The Nintendo 64 was an unusual console. While popular at the time of its release, and home to some all-time classics like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the hardware also received plenty of criticism for sticking to cartridges, which badly limited what developers could do compared to the original PlayStation and its CD-ROM drive. That also led to poor third-party support and one of the smaller libraries of any Nintendo console.
But time has been kind to the N64, with more modern gamers praising the system for the quality and innovation of its games (even if it lacked in quantity of titles). As Nintendo’s first dedicated 3D console, the N64 also gave us plenty of epic boss encounters that its predecessors could never handle. Many of these boss battles still continue to influence games to this day, while others simply deserve to be remembered more than they often are.
15. Monster Ock – Spider-Man
Long before Insomniac’s beloved open-world games, Neversoft took a crack at adapting the Spider-Man comics into an action game that was pretty damn great. It wasn’t open-world, but it still offered plenty of swinging between buildings, wall-crawling, and even some surprises for long-time Spider-Man fans.
The game’s biggest surprise was probably this monstrous final boss chase triggered by the Carnage symbiote fusing with Doc Ock. The boss’ design was legitimately freaky, and it took some real skills to evade all the obstacles in the quickly destructing base and escape this combination of Spidey’s most fearsome foes.
14. Final Battle – Mischief Makers
Mischief Makers is a great game that was the victim of bad timing. As a 2D platformer on the N64, most gamers passed it over for better-looking 3D games that pushed the new hardware. But that just means they overlooked a fun, innovative title that utilized a unique shaking and tossing mechanic to defeat enemies. Plus, it never gets old hearing Marina yell “Shake! Shake!”
As is something of a tradition in anime-inspired media, Mischief Makers culminates with three prior bosses joining forces and forming a giant robot that will repeatedly attempt to stomp and fire its fist at Marina. But with proper timing, that’s no match for her grab-and-shake attack. If Mischief Makers had just been released a few years earlier or later, both it and this incredible final fight would probably be much more fondly remembered.
13. Wizpig – Diddy Kong Racing
For 25 years, gamers have been debating whether Diddy Kong Racing or Mario Kart 64 is the superior Nintendo 64 racer. So, which is actually better? Well, they’re both fantastic games, but only one features epic boss battles against an evil pig wizard, and that might be enough to give Diddy Kong Racing the edge.
You actually have to race Wizpig twice to beat the game. The first time, you’re in a kart and he runs around a track. The second time, you take to the air in a plane as he rides a rocket. Either way, you have to be pretty much perfect to cook his bacon once and for all. It’s probably the most challenging race the N64 had to offer.
12. Master Hand – Super Smash Bros.
The Smash Bros. series has come so far over the last two decades that it’s easy to forget how basic the original game was. 1999’s Super Smash Bros. featured just 12 playable characters (all from Nintendo franchises), and a simple single-player mode that concluded with a battle against Master Hand. Of course, getting to the battle against Master Hand and beating the game’s final boss are two different matters entirely.
After vanquishing so many humanoid characters, it was a real challenge to deal with a foe who didn’t follow the usual rules. Master Hand could float all over the screen to smack, punch, and somehow fire bullets at you. And instead of knocking him off the level like with every other enemy, you had to whittle down his health until he was vanquished in a fiery explosion and eerie scream. This still stands out as one of the most memorable fighting game boss fights of all time.
11. Tomegatherion – Body Harvest
Body Harvest is a fairly obscure title, but it’s always interesting to revisit. Developed by Rockstar North (then known as DMA Design), Body Harvest features a lot of the ideas the studio would fully explore in Grand Theft Auto III just a few years later. The game even features massive open-world maps you can explore at your leisure, and the ability to hijack almost any vehicle.
However, Body Harvest has more of a sci-fi adventure that culminates with a final battle against a tower terror on an alien comet in the then-far flung future of 2016. Tomegetherion is a big, nasty insectoid beast that will try to take you out with minions and lasers. Thankfully, staying the course in your trusty hovercraft will eventually destroy the alien and save humanity once and for all. The scope and challenge of this encounter make it one of Rockstar’s most epic final missions.
