The legendary Super Nintendo’s main goal was to deliver a console that was so much more advanced than the NES that it would convince everyone that it would ease the worries of a weary market that had been burned by incremental hardware upgrades before. Of course, the SNES ultimately offered better graphics, better sound, better games, and, for our purposes today, better boss fights.
Indeed, the SNES’ biggest and best bosses arguably helped sell the console to anyone who doubted what kinds of things it was truly capable of. Even better, the console’s best bosses weren’t limited to a particular genre or style. From fantasy JRPGs to trend-setting platformers, there’s no lack of variety in settings and themes that were used in the very best SNES boss fights. Of course, that variety is a big part of the reason why it’s so tough to even try and rank those battles.
However, that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do today. From giant birds to harbingers of the apocalypse, these are the best SNES boss fights ever.
15. Birdo – Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars
This underrated masterpiece amongst SNES RPGs helped pave the way for several of Mario’s equally excellent role-playing experiences. A big part of what made this game work as well as it did was developer Square Enix’s ability to blend entirely new genre concepts with traditional parts of Mushroom Kingdom’s past. That fascinating fusion is arguably highlighted by a battle against Birdo.
Birdo, much like Waluigi and Daisy, is now a regular in Mario’s sports and party game titles, but she started out as an adversary. She is also one of many memorable bosses in Super Mario RPG. Even though she isn’t that hard to defeat, her surprise appearance is one of those special moments that make you realize that this game really was actually going to make something as wild as a Super Mario role-playing game work.
14. King Dedede – Kirby Super Star
Kirby games are typically more fun than difficult, but the franchise’s boss fights usually do an excellent job of making up for that lack of more traditional challenges with some pretty creative conflicts. That’s especially true of this battle against King Dedede, which is elevated with one of the best soundtracks in the SNES catalog as well as its incredibly fun setting.
You also get to fight Dedede in front of a crowd of vaguely familiar faces in a boxing ring. It’s a set-up that Nintendo would strangely revisit with future bosses in other franchises (like K. Rool in Donkey Kong 64 and all of the encounters in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Dear), but it works especially well here as the fittingly fun finale to this adventure.
13. Andross – Star Fox
The original game starring Fox McCloud and friends is usually not as talked about as much as Star Fox 64, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a landmark in game design. Actually, this stunningly beautiful (at least for the time) SNES game ends with one of the most unique bosses in the gaming pantheon.
For lack of a clearer way to quickly convey the madness of this encounter, it’s best to think of Andross as a gigantic set of asteroids that gradually morphs into scarier samples of space villainy. This fight’s basic concept would be upgraded with better graphics and sound effects in future iterations of the franchise, but the original still stands out as something special all these years later. Now we just need Nintendo to make a proper new Star Fox game so we can see how Andross looks on the Switch.
12. Arctic Wyvern – ActRaiser
ActRaiser is one of the best examples of a genre-mashup in gaming history. Combining civilization building with platforming action may seem unusual, but the results speak for themselves. Rounding out this incredible collection of concepts are some truly special boss fights that are arguably highlighted by an encounter against this representation of an icy diety.
The Arctic Wyvern boss at the end of this game’s second act is graphically impressive for its time and really contributes to the lore that has been slowly unfolding at this point in the game. He’s also incredibly difficult to beat as the main strategy to defeating him involves unleashing a barrage of rarely used ranged attacks. This encounter does demonstrate the full range of your character’s abilities, though.
11. Shao Kahn – Mortal Kombat 2
There were many SNES fighting game bosses that could have easily made this list, but there’s just something special about the battle against Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat 2. Yes, he’s just about the cheapest boss fight you could ever program using the power of the SNES, but he’s also one of the first fighting game bosses that showed most of us how painful a final boss could (and perhaps should) be.
I love that Shao Kahn just hops off his throne to throw you a beating, and I even love how he starts the fight off with a super cheap attack. Of course, you know I love the way he explodes at the end of the fight when you finally take him down. Questionable tactics aside, this is the kind of fight you expect to find at the end of the best arcade-style fighters.
10. The Golden Tap-Tap -Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
The bosses in Yoshi’s Island are some of the most unique on the SNES, and the battle against the Golden Tap-Tap is arguably the best example of what made that game’s biggest fights so special. After all, it’s not every day that you defeat an enemy by traversing a lava-filled obstacle course while being hunted by the oversized tap-tap (a big, spiky, rolling ball).
This boss is one of the first in a long line of fights in gaming history in which the objective isn’t to kill the enemy, but rather to escape an area alive. While there are many boss fights from this game that were worthy of making this list, the beauty, creativity, and dread of this encounter really put it over the top.
9 . Super Macho Man – Super Punch-Out!!
There are so many memorable, and sometimes controversial, characters in Nintendo’s famous boxing franchise that it makes it nearly impossible to pick one from this SNES game and call it the absolute best. However, Super Macho Man ultimately snags this particular honor by virtue of being tough-as-nails and an effective parody of the culture that surrounds boxing and athletics in general.
Like many of the bosses in Punch-Out!!, you eventually recognize Super Macho Man’s patterns and find the opportunities to send a few punches his way. However, this fighter’s bizarre “Excercise Program” fighting style makes it surprisingly difficult to memorize his movements. Super Macho Man’s over-the-top persona also effectively satires the big, brutish fighter who thinks he’s better than everyone and has developed a tan that can only be described as “unholy.”
8. Dracula – Super Castlevania IV
It’s not easy to have a final boss fight that lives up to the most famous vampire in the world’s reputation. However, that’s exactly what Super Castlevania IV delivers with this battle against Dracula. Then again, this franchise has always excelled at taking famous horror characters and tropes and presenting unique takes on them.
