Retro gamers relish a great boss battle. From boss design to tactics to even the soundtrack playing in the background, we live for those epic showdowns that challenge us to prove our skill and worthiness in one final bout.
The SNES featured tons of iconic bosses from Super Mario World’s Bowser in his flying clown thingamajig to the towering gargantuan god Kefka from Final Fantasy III (or are we calling it Final Fantasy VI today?) to the lumbering Kremling commander King K. Rool in Donkey Kong Country.
The classic console also gave us some real tough ones that many gamers even today dare not speak of. Did you face any of these behemoths back in the day? Did you whiteknuckle your way through and overcome, or spike that SNES controller into the floor and kick rocks instead?
Here are our picks for the top 10 toughest SNES bosses that you may have never beat and may never beat ever.
10) Lavos from Chrono Trigger
A game as epic as Chrono Trigger would be nothing if it didn’t conclude with an incredible and incredibly difficult final battle against the alien hedgehog looking Lavos. His first appearance at Ocean Palace is actually stacked so heavily against, the devs basically guaranteed you would lose and therefore would progress the plot based around that.
After this initial meeting, you can challenge Lavos at just about any point, and you’ll get one of thirteen different endings depending on when you do the deed. However, you’ll really be hard pressed to get the job done even at the very, very end, let alone anytime ahead of that endpoint.
Lavos has a massive health pool, limbs that act independently of his body, and devastating attacks like lasers that could sweep to hit your whole group. When you finally push through, he morphs into a slender robot thing called the Lavos Core and summons two flying cronies to bring the pain some more.
Even at high levels, it’s a tall order taking care of this energy-eating alien entity. For an extra challenge, try taking him down during that first meeting. Most gamers can’t get it done in the first playthrough, some won’t even succeed in the New Game+. But if you want the “Programmer’s Ending,” you’ll need to get it done.
9) Culex from Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
We were already stunned enough to see Mario and his pals taking turns in an RPG on the SNES that we could’ve easily missed the Culex battle entirely. Your only hint that something special is there is that one mysteriously locked door in Monstro Town. To unlock it, you’ll have to first purchase Fireworks in Moleville, trade them for the Shiny Stone, then the stone will “react” and unlock the battle against the interdimensional knight, Culex.
From the character design to the boss music, which is a remix of the Final Fantasy II (or IV) boss theme, Culex is a love letter to Final Fantasy. Compared to everything else in Super Mario RPG, Culex is considerably more challenging, which is probably why the creators made the fight optional.
Culex has a seemingly endless HP pool of over 12,000 and immediately drops in four different colored crystals to wreak havoc on your party from the jump with fire, water, earth, and wind based attacks. Elemental magic thus becomes useless against certain crystals.
Pro tip– bring a surplus of rock candies to toss out right out of the gate and eat those crystals alive. Also, make sure to bring Toadstool for her Group Hug and Come Back abilities which will really save your skin when the going gets tough.
He’s a tall order, but you can do it! We believe in you!
8) Giygas from Earthbound
Fighting Giygas in Earthbound is a bizarre and profoundly unsettling experience the first time. After his unofficial hype man Porky tries fruitlessly to ward you off, you move on to the true ultimate battle against the alien embodiment of evil itself.
Giygas’ appearance is amorphous and terrifying, and most of your attacks seem to bounce off of the epilepsy-inducing final boss. Unless gamers went into the battle knowing that Paula’s Pray was the real key to victory, they likely tried over and over and over to overcome Giygas, only to wind up decimated again and again.
From design to the ominous soundtrack, which only intensifies as the battle draws on, to the confusing series of steps required to lay waste to the ultimate evil, Giygas is a perplexing and seriously challenging foe that stands out to this day.
7) Dracula from Castlevania: Dracula X
So you managed to drag your sorry Belmont ass all the way through the horrifically clunky and horrendously challenging Castlevania: Dracula X only to find yourself greeted by the sinister laughter of Dracula himself.
As if his collection of projectiles isn’t bad enough, you have to jump from tiny platform to tiny platform the whole time. Dracula’s first form is less an exercise in skill and more an exercise in patience, as you get very few openings, given that shoddy whip that they nerfed since the previous Castlevania, and you have to be precise.
All Hell breaks loose once the vampire king morphs into the winged demon and starts spitting fire like he’s going out of business. You’ll now need to switch the script and be all over that, as giving him an inch to breathe means he’ll most certainly beat you down quickly.
After the arduous task that it is to play Dracula X, it’s a very fitting final boss.
6) Ridley from Super Metroid
You did your damnedest and dispatched of Samus’ main rival, Ridley, but just when you thought you were rid of him, he pops up again in Zebes with an arena that gives him much more space to fly around and spit fire at you like crazy.
Unless you’re really skilled at maneuvering through the air, you’re likely to lose track of Ridley and get surprised by spitfire until it eats your energy bar and eventually destroys you. Even if you stick on him like white on rice, Ridley’s tail reminds you not to get too cocky and aggressive with your positioning.
Ridley’s difficult to track, difficult to hit, and all-around difficult to beat in Super Metroid, but we couldn’t ask for a better battle against Samus’ nemesis than the one that we were given. It’s fights like these that made Super Metroid one of the best games of the era, and one of the best games of all time even by today’s standards.
5) Stage 4 Boss from Contra III: The Alien Wars
Here’s where we’re going to see a bit of a shift, kiddos. We’re moving from tough but doable to “are you effing kidding me?” territory. The Stage 4 boss from Contra III: The Alien Wars is the case and point of that, hands down.