10. Thunder – Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter promised the chance to shoot the ever-loving hell out of dinosaurs, and it delivered (even if it was a little janky). It’s still fondly remembered by most of us who grew up with an N64 for delivering such an over-the-top and unique FPS experience. While there are plenty of raptors to fire hot lead into throughout the game, the main event is Thunder: the bionic pet T-rex of the game’s big bad, The Campaigner. Ok, so naming enemies wasn’t the game’s strong suit.
Still, this battle delivers everything a dino fan could hope for, with a towering T-rex stomping and chasing you around the room. But the bionic upgrades make this thing even more dangerous so it can also shoot lasers and breathe fire. Scientifically accurate? Probably not, but it’s tons of fun to fight.
9. King Krusha K. Rool – Donkey Kong 64
Donkey Kong 64 is a big game (arguably too big). You have to find hundreds of collectibles, plus clear the original Donkey Kong and Jetpac to even get to King Krusha K. Rool. When do get in the ring with him, you’re in for one of the longest boss fights on the N64, and if you die at any point, you have to start all the way at the beginning.
Set in a boxing ring, you take control of all five playable Kongs through a maximum of 12 rounds as they use their unique abilities to put King Krusha K. Rool down for the count. Donkey Kong needs to head to blast barrels in each corner, Diddy Kong takes to the air to shoot targets that drop spotlights on the giant lizard, and Tiny Kong shrinks down to miniature size to fight the boss’s feet. It’s an extremely elaborate boss fight fitting of such a massive game, but it also can be incredibly frustrating.
8. Skedar Leader – Perfect Dark
Perfect Dark was actually kind of a weird game. Originally envisioned as a direct sequel to GoldenEye 007 that also would have starred James Bond, Rareware had to change directions after losing out on the Bond license. But instead of just doing a straight-up first-person spy shooter, Perfect Dark took a hard sci-fi turn about midway through, introducing an extraterrestrial conspiracy amidst a trip to Area 51.
By the end of the game, Joanna Dark is stuck on an alien world and finds herself face-to-face with their big old ugly leader. You’ve got to shoot the alien repeatedly to weaken its shields, then shoot off pieces of the spiky structure behind it until they all fall on the alien and the world is saved. Maybe it’s not the most creative boss fight, but it was actually pretty novel for a first-person shooter in the year 2000 and an obvious improvement over Goldeneye‘s single-enemy showdowns.
7. D’Etoile – Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Mystical Ninja took a lot of basic gameplay ideas from Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time and mixed them with a whole lot of Japanese culture and absurdity to create one of the most bizarre and wonderful games on the N64. Unfortunately, it also didn’t exactly light up the sales charts in the West. While most of the game is played from a third-person perspective as Goemon and his pals, a handful of boss battles (including this final fight against D’Etoile) mix things up by putting you inside a giant mech.
First, there’s a brief music video and a cool little running section (since your mech is on roller skates, naturally). Then it’s time to jump into first-person mode and head into space to stop D’Etoiile from turning feudal Japan into a giant performance stage (yeah, the game gets really weird). This is a difficult boss with no real pattern, but if you just keep punching and shooting, eventually it blows up and Japan is forever saved from the threat of poorly produced musical theater. For an obscure third-party game, it’s a surprisingly epic finale.
6. Andross – Star Fox 64
Star Fox 64 is one of the earliest games to really create a cinematic experience. It only takes about an hour to beat (even multiple paths don’t make it too much longer) but the adventure feels so much bigger than that. Your squad really grows as people (or animals, in this case), and the whole story is perfectly paced, with plenty of slower moments that push the plot forward followed by epic boss battles.
