During the 16-bit era, it was almost an unwritten rule that you had to have a boss at the end of every level. It was just the formula at the time, especially in an era dominated by side-scrollers.
Some developers would take the easy way out and make an enemy with a simple pattern that could be defeated in three hits. And that was fine.
But other devs got really creative, crafting screen-filling monstrosities or multi-stage tests of endurance that required players to deploy every skill they’d learned throughout the game. In other words they made enemies truly deserving of the title “boss.”
These are the 15 best Sega Genesis boss fights ever:
15. Ultimate Evil – Splatterhouse 2
While the controls feel pretty stiff now (and even back then), the Splatterhouse series holds a special place in a lot of gamers’ hearts. There just weren’t many horror-themed games in the ‘90s, especially good ones that paid homage to so many classic horror movies.
Part of what makes this fight against the Ultimate Evil so special is everything that leads up to it. Rick has finally rescued Jennifer, escaped the house, and even defeated an eldritch lake monster. It seems like they’re finally in the clear…and then, in classic horror movie fashion, the Ultimate Evil shows up in the woods.
First, the design is fantastic, it’s just a massive fleshy ball of Cronenberg-esque body horror. And then it just keeps throwing human and animal parts at you until you finally, mercifully punch it until it stops moving. It’s just an all-around perfect ending to a classic beat ‘em up.
14. Mr. X – Streets of Rage 2
Speaking of classic beat ‘em ups, nothing really beats Streets of Rage 2, and in particular the final boss fight against Mr. X. He’s built up as the big bad all game, and when he finally makes his entrance, casually throwing aside a cigar, standing up from his cushy seat, and unloading with a tommy gun, you really see what all the hype was about. He’s way more powerful than the typical street tough you’ve beaten up plenty of times by this point.
But what really cements the fight’s place on this list is the finale. After whittling down Mr. X’s multiple health bars, the final hit lifts him high into the air, the entire scene slows down, and he slowly comes back down the floor with a satisfying, screen-shaking thud. It’s just another reason why Streets of Rage 2 is considered one of the best beat ‘em ups of all time.
13. Shao Kahn – Mortal Kombat II
Yes, Shao Kahn already made our list of the 15 Best SNES Boss Fights Ever, but deserves a spot on the Genesis list, too. Shao Kahn embodies all the best (and maybe the worst) about fighting game bosses in the ‘90s. Unlike modern fighters that usually make the boss playable from the start, there was no legit way to play as the ruler of Outworld, so fighting him felt like an event, with the arena crowd cheering every one of his hits.
He hits way harder than any other fighter in the game too, with his shoulder tackle and spear doing lots of damage if you don’t avoid them. Admittedly, he’s kind of cheap, and blocks way too perfectly, but ultimately almost anyone can beat him with a little practice, making the challenge all the sweeter.
12. Auweck Sing – Ristar
The mid-90s were a weird time for Sega. Even though the Genesis had sold well, Sega seemingly had no idea what to do with their newfound success and started throwing anything that would stick out into the marketplace. Among a tidal wave of unnecessary peripherals and add-ons came Ristar, an anthropomorphic star pitched as the next Sonic the Hedgehog. Spoiler: he was not. But the game was actually pretty good!
Ristar is full of surreal imagery and boss battles, but the one that still stands out for most people who played it is Auweck Sing, a fight in front of an audience against an eagle who you must continually lure to knock a songbird off its perch. Oh, and the whole time, the crowd also attempts to pelt you with fruit. With the tinny (but still great) music and constantly swirling background, the whole spectacle is one of the most hallucinatory and memorable of the 16-bit era.
11. Agito – Beyond Oasis
Beyond Oasis is best described as The Legend of Zelda with a heavy Middle Eastern influence. In some ways, its combat and animation are even better than Zelda, even if the overall package isn’t quite on par with Nintendo’s series. With most of the game taking cues from a Link adventure, of course the final boss does as well. Agito is the big bad you’ve been waiting to fight all game. And when you finally meet face-to-face with the evil sorcerer, it’s…. kind of underwhelming. He’s just a guy who goes down pretty easily.
But of course, that’s just the first stage of the battle. In his second phase, Agito transforms into a massive, tentacled, screen-filling horror. He’s still not the most difficult boss in gaming, but he is one of the coolest looking on the Genesis, and it makes a suitably satisfying finale to the adventure.
10. Warhead – Vectorman
Speaking of visually impressive Genesis games, Vectorman ranks among the very best thanks to its highly stylized vector graphics, and the last level is just as creative as the rest of the game. The final boss, Warhead, has a literal warhead for an, um, head. Vectorman has to keep targeting this weakpoint while jumping from platform to platform in the midst of a swirling tornado.
This is just a really cool looking boss battle that perfectly fits the game, and whether developers have been doing it on purpose or not, the level’s setting and tactics have been reused by countless other titles, though this Warhead battle might still be the best.
9. The Mad Hatter – The Adventures of Batman & Robin
While the completely different SNES version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin has long been praised, the Genesis version was initially knocked as a generic run and gun title at release. Fortunately, opinions have changed over the years, as its fast gameplay, great graphics, and creative bosses like the Mad Hatter have been reappraised.
Sure, he’s a B-list villain in the comics, but the Mad Hatter is surprisingly awesome here. He spends the battle floating above Batman (and/or Robin), continually throwing attacks at you, which isn’t terribly innovative by itself, but the whole time you’re also on a forward scrolling red and white road, and you have to avoid playing card road blocks that just keep popping up faster and faster. There really isn’t another boss fight quite like it, and it’s a really unique way to make one of the lesser-known Batman villains stand out.
