End of level bosses have been a staple of video gaming since time immemorial. We've seen our fair share of weird and wonderful guardians, from screen-filling behemoths to comic book supervillains. Some stick in our minds for the sense of fulfilment derived from their defeat, while others are memorable for all the wrong reasons.
We've lost count of the number of times we battled tooth and nail to reach the end of a level, only to fall at the final hurdle. We've trawled through the gaming history books to bring you some of the most memorable boss battles.
Adolf Hitler (Wolfenstein 3D)
Having one of the most evil men in history as the final boss obviously wasn't enough for Wolfenstein 3D's development team. Those folks at id Software had to go one better by equipping him with a robotic suit and four mini-guns.
The battle with Mecha-Hitler ensured that the grandfather of first-person shooters went out with a bang. There's nothing more satisfying that driving several rounds of ammunition into the leader of the Third Reich, except maybe watching him melt into a pile of bones and gore.
Cronos (God of War III)
The God of War series is synonymous with epic boss battles, and they don't come any grander than Kratos's clash with the Titan known as Cronos. Not only did this encounter showcase the cinematic capabilities of the PlayStation 3, it also tested gamers' reflexes to the very limits.
Cronos is the size of a skyscraper, and the encounter saw Kratos clambering all over his considerable frame to take out various weak points. A particularly gory moment had players yank out one of the Titan's finger nails; just one of the many reason this game isn't for the faint-hearted.
> Read our review of God of War III
Goro (Mortal Kombat)
For many fighter fanatics, Goro from the original Mortal Kombat was their first experience of a genuinely chilling opponent. This man-dragon hybrid was a powerhouse capable of tearing the other combatants limb-from-limb, and unless you'd mastered those special moves, he'd do just that.
The battle with this four-armed terror was built up from the start, with an intro screen showing an ominous looking picture of him complete with biographical information. By the time you reached the summit of that challenge tower for the first time, anticipation was palpable, and the fight didn't disappoint. The final confrontation with Shan Tsung was almost an anti-climax.
Mother Brain (Super Metroid)
As an oversized brain in a tank, Mother Brain isn't going to win any beauty pageants in the Nintendo universe, but she did play host to one of its greatest battles when locking horns with Samus Aran at the end of Super Metroid.
Players expecting a 16-bit rehash of the Mother Brain encounter from the NES original were given quite the shock when the game's antagonist sprouted a hideous body mid-way through the climactic fight. There were few more challenging boss fights around, but players were rewarded with an equally inspired ending.
Sephiroth (Final Fantasy VII)
Sephiroth is perhaps the most iconic villain from gaming's biggest RPG franchise, and the final confrontation against him in Final Fantasy VII reflected this in difficulty and scope. The stage for the clash was set when the One-Winged Angel delivered that fatal blow to Aeris, and payback never felt so good.
Sephiroth took on multiple forms during the battle with Cloud and his companions, each more formidable than the last. After gruelling showdowns with screen-filling incarnations, the player had the privilege of delivering a most satisfying coup de grace with the group leader.
Mr Freeze (Batman: Arkham City)
There were several boss fights from Rocksteady Studios' Batman titles that could have made this list. The Scarecrow encounters from Arkham Asylum were contenders, as was the showdown with Ra's al Ghul and his sandy assassins from Arkham City, but none tested players quite like Mr Freeze.
Getting the better of Dr Victor Fries required players to make full use of their arsenal and get creative with those takedowns. Employing this level of strategy encouraged players to think like Batman, and isn't that what these games were really about?
> Read our review of Batman: Arkham City
Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid)
Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis possesses all of the key ingredients of an effective villain. From the gas mask concealing his disfigured face to his ominous vocals, this mind-reading foe is like something straight out of a horror movie.
However, it wasn't just the Mantis's chilling appearance that made Solid Snake's battle with him one for the history books. Breaking the fourth wall, the villain read the player's memory card and made the controller vibrate using his psychic powers. The only way to prevent him from reading your mind was to plug the pad into port #2. Ingenious stuff!
> Read our review of Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Ganondorf / Ganon (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Considering The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was tipped to become one of the greatest games of all time prior to release, Nintendo had to save something special for its conclusion, and the dual contest against Ganondorf and his monstrous alter ego was a fitting end to an epic adventure.
The battle began with Link deflecting his nemesis's magical attacks back at him in what felt like an insane game of tennis. Just when players thought that victory was at hand, the hideous Ganon rises from the ashes and wreaks havoc. This is two epic boss battles for the price of one.
> Read our review of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time HD
Dracula is one of the most iconic villains ever to emerge from the world of nightmares, so Konami had to do him justice when using him as the final boss in the NES classic Castlevania. What they came up with still fills gamers with terror to this day, mostly because of the cruel level of difficulty.
Like the rest of Castlevania, battling everyone's favourite vampire was an endurance test. It was essentially two boss fights in one. Defeating the Count in his regular form sparked his transformation into an indescribable monstrosity, and that's when hell broke loose. Combining the most awkward movement patters with attacks capable of draining half of your health, Dracula was no less terrifying here than he was on screen.
> Retro Corner: Castlevania
The Colossi (Shadow of the Colossus)
Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus consists of nothing but mind-blowing boss fights, and it's impossible to single one out for praise. All 16 of the Colossi represent some of the most memorable, not to mention challenging, clashes in gaming history.
These battles combined nail-biting action with puzzle-platforming as the protagonist struggled to scale enemies the size of small mountains to administer damage to their weak points. Each encounter was wholly unique, and the desire to find out what your next formidable opponent looked like was enough to keep players hooked from start to finish.
> Read our review of Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
What are your favourite video gaming boss battles? Write a comment below!