However, none of the game’s battles are more explosive than the showdown with the final boss, Andross. Depending on the path you take to get to him, you’ll either find yourself staring at a massive simian face, or you’ll be confronted with a robotic facsimile/giant brain you’ll have to blast in an open arena. Either fight offers a slightly strange yet appropriately massive finale to a fantastic game.
5. Hag 1 – Banjo-Tooie
There are so many great bosses in the Banjo games that it was difficult to settle on one to highlight for this list. Ultimately, the honor goes to the final boss in Banjo-Tooie.
With nothing left to lose, Grunty goes all out to destroy the bear and bird once and for all. Specifically, she decides to unleash her massive mechanical drill, the Hag 1, along with a whole host of spells, lasers, and even toxic gas. What’s really remarkable about this battle is how you have to use pretty much every skill you’ve learned throughout the game to prevail (even the game’s unique first-person shooting mode), and it all gels together remarkably well. You even have to answer trivia questions about the game to weaken Gruntilda. It’s that kind of final battle that feels like an appropriate culmination of everything that came before.
4. Majora – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Everything that leads to this final fight is just incredible. After repeatedly going back in time and reliving the same three days dozens of times, and defeating Termina’s four dungeon bosses, Link summons four giants to stop the moon from crashing into the world. Then he goes inside the moon… and it’s just a big field with a giant tree in it and five masked kids.
Yeah, it’s weird, but it works. With three different forms that all hit hard, Majora is easily one of the toughest bosses on the N64. But if you’ve collected all 23 masks in the game up to this point, you can complete a few final challenges to get the last mask, the Fierce Deity Mask, which is completely overpowered and makes short work of Majora in a couple of minutes. Regardless of how you approach this fight, it’s a very cool way to end one of the darkest Zelda games.
3. Bowser – Super Mario 64
The Nintendo 64 had a notoriously slim launch lineup, but with Super Mario 64 among those early titles, there were few complaints. It really can’t be overstated how revolutionary it felt to explore a true 3D environment as Mario with help from an N64 controller that allowed for more freedom of movement than we’d ever experienced before. That freedom of movement even helped evolve the sometimes simple boss fights of previous Super Mario games.
Yes, all three Bowser battles in Super Mario 64 are pretty similar, but they were all so satisfying and made excellent use of the N64 controller’s analog stick. It was just too much fun pushing the stick to its limits to circle around the giant lizard, grab him by the tail, and then twirl him around as fast as possible to throw him into the bombs on the edge of the arena. This was a truly iconic moment in gaming.
2. The Great Mighty Poo – Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Ok, so maybe not all of Conker’s Bad Fur Day’s early 2000s pop culture references have aged well, but you know what never goes out of style? Poop jokes. And Conker went for a legendary one with this hilarious musical boss battle against an opera-singing pile of…err…hit songs.
The battle itself is actually pretty straightforward. You just guide Conker around the arena to specific spots as he avoids poop attacks so he can (rather fittingly) throw toilet paper in the Poo’s gaping maw. Do that three times, and the Great Mighty Poo is flushed for good, though the continuous musical interludes and final cutscene’s bizarre nod to The Wizard of Oz forever make this one of the most memorable boss battles of all time.
1. Ganon – The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
If you want to know how to craft the perfect boss battle, look no further than Ocarina of Time’s climatic fight against Ganon.
The thing that makes this fight so special is the build-up. Ganondorf is seemingly vanquished. His castle is crumbling. Link and Zelda have escaped. But everything seems just a little too quiet. Ganondorf soon emerges from the rubble to reveal he’s not quite done yet, using the Triforce to transform into the massive Ganon, and knocking away Link’s trusty Master Sword like a discarded toothpick.
There are no real tricks here; just one final, simple duel for the fate of Hyrule. Encircled by flames and lacking his most powerful weapon, Link has to repeatedly get behind his nemesis and strike his tail until he can be weakened enough to drop his fiery barrier so that Link can retrieve the Master Sword and strike one final blow. This is simply an amazing boss fight that has inspired countless imitators over the years and has become synonymous with the N64.