15 Most Unfair Video Game Boss Fights Ever

Boss battles are meant to be difficult, but these unfair fights abuse the privilege.

Photo: onami, Studio MDHR, Williams Electronics

The whole point of a boss battle in a video game is the challenge of the thing. What use is Double Dragon if Machine Gun Willy is just as easy to take down as Williams? You want things to escalate so that your later and final victories truly mean something. You want to feel like you didn’t just finish a game, but you conquered it. You earned that ending and the scrolling credits.

Sometimes the developers go too far. The villains you face stand too tall. Their abilities are too formidable. The sense of fairness is off in another dimension, leaving you irritated and overwhelmed. Controllers are thrown and monitors are cracked. Screams of, “What the HELL?!” and, “OH, COME ON!” wake up the neighbors. Quarters are dropped into swear jars.

Here’s a look at some of the cheapest, most unfairly hard bosses in video game history. Some are bad by design while some are just victims of bad game design. Oh, and to make things a bit less redundant, we’re only going to include one boss per franchise. This isn’t a Souls encyclopedia, you know.

Ultra Mega Mega Man from South Park 64 (1998)

15. Ultra Mega Mega Man (South Park 64)

The Nintendo 64 release for South Park, a first-person shooter, is one of those interesting early takes on a long-lasting property before it was really culturally defined (like the Simpsons arcade game or Marvel’s old Star Wars comics). As it came out during the show’s second season in 1998, the source material was just stuff from the first 13 episodes. That includes a very throwaway reference from the tenth episode that ended up being the game’s final boss.

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The game’s story cribs from Maximum Overdrive, where a mysterious, radioactive comet unleashes chaos. In the final stage, the four boys have to take on possessed toys, culminating in a battle against a giant version of the action figure Ultra Mega Mega Man. He has limited attacks and would be pretty simple if it wasn’t for one annoying thing: once he loses enough power, he runs over to a charging station and regenerates. Outside of getting your hands on the chicken sniper rifle and going to town on the robot before it can make the run, you have to constantly hit a button to shut off the regeneration. Unfortunately, aiming in this game isn’t the easiest thing in the world, so get ready for the long haul.

Eternal Champion and Dark Champion from Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side

14. Eternal Champion and Dark Champion (Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side)

Despite some great designs, concepts, and visuals, the Eternal Champions games will take the wind out of your sails once you reach the boss battles. In a game that didn’t understand the concepts of balancing in a fighter, reaching the Eternal Champion is an exercise in frustration that just goes on and on. Not only can he spam special moves without regard for his special move meter, but he has five different forms, each with their own movesets and health bars. That means you have to beat him five times in a row on one health bar, only regaining a fraction of health back in-between forms.

But wait! There’s more! In the Sega CD sequel, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, the Eternal Champion decides that five isn’t enough. He breaks out even more forms, making the whole fight last roughly ten minutes! A fighting game match should not take longer than a damn Road Runner cartoon! After that, you fight his evil counterpart the Dark Champion, who also has a bunch of different forms and overpowered attacks. And guess what? If you lose, you don’t get a rematch. You will just have to start all over again.

Yellow Devil from Mega Man

13. Yellow Devil (Mega Man)

The colossal, cycloptic blob residing in Dr. Wily’s fortress is a tremendous pain in the ass. Yellow Devil’s weak point is his eye, which only takes a single hit before he closes it and travels across the stage, piece by piece. Getting hit by a chunk of him does a good bit of damage and Mega Man still hasn’t learned sliding at this point, so have fun with that. All this so you could try to get one more shot in and start the process all over again.

Yellow Devil is so over-the-top that there’s a pause glitch thrown in there to make him far more bearable. Just use Elec Man’s lightning bolt and mash the pause button so that each unpause will count as a hit. Similarly, the Boobeam Trap boss from Mega Man 2 is such an annoying puzzle of a challenge (causing you to easily deplete ammo of the one weapon capable of destroying the boss and the barriers blocking its guns) that the US version of the game did away with respawning its pesky barriers when you entered the room over again on your next life.

The Sleeping Table from Persona 3

12. The Sleeping Table (Persona 3)

In Dudleyville, you get the table. In Tartarus, the table gets you.

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The Sleeping Table is a rough challenge that needs the right party and a lot of patience to get through. It is a damage sponge with a series of powerful attacks at its disposal, and it has the nasty one-two punch of moves that likely inflict fear on foes followed by the Ghastly Wail (which instantly kills anyone inflicted by fear).

Not only do you need to be leveled up enough to get through this spooky piece of furniture, but you need at least one party member who can heal and also scrub away their comrades’ fear. If you can throw in somebody with a tendency to land critical hits, do so by all means, but this fight is a marathon, not a sprint.