Stage 4 altogether is just a total mayhem, reflex-testing, adrenaline-pumping, precision-demanding, grueling gauntlet from the get-go.
You start out on speeder bikes and, while this ramps up the cool factor, it ramps up the difficulty too. First you go through the early part of the stage. Fine. Doable. Then you take down an aircraft of some kind as it passes overhead. Fine. We’re game.
Even the Predator-looking miniboss guy is no biggie. However, the helicopter you’re hanging from towards the very end of the stage fires a series of missiles while you hang on, and guess what? That’s how you’re fighting the boss.
The Stage 4 Boss is no freaking joke. You need to be a great marksman to hit the targets and take down its shield in the first phase. You also need excellent spatial awareness to manage not to get hit by the enemy firepower or allow yourself and the missile you’re holding onto to get too close and collide with the boss, because that means you’re toast.
You also need to show mastery of the controls and not make stupid mistakes like, I don’t know, positioning yourself on the bottom missile and accidentally hitting the buttons to make yourself plummet to your death by accident. Nothing is more demoralizing than offing yourself by accident because you got too frantic with the controller during a tense exchange with the boss.
As if it’s not tough enough, there’s still another stage to surmount after this beast of a boss. Contra III, which was cool as heck, was a serious challenge that remains a tough-as-nails experience even today.
4) Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat II
“You weak, pathetic fool!”
Unless you had incredible mastery of your character’s moveset and a superb sense of timing, Shao Kahn likely mopped the floor with you a million times before you simply gave up the ghost and decided to only play 2-player Mortal Kombat II against your friends from now on.
Seriously. It’s a chore and a half even getting to Shao Kahn, as you’ll need to take down a whole mess of other fighters and then defeat Kintaro before even having a chance to fight him. Each hit he lands does 25% or more of your lifebar, and blocking does very little to mitigate this handicap.
Luckily, Shao Kahn’s hubris helps you, and you could skate by simply by praying to RNGesus that instead of laying the smackdown upon you, he instead points his finger repeatedly and taunts. One should be so lucky.
3) Dr. Tongue from Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Remember that crazy final boss from Zombies Ate My Neighbors? No, because you never beat all 40 some odd levels and got there in the first place? Oh. Never mind then.
But seriously. You shoot and juke your way through one of the toughest titles on SNES only to wind up in the laboratory of Dr. Tongue, watch him down a vial of God knows what and morph into a lightning quick tarantula with an incredibly confusing hit box.
This guy speed-crawls his way across the map, blasting webs and mini-me spiders at you every two seconds, and it’s unclear exactly where you can stand without receiving damage. To make matters even worse, he leaves webs all over the map to make it difficult to move freely.
He’s fast, he takes up the whole damn screen, he has a monster health pool, and just when you think you have him dead to rights he turns into a floating head and throws a whole new mess of attacks at you.
Even with a stacked arsenal, you’ll be at it for a long time. It’ll take everything you got to beat Dr. Tongue, and only a select few have successfully done so to date. I am not among those celebrated individuals, but my hat’s off to those who got it done. It’s a serious achievement and not enough people understand that.
2) Kaiser Sigma from Mega Man X3
Remember Sigma from Mega Man X? You had to fight his dog, his first form, and then his floating head as it took control of a big mecha-wolf thing that was a gigantic pain in the ass to take down. It took crazy skill, reflexes, and precision to get it done.
Then they came out with Mega Man X3 and made it even crazier.
You start out the fight with Sigma and he’s got a glowing shield and a jetpack. He bounces around, blasting away, but he’s overall not too bad to take down at this juncture. Deplete his energy bar and take a deep breath, because now you’re in for a real challenge.
Enter Kaiser Sigma. First things first– he looks exquisite in that chunky Gundam-looking armor. Now towering well above the height of your diminutive X, Kaiser Sigma takes up a significant portion of the screen and you can only hit him from the left hand side.
You also can only hit him in his head, which is miniscule. All the while you have to dodge projectiles, blasts, and other attacks that take up sizable portions of the screen. Even if you know the “best” way to take him down, you’ll probably need to try, try, and try again until you get the dangerous dance down pat and destroy your final foe in X3.
If you’re up for the challenge, Mega Man X3 remains an incredible play, even today. I couldn’t recommend it more.
1) M. Bison from Street Fighter Turbo II
The thing about M. Bison and Street Fighter Turbo II is that it was one of the greatest final showdowns ever in a fighting game, both during the SNES era and even today. Often, fighting games rely on OP movesets, superior speed and strength, and other BS tactics to give the final opponent a significant upper hand during the fight.
M. Bison didn’t rely on any of that. Pound for pound, you went in as equals. His moves hit for similar damage as your moves. His speed was similar to your speed. In every aspect, you were not outmatched in anything other than skill.
And, oh boy, did that AI bring the skill or what. M. Bison’s attacks were aggressive and varied, keeping even the most seasoned Street Fighter players on their toes at all times. A hasty move might result in a counterattack. A timid block might result in an easy throw for the leader of the Shadaloo. A blind bum rush might lead to a Psycho Crusher that will discourage you from any further advances.
No doubt about it, M. Bison was tough as nails, but he could be overcome with some patience, timing, and incredible knowledge of your character’s moveset. Few were able to get the job done but, to those that did, we salute you!