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Top 5 Most Original Final Boss Battles

NES Bowser
Sometimes, "final" is a bit of a misnomer
Video games are all about battling. Whether it's hordes of alien invaders or differently-shaped blocks in need of alignment, the player is always tasked with making something or somebody their bitch. While some games throw an endless parade of baddies at you to defeat, most include an ultimate antagonist known as the final boss. The final boss fight is a climactic battle between good and evil where everything culminates before ultimate defeat or the closing, cathartic cutscene and credits.

Ideally, final boss battles should be massively epic trials that force you to use the skills you mastered throughout a game. There have been hundreds of final bosses that fit this description, some more intense than others. There are some--like in 1999's PC version of Aliens versus Predator where you come face-to-face with a queen alien, armed with nothing but a puny pulse rifle--that ask you to do the virtually impossible, and there are others--like in almost any Final Fantasy--that do such an amazing job setting the mood that your blood is pumping before you even start fighting.

I am not here today to list the best, the most intense, or even my favorite boss battles, because there are dozens of those lists scattered throughout the Internet already. I am here to reward the most original final boss battles, the ones that dare to challenge the paradigm and succeed in doing something new and unexpected. Though I have tried to honor the first games to do what the following five games do, I know that it is nigh impossible to check every single game that came before for some obscure, unfairly forgotten title that actually did it first. Also, I must give the obligatory spoiler warning: people who have not played one or more of the following games will be spoiled in the biggest possible way. And finally, I disclaim that I am only choosing from games I have actually played, because no geek, no matter how dedicated, can claim to have played every important video game.

Shadow Link
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Zelda II did get an unfavorable spot on my list of the best and worst video game sequels, but that doesn't invalidate how startling the final boss battle is. One expects to face Ganon, the final boss is nearly every major Zelda title, but instead, the lights flicker off and you face a dark mirror image of yourself, the so-called Shadow Link. Unless you know the trick to beating him, Shadow Link is incredibly difficult because he is faster and stronger than you are and is able to use every single one of your non-magic attacks (and is immune to your magic).

Though this idea has been seen in various forms since Zelda II, Shadow Link deserves a spot on this list for being the first time gamers were forced to fight toe-to-toe with somebody nearly identical to them in a single-player game. You try to swing your sword at Shadow Link, and he'll swing his sword just a hair faster, ensuring that his attack hits while yours misses. You try to jump over him, he jumps as well, and you collide in mid-air. You try to duck down and swing at his legs, he ducks down too. Anybody who got this far back in the day with no knowledge of what awaited them knows what I mean when I say Shadow Link made you check your shorts.

Unfortunately, while it is possible to overcome him with skill and patience, there is a trick to defeating him that even the most pathetic gamer can do. Granted, just getting to Shadow Link is a pain in the ass, but the trick--which probably wasn't intentionally included in the game--cheapens the boss fight significantly, keeping Shadow Link from a higher position on this list.

P.S. I know I've written some derogatory things about this boss battle in the past, but I have never claimed to have consistent opinions. Deal with it.

Mother Brain
Metroid 3: Super Metroid

If this were a list of my favorite final boss battles instead of a list of the most original, the battle with Mother Brain at the end of Metroid 3: Super Metroid would be a serious contender for the number one spot. It is epic, memorable, cinematic, and amazing. Back in its day, it was unlike anything anybody had ever seen in a video game climax before. That is why it also belongs here.

First of all, the final boss of the first Metroid was unique as well. After battling all sorts of crazy enemies, you expect the big baddie to be something massive and terrifying. The last thing you expect is a big brain in a tube. It's the kind of boss you'd expect from a side-scrolling shoot-em-up or something, but not a platformer crawling with alien creatures. Still, it's memorable and surprisingly difficult. Super Metroid, though, is better in every way.

The final boss battle in Metroid 3 starts the same. You go through an identical chamber and find Mother Brain just sitting there, defenseless apart from her automated turrets. You shoot your missles at the brain until the chamber falls apart and the brain splats on the floor, seemingly defeated. But then, just as you start to realize that you are trapped in a room with this lump of grey matter, it comes back to life, revealing itself to be part of a larger, more menacing creature. So you fight this new monster version of Mother Brain, but you are no match for her intense attacks. She brings you down to a single hit point and, as you struggle just to stand, she moves in to deliver the final blow...

You know what happens next: sheer awesomeness. The baby metroid you saved in the previous game comes rushing into the room, enormous after months of feeding. It attaches itself to Mother Brain and seems to suck all the life out of her. With Mother Brain collapsed on the floor, the baby metroid moves over to you, heals you, and brings you back from the edge of death. Mother Brain gets back up and eventually kills the baby, who with its dying screech gives you a final gift that empowers you with the immense power needed to kill Mother Brain and escape before the entire planet explodes. To this day, it's one of the most bad-ass final battles in all of video gaming, standing up proudly with newer games that have vastly superior graphics and sound.

It belongs here on this list because it was a giant leap forward for video games as a narrative artform. Up until this point, games had been able to tell stories through cutscenes and even little snippets of in-game action, but never had an in-game scene unfolded with as much drama and intensity as the climax of Super Metroid. It set the standard for how in-game storytelling should be done in video games, without containing a single line of dialogue or explanatory text, and that is no small accomplishment.

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-e. magill 3/22/2011


Copyright 2011 e. magill. All rights reserved.