Dr. Kahl’s Robot from Cuphead

11. Dr. Kahl’s Robot (Cuphead)

Cuphead is all about pissing you off with hair-pulling boss battles that are exceptionally well-animated, but which one will destroy your morale more than any other? Sure, the Devil is a fitting final threat and there’s a real endurance test in having to take on King Dice and his subboss goons, but I have to give the spot to Dr. Kahl and his old-timey robot. That the game’s best ending is about sparing their souls (or just the robot’s?) from an eternity of torment in Hell is a grave injustice, as somebody needs to suffer for this.

Like many bosses in this game, Kahl’s Robot has three forms, and they’re all rough. The first part has way too many threats in play as you try to take out three different targets and even when you do succeed in destroying them, you’re just unleashing a new and at times more annoying attack in the process. The second phase is the least annoying, as it centers around evading homing missiles. Unfortunately, that leads you into the final form, where Dr. Kahl shows himself and starts sending endless sparks from his own little Chaos Emerald knockoff. This one goes on forever, which makes it maddening when you die during it and see that you’re merely halfway on the progress scale.

Later updates made it so that you could parry the diamond sparks just to give you SOME kind of break.

Mike Tyson from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

10. Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!)

Punch Out does a good job of ramping up the difficulty as the game goes on. While Mr. Sandman and Super Macho Man are hard enough, but they’re absolutely beatable. Mike Tyson (or his non-union Caucasian equivalent, Mr. Dream), on the other hand, is a force of nature. His initial uppercuts knock you down in one hit, his attempts to hit you are hard to predict, and his pre-punch tells are so lightning fast that you can barely react in time. For ’80s gamers, he was a legend when it came to ominous boss fights.

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What made it sting the most was that losing to Tyson meant immediate game over. No matter how many continues you had, Little Mac’s dramatic retirement music would kick in and you would have to start all over again. Luckily, there was a password to go directly to the Tyson fight, but you would spend more time typing those numbers than getting beaten to a bloody pulp by Kid Dynamite. Just seeing “007-373-5963” causes certain people to feel a trigger in their muscle memory.

Master Barnes from 3 Count Bout

9. Master Barnes (3 Count Bout)

Coming out just a few months before its Capcom counterpart Saturday Night Slam Masters, SNK’s 3 Count Bout was an arcade wrestling game with a fantastic presentation. Sprites looked great and huge, they had different match types, and the designs were wonderful. Hell, they even explained the Ryu/Ken “same sprites but with different heads and color schemes” thing as one wrestler portraying two different gimmicks based on their face/heel alignment. If not for one thing, this could have been a bona fide classic.

The one flaw? It’s borderline unplayable. The game is ridiculously difficult due to its unforgiving dedication to mashing buttons for every grapple. You probably won’t get too far, meaning that the final boss, Master Barnes, is the worst it gets. This pastiche of Road Warrior Hawk will absolutely wreck you. Even if you try to focus on strikes to offset the one-sided grappling mechanics, he will still take you down by spamming his kick flurry attack. Ugh. What a rush.

Akuma (Super Street Fighter II Turbo)

8. Akuma (Super Street Fighter II Turbo)

)Inspired by Electronic Gaming Monthly’s April Fools joke about Sheng Long, various fighting games eventually introduced unlockable boss battles. Mortal Kombat had Reptile, Fatal Fury Special had Ryo Sakazaki, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo had Akuma. If you hit certain requirements (including never continuing once), Akuma would kill the would-be final boss M. Bison and take his spot. It became such a staple that Akuma (or Shin Akuma, to differentiate him from the playable version) would play the hidden boss role in many Capcom fighters over the years.

Akuma is always a rough fight, but Super Street Fighter II Turbo has a little extra spice to it. Due to some kind of programming error, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and all its ports have a glitched difficulty setting. No matter how you try to set the game, it will always be stuck on the hardest setting. You really need to know what you’re doing to even make it to Akuma and even then, you’re a bit screwed the instant the round begins.

Grim Reaper (Castlevania)

7. Grim Reaper (Castlevania)

The idea of Dracula having Death itself as a lieutenant is kind of like having the Pope as your chauffeur. Even if Dracula gets top billing as the big bad of Castlevania, it’s the Grim Reaper who acts as the game’s most stressful boss. The skeletal wraith freely floats around the screen while sending four mini-scythes around after Simon Belmont.

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Much like a Final Destination movie, there seems to be no escape from Death. It isn’t just that he’s an ominous bullet Hell of a being, but there’s also the game’s annoying jump physics. Simon’s abilities don’t lend themselves to escaping all these dangers coming at you from all directions and even if you have the triple boomerangs or holy water, the odds aren’t in your favor.

Rugal Bernstein (King of Fighters ’94)

6. Rugal Bernstein (King of Fighters ’94)

“SNK Boss Syndrome” is a term earned from SNK’s many, many fighting games, as their final bosses tend to be all kinds of bullshit. There are plenty of choices out there, like Goenitz, Magaki, and loveable Igniz. If I could choose any to highlight, it’s surely Rugal Bernstein of King of Fighters.

