had already been a challenging encounter in previous MK titles, the one we fought in the 2011 iteration wasn’t just challenging—it was nearly impossible.
Between slamming players with heavy-hitting attacks, constant juggling maneuvers, and taking a fraction of the damage from attacks compared to the player, taunting them all the while, this version of Kahn felt all but broken to fight against. More often than not, beating the evil emperor came down to a wild combination of timing, skill, and pure luck. To this day, I’ve never met a single person who has beaten this boss fight in one go; let alone in what some may call a “fair” fight.
3. Mr. X — Resident Evil 2 (2019 remake)
Most survival horror games are inherently more challenging by nature alone. Developers are no stranger to purposefully making controls feel more clunky, items harder to find, and enemies more difficult to down when they create games for this genre. After all, it all helps add to the “survival” element of these titles.
Ironically, “survival” is precisely what most players had in mind upon reaching the final encounter of Capcom’s 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2. After spending the entire game running from the ominous, pounding footsteps of the zombie-titan dubbed “Mr. X,” players are forced to confront the hulking beast of what might have once been a man and take him down for good. True to the nature of most survival horror games, although, this didn’t come quite so easily.
For starters, the arena you fight Mr. X in isn’t an arena at all; it’s a platform barely large enough to fit the player’s character and the monstrous zombified warrior together. To make matters worse, Mr. X’s pace is almost faster than the player’s, and the avalanche of boulders raining down on the platform from the collapsing facility overheard takes up roughly one-third of the total surface area on the platform every 30 seconds or so.
This meant that the best course of action to make sure Mr. X never “gave it to ya” again was to run, turn, aim, and shoot—then repeat the process until the game finally takes mercy on you by bestowing your character with the gift of a rocket launcher to end the zombie-titan once and for all.
4. Lou — Guitar Hero III (“Expert” mode)
If you weren’t around to participate in the hype that surrounded the Guitar Hero/Rock Band craze of music games in the late 2000s, I pity you. While this particular genre eventually imploded in on itself even before the two titles attempted a self-revitalization in 2015, there were a few years where almost everyone I knew would know how to play through at least a couple of songs on Guitar Hero II or III on “hard” or “expert” level difficulty.
As challenging as many of those songs were at heightened levels of difficulty (yes, I’m looking at you, “Through the Fire and Flames”), none were quite as demanded of players’ skill as the final challenge in Guitar Hero III which had players battle against their own manager: the Devil himself, Lou, in disguise.
The song for this challenge was, appropriately, Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” covered by Steve Ouimette. What was already an extremely complex song became a tiring test of timing and skill, especially during the solos of the song. The challenge would cause many players to smash their plastic guitar controller in frustration, as even on easy mode getting to the song’s finale was a feat worthy of recognition. Crank that difficulty meter up to “hard” or “expert,” although, and your poor fingers were in for the finger-plucking workout of a lifetime.
5. Mike Tyson — Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
Would you believe me if I told you that Mike Tyson was only paid $50,000 for Nintendo to use his likeliness in their 1987 boxing game? The deal undoubtedly worked out much more in favor of the Japanese video game studio than that of the famed heavyweight fighter, as the title went out to rapidly become a best-selling title. After all, what video game player or boxing fan in the late 1980s or early 1990s would pass up a chance to take on the boxing champion himself?
Well, as fate would have it, a lot of them would, actually. Punch-Out was released at the tail end of the 20th-century arcade craze, and boasted a difficulty to match. Prior to reaching the final fight in the game, getting past even the first handful of matches in the title required insane amounts of skill, timing, and precision. Those factors had to be amplified ten-fold when it came time to go up against Tyson himself in the game’s ultimate encounter.
If a dodge was even a frame or two off, the player would get slammed by punches threatening to knock them out in practically one go. Blocking Tyson’s attacks didn’t pose any better help either, as even bracing for a pummeling from the heavyweight boxing champion’s virtual avatar would chip off more than half of the player’s health bar. To make matters even more challenging, the fight—like real-life boxing matches—was broken into several rounds, meaning players had to not only possess zen-like concentration at the moment the fight begins, but every single moment thereafter, too.