8. Mother Brain – Phantasy Star II
So, how does a turn-based boss battle against an enemy that’s barely even animated make it onto a list like this? First off, Mother Brain (not to be confused with the Metroid boss) has a really eye-popping design, perched atop the screen like a four-armed goddess, complete with different colors constantly pulsating throughout her body. This is about as close as the Genesis can convey to a confrontation with a superior power. It was really intimidating back in the day.
And as for the fight itself, it requires real strategy to win. No, it’s not the hardest final boss fight in a JRPG (not even close), but it does take a solid mix of defense and offense to come out ahead, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, Mother Brain will quickly wipe out your entire party.
7. Wolfgunblood Garopa – Alien Soldier
Alien Soldier has so many great bosses, that it’s difficult to pick just one to put on this list, but in the end, that honor has to go to Wolfgunblood Garopa. Just look at that design! Hailing straight from a junior high notebook doodle, it’s a massive cyborg-wolf-cowboy thing atop a metal steed. He wouldn’t even have to do much but just stand there and he’d be one of the best bosses ever.
But move he does. Treasure is the master of high-octane boss fights, so this entire battle takes place at about 60 mph as you dodge both obstacles on the path and constant gunfire from Wolfgunblood Garopa. It’s an all-time classic moment in gaming.
6. Super Power Robot Yokozuna – Contra: Hard Corps
Super Power Robot Yokozuna certainly knows how to make an entrance. The giant robot enters from the left side of the screen, quickly outrunning the locomotive you’re riding on to get in front of it, and stop it completely. That’s when things really heat up, with Yokozuna first flinging projectiles onto to the top of the train before making its way to the top to repeatedly attempt to crush you.
But in the end, the train boss gets what’s coming to him when he’s knocked off the engine, run over, and blown up into a dozen or so pieces. The whole fight plays out like the 16-bit version of a Michael Bay movie.
5. The Vortex Queen – Ecco the Dolphin
Ecco the Dolphin is fondly remembered for its chill aesthetic, but few gamers saw it to the end in the ‘90s. Beneath the chill ocean waves lay a brutally difficult game, including on of the most challenging final bosses on the Sega Genesis. After making his way to space via an alien ship (yeah, it’s kind of a weird game), Ecco comes face-to-face with massive fanged creature straight out of H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmares.
You have to slowly whittle away the Vortex Queen’s healthy by using sonar attacks on her soulless black eyes before launching a series of dash attacks on her jaws. And if you get caught in those massive jaws, it’s game over. Oh, and she grows back her bottom jaw twice after you knock it off, because of course she does.
4. Spider-Man and Batman – Revenge of Shinobi
Gamers who made it to the end of level six of the classic Revenge of Shinobi back in 1989 were greeted with one of the biggest surprises in gaming when none other than Spider-Man confronted them. And after evading the wallcrawler’s webs, he somehow turned into Batman, who then starts flying around the room and dive bombing Joe Musashi while his bat companions are also on the attack.
While “ninja fights Spider-Man and Batman to the death” is basically every 12-year-old boy’s fan-fiction masterpiece, Sega didn’t actually go through the correct legal channel to make this insane crossover happen. Marvel ended up licensing Spider-Man for later pressings of the cartridge, though the Batman sprite had to be completely redesigned. And if you play an emulated version of Revenge of Shinobi in any Genesis collection now, you won’t even see Spider-Man. Still, Sega’s brief flirtation with copyright infringement gave us one of the most ridiculously amazing boss battles of all time.
3. Death Egg Robot – Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Just looking at his patterns, the Death Egg Robot is not all that difficult. He’ll shoot an arm at you that you can dodge by moving to the other end of the room. And the homing attack where he tries to squash you isn’t too difficult to avoid either. The hard part is that you won’t have any rings when you face him. And you have to go through Mecha Sonic just to get to him. You take one hit, and it’s back to the start of the level.
It’s a surprisingly nerve-racking battle for a Sonic game, but in the end, this tough-but-fair challenge only helped establish Sonic as one of gaming’s greatest series, and it’s part of the reason why Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is still widely considered Sonic’s very best game.
2. Baby Face – Dynamite Headdy
While perhaps an oddity now, Dynamate Headdy was an absolutely genius platformer developed by Treasure at a time when the company just pumped out classic after classic. You play as Headdy, a puppet with a detachable head he uses to attack enemies, but the game dabbles in other genres as well, like the infamous Baby Face boss battle which plays more like a horizontal shooter.
You’ll start off facing down the giant baby doll face, but do enough damage and you reveal the face of a young boy who also attacks with a pointing finger rising from the bottom of the screen. Defeat the boy, and his face breaks apart to reveal a mustached middle aged man who repeatedly punches at Headdy while trying to pull down some sort of curtain. But that’s not all! In his final form, the former Baby Face is now an old man, who repeatedly tries to grab Headdy with decrepit, wrinkled hands. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have experiencing a surreal existential crisis.
1. Seven Force – Gunstar Heroes
There are many reasons why Gunstar Heroes is considered one of the greatest games of all time. It still looks and sounds fantastic, and the lightning fast shooting can go toe-to-toe with most modern games. Then there’s Seven Force, not just the best boss on the Sega Genesis, but one of the greatest video game boss fights of all time.
Seven Force begins this battle as Soldier Force, a giant running robot not unlike Super Power Robot Yokozuna. But once that form is dispatched, you’re in for one hell of a ride. If you’re playing on normal, you’ll only experience five forms of this boss, but on expert, you get the full seven — and after Soldier Force, the order those forms come at you is completely randomized. Maybe you’ll fight Tiger Force, Crab Force, or even Urchin Force next. Regardless of which form you fight, you’ll have to just keep shooting, dodging, and adjusting your tactics to succeed in this epic encounter.