Being that the series is (usually) about playing as teams of three, you need somebody fearsome to take on a trio and come off as overpowering. Rugal was the final boss in the first two games, as well as various non-canon “dream match” games. In King of Fighters ’94, Rugal really goes over the top. After his first form, he removes his formal attire and goes all out by spamming his anti-air attack: the Genocide Cutter. Think of Guile’s Flash Kick, but more limber, with more range, a lot more damage, and far more priority. You make a move towards Rugal and you’re eating that foot.

Bowser X (Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story)

5. Bowser X (Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story)

Bowser X is an even more futuristic version of Bowser, dedicated to destroying all the Mavericks who threaten humanity, and…wait, no, that’s not right.

This amped-up incarnation of Bowser comes at the end of a nasty (though thankfully optional) boss gauntlet and everything is so in his favor that after losing to him, you might put down your DS and walk away from video games for at least a month. Not only does he hit hard and endure a whole lot of damage, but you have a limited amount of turns to defeat him.

That last part matches up with another unfortunate ability in his repertoire. After every time Mario and Luigi use a special attack on Bowser X, he will inhale like a vacuum cleaner and steal away your ability to do that attack for five turns. That means that putting all of your eggs in the basket of mastering only one or two team-up specials is a fool’s errand, as it will be taken off the table the moment you finish doing it the first time.

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Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls)

4. Bed of Chaos (Dark Souls)

Dark Souls is all about difficult boss battles. However, there is always a line, and Bed of Chaos (not to be confused with the 1977 film Death Bed: The Bed That Eats) extends its vines far over it.

Due to a rushed production, there’s no sense of fairness in this fight. The “Chaos” part hits a bit too hard. You have to bust up three of the boss’ weak points, but it’s surrounded by an obstacle course that would feel at home in a platformer. Unfortunately, Dark Souls’ measured, clunkier playstyle is not a good fit for that concept.

As you make a go of destroying this threat, the floor breaks apart, vines smack you around with little to no way to avoid them, fire encompasses the stage, and instant death is always a blink away. It’s a battle that inherently lacks fairness, and you absolutely need luck on your side. Even watching someone win this boss battle feels like those scenes in Twister where you call bullshit because Helen Hunt would have been torn in half by debris twenty times over.

Sephiroth (Kingdom Hearts)

3. Sephiroth (Kingdom Hearts)

As you fight through the Olympus Coliseum in the Hercules realm, the battles aren’t that bad. Then you challenge for the Platinum Match against “???” and we get a cameo from Final Fantasy VII’s big bad. Sephiroth then proceeds to annihilate you without missing a beat. 100 tries later and you might make some kind of dent in him. Otherwise, he’s just going to overwhelm you with his various overpowered attacks that tend to one-shot you or come so close that you will be downing Elixirs to the point of doing irreparable damage to Sora’s bladder.

Luckily, it’s only an optional battle. It feels more like a reason to keep playing after you’ve completed the game. Get 100%, max out Sora’s stats, get the best Keyblade, and maybe you will stand a chance against the deranged super soldier.

The General (Kaiser Knuckle)

2. The General (Kaiser Knuckle)

Taito’s Kaiser Knuckle (also known as Global Champion) was your meat and potatoes Street Fighter II clone. For the most part, there was nothing about it that really set it apart from all the other pretenders, outside of super moves that could blow up the background. The only reason anyone remembers the game at all these days is due to the General, otherwise known as the hardest-fighting game boss in history.

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With his military uniform, sliding attacks, energy flames, and so on, the General seems like nothing more than an M. Bison knockoff. In action, the General is far more frustrating, as his onslaught of cheap attacks seems to be unavoidable no matter what you try. His sliding kick hits several times. He can throw energy constructs of himself in various directions at the same time and they will power through any projectile you throw. After the hundredth time he holds you down and grinds his foot into your chest, you’ll be rage-quitting and punching a hole through your screen.

Mr. Big (Narc)

1. Mr. Big (Narc)

There are two times when the War on Drugs made the anti-drug side look awesome. One was that cartoon crossover where Michelangelo teamed up with Slimer and Bugs Bunny. The other was Narc: the arcade game that suggested that by joining the DEA, you get free reign to blow up as many perverted murder clowns as you can handle. Shooting through the endless scores of KRAK’s henchmen finally leads you to its leader Mr. Big. At first, he’s a cackling nuisance in a wheelchair. After you deal with that, he becomes something much worse.

Mr. Big’s boss form is a giant head with four chins, a fedora, and Judge Doom’s freaky cartoon eyes. After you knock off his sunglasses, he starts mowing you down while spraying an endless series of fireballs from his horrific eyes. If you can damage him enough (and it’s hard to tell if you ARE damaging him), his flesh explodes off of him and you’re left with a giant skull that spits tongues at you. You might remember this trippy visual from the Foot Clan’s headquarters in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie!

Being an arcade game, you’d think that you could just drop enough quarters to power through this cheap piece of ridiculous nightmare fuel. Not so much, as running out of lives and continuing means having to start the battle from the beginning. Have fun with that!