This version of Dracula is as scary as he’s ever been in a Castlevania game. The boss utilizes a deadly combination of stealth and magic that demands all of your skills and reflexes to overcome. Best of all, this epic encounter is supported by one of the best soundtracks in a franchise known for its incredible music. It’s simply one of the best Castlevania boss fights ever.
7. Helmasaur King – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Legend of Zelda bosses just love to encourage you to use whatever new item you just got in the dungeon before finally reaching them. Well, the Helmasaur King is one of the best examples of that kind of Zelda encounter where you know what you have to do but still get to enjoy the thrill of executing your plan.
Utilizing the hammer you got earlier in the Dark Palace and understanding the Helmasaur King’s movements will allow you to shatter his masked shield and hack away with the Master Sword. The boss is fairly straightforward, but the gimmick was so good that it eventually birthed a whole new subgenre of Zelda bosses. It’s just a great example of that kind of Zelda boss fight that is as much of a puzzle as it is an action sequence.
6. Sigma – Mega Man X3
The Mega Man franchise is arguably defined by its bosses. That naturally makes it incredibly difficult to pick one “best boss” from any game in the franchise, much less an entire console’s worth of candidates. Ultimately, though, the nod here goes to Sigma from Mega Man X3. After all, he’s that special kind of SNES-era final boss who throws the kitchen sink at you and then kicks you while you’re down.
The boss has three different stages that are all unique and incredibly challenging. There’s the original form of Sigma, Kaiser Sigma, and finally the dreaded Sigma Virus. All three forms require precision, skill, and memorization to defeat. While this fight’s difficulty certainly elevates it, even a theoretically easier version of this same boss battle would still stand out thanks to the incredible design of each of Sigma’s forms.
5. Mana Beast – Secret of Mana
Secret of Mana‘s incredible combination of action RPG combat, three-person multiplayer, beautiful graphics, incredible music, and fantastic storytelling make it a true SNES classic. This game’s combat style was relatively rare for its time period, and that “hands-on” combat happened to make certain bosses feel more immersive than they would have in more traditional turn-based encounters. That’s especially true of the battle against the Mana Beast.
The Mana Beast is a massive unit. He practically takes up the whole screen and regularly dishes out large quantities of damage. Luckily, the boss’s sprite is so big that it makes it easy to hit him. Instead, the challenge comes more from figuring out what weapons and spells are best to use at which times. This fight exemplifies the surprisingly level of strategy at the heart of Secret of Mana, and how it separates this game from so many hack-and-slash titles that came after it.
4. K. Rool Duel – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, the best game in the series, is capped off by an epic final boss that is both surprisingly tough and a shining example of this franchise’s impeccable design. It’s a three-part fight thatrequires you to memorize K. Rool’s projectiles and movements. Of course, executing a game plan based on those patterns is where things soon become tricky.
There are a lot of great bosses in this franchise, but the second game’s final encounter is the one that really makes the most out of the creative platforming puzzles that make so many of the DKC levels so special. It’s tough to incorporate those design qualities into this kind of boss fight, but it absolutely works here. It also has to be said that this fight’s music track (which was composed by the legendary David Wise) is one of the series’ absolute best compositions.
3. Giygas – Earthbound
Earthbound toiled in relative obscurity for years, but more and more people are starting to come around to this cult classic thanks to word of mouth and some recent digital re-releases. That means that gamers all over get to experience the wonky, hilarious, frightening themes in this all-time great RPG. Appropriately, Earthbound‘s final boss, Giygas, really highlights all of those attributes and more.
The somewhat unconventional way you beat Giygas (which involves you calling for help from the people you’ve helped along the way) makes this fight special, but it’s this boss’ design that really stands out. Gigyas is supposed to represent a form of pure antagonistic evil, but the ambiguity of his true form has left gamers theorizing and wondering what he actually is for decades after the fact. In case you’re wondering, the boss is reportedly based on experiences creator Shigesato Itoi had as a child watching a horror movie.
2. Lavos – Chrono Trigger
Lavos remains one of the eeriest bosses in gaming history because he represents that most universal feeling of dread: the end of the world. You can actually fight him multiple times, which is a common choice by developers in this genre. It’s nearly impossible to beat him the first time, and you don’t have to. Losing to him advances the story in one direction, and defeating him will give you yet another different plot line to follow. The game was famous for its multiple endings, after all.
Chrono Trigger remains a symbol of camaraderie and companionship as you gallop through time, and defeating Lavos is the pinnacle of the journey to salvation.
1. Ridley – Super Metroid
Boss fights in the Metroid franchise tend to linger in your head long after you have won. Like many retro gaming bosses, they demand quick thinking and mechanical precision. However, the thing that truly separates them is the way they punctuate the game’s atmosphere and story. Few fights in this franchise represent those qualities better than the battles against Ridley in Super Metroid.
You actually fight Ridley a few times throughout Super Metroid, though it’s the final battle against this foe that proves to be a highlight. It’s a uniquely challenging battle that requires you to use nearly all of Samus’ abilities and your own mechanical skills. You are confined to a single room and asked to space jump and missile-fire your way to victory. It takes practice and the set-up brilliantly makes the most out of Ridley’s flying abilities.
Even better, this fight just feels like the proper final battle against an enemy that has been terrorizing you throughout the game. The intensity of the fight and the iconic design of Ridley’s character make this a boss battle that felt truly special in its day and hasn’t lost a lot of its luster since then.