Top 10 Bosses of the 2D Era

We fought them because we loved them.
July 28, 2006
Everybody who plays games have the memories of rushing through a level, defeating enemies, dodging traps, and grabbing as many power-ups as possible, but at the end you’re faced with one last challenge. The boss. The title is self-explanatory as they rule the area you just came through and they’re bigger and badder than anything you’ve previously stomped. They come in all forms too, from comical, to epic, to just plain intimidating. In this article I’ll cover some of my personal favorites from the classic 2D era we all grew up with.

10. Magus – Chrono Trigger (SNES)

Probably one of the most notable villains in RPG history, Magus was the head honcho and leader of the Mystics until his summoning of Lavos went haywire. Up until that point his army of monsters only caused trouble for Crono and his party in 600 A.D, so it was inevitable that you would face him eventually. After discovering the fate of the future at the hands of Lavos, Crono and company return to the past to help Frog restore the Masamune, the only weapon capable of defeating Magus.

With the task complete it’s off to his doom-ridden castle. Fighting your way through traps and illusions and taking on his General Ozzie with his two lackeys, Slash and Flea. After they’re out of the way it’s time to face the master himself. Once the fight starts you find out there are only two ways to harm him. First is the Masamune, which is already known before hand, and the second is matching his magical barriers with the same elemental attribute. If his barrier is lightning, for instance, you need Crono to zap him with one of his spells, but if his barrier is an element that none of your characters harness your only option is to wail on him with the legendary sword until he changes it. Why he even changes it at all is a mystery only answered by the immortal RPG clichés.

Once you’ve dealt enough hurt, Lavos is summoned and everyone is sucked through a time warp, including Magus. Later the party will meet up with him again with the choice of finishing him off for good or allowing him to be the party’s anti-hero. While all in all Chrono Trigger is a good game, my favorite part has always been from the beginning up until the Magus fight, making him a memorable opponent.

9. Dethl – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (GB)

Dethl is only the last form of the final nightmare, but the title would just plain be too long to include all of them. After making your way through the maze of the Windfish’s egg, the final showdown with the nightmares begin. The battle starts with a simple little blob that you powder to death, after that it’s a flash to the past where you’d fight the shadows of Agahnim, Moldorm, and even Ganon himself. The wizard and overgrown worm you take out as you did with their Link to the Past and Tail Cave counterparts, but Ganon takes some Pegasus charging to take out. Only a one-hit-wonder Lanmola stands in your way to the final form, Dethl, where as per Zelda tradition, the eye is the key.

The joy of this boss is finally witnessing the fate of Koholint Island, which plagued the imagination since the mysterious mural before the Face Shrine shone some light on Link’s adventure. The only thing that I wanted to know more than the outcome was how to get to that blasted fourth pillar in Eagle’s Tower, but even that was just a bump in the road to the main question, what was to become of the island, the Windfish, and most importantly, Link and Marin? Well, as much as I hoped, things didn’t turn out as happy-happy as I wanted, but play the game without dying and we’ll see that everything worked out just as wished for a certain someone…

8. Metal Sonic – Sonic CD/Knuckles Chaotix (Sega CD/32X)

This one is a classic. Not only is Sonic CD regarded as the best in the series by many, but “the race” is an unforgettable moment in Sonic history. As if Robotnik raising hell again wasn’t enough, he has his mechanized clone of our hero kidnap Amy Rose, raising the stakes for Sonic. Once you’ve made your way through past, present, and future, it’s finally time to see whom the better Sonic is. Not far into Stardust Speedway you find Metal Sonic and the Doctor waiting at the starting line, and after he shows off his new contraption the race is on. The stakes are against you from the beginning, more so if you have a bad future. Metal Sonic electrifies himself to harm you as well as turn “super” to plow through everything in your way, all the while having Robotnik breathing down your spiny neck with a one-hit-kill laser. At least you have rings. Once victorious, the damsel in distress is yours again.

Unlike other robotic copies of Sonic, that wasn’t the last we’d see of Metal. Not long after he shows up again to terrorize Knuckles and his fellow Chaotix. Instead of a race to the death, however, he fights back with a roulette of attacks that are fended off with increasing odds of destroying his machine starting with one of five. Afterwards he runs off to his master where he grows to gargantuan proportions for a second round. Hopefully you gathered all six Chaos Rings, otherwise win or lose the giant Metal Sonic will continue his reign of terror over a city engulfed in flames.

Metal Sonic also returns on several other occasions, such as in Triple Trouble and as the Metal Overlord in Sonic Heroes. We surely haven’t seen the last of him.

7. Elite Four – Pokémon Red/Blue (GB)

No, I didn’t fail first grade math. True, it is technically just the four of them, but the champion deserves a spot just as much as the others. As everybody knows, Pokémon is the smash game where you travel the lands, catching and training different creatures to fight other trainers, and as you grow more powerful, so do they. At the top of the tier are the Elite Four, made up by Lorelei, Bruno, Agatha, and Lance. There is a vast difference between them and the final gym leader, final batch of trainers, and even your final bout with your rival. Unless you’ve leveled yourself up above the usual, even if you can cream the last few trainers, you’re still in for quite a challenge.

First up is Lorelei, the ice master. Only one of her Pokémon actually has a dominant ice type, so if you fly in with fire you’ll meet a fast end. Even grass is useless as a type advantage due to her strong ice attacks, and most electric types would fall too. She’s just an example of using everything you can to take her down on the first try. Bruno, on the other hand, is a breather. A combination of psychic, flying, and water can cut right through him, making him the easiest of them all. Agatha is a toss up. If you have a good psychic type she’s a breeze, but without one she can be a problem. Regardless, do your best or have a lot of healing items because Lance is next and he’s not a push over.

Two of Lance’s Pokémon can be easily felled with electric, but his dragons, especially Dragonite, are going to give one hell of a fight. If you haven’t prepared before hand and actually win, you’ll be hurting after and there’s still one person left. Your rival is the Pokémon League Champion and he’s harder than any of the four before, all together even harder than that blasted Dragonite. An easy victory against his Pidgeot only throws you off, because everything after that is a bear the first time through. Once he’s out of the way, you’re the champion and you can now get Mewtwo, who will make your next few rounds with the E4 much easier.

Pokémon was one of the first RPGs I truly got into and the final five trainers are definitely a challenge that kept me on my toes. It was also the last fad I was ever a part of, so the original Pokémon will always have a special place with me. The bosses are no different.

They sure prettied up nicely for their remake comback.

6. The Wet Bandits – Home Alone (Genesis)

Okay, so they aren’t technically bosses per se, but compared to the other risks in the game like ghosts, robots, and spiders, they’re at the top. The goal is the same as it was in the movie: Using traps and weapons, stop Harry and Marv from robbing and flooding the house. Except in the game the actual execution is grander and you have to protect the entire neighborhood.

At the beginning you’re armed with only a BB gun and a select amount of traps like the classic blowtorch, ice, and Micro Machines. Get to a house before the Bandits and you can lay them, but you’ll have search neighborhood snowmen and houses for items to make more weapons. Then their van arrives and the fun begins. You have to do whatever it takes to max their pain meter before the steal all of the loot in the current house, by way for freezing them, frying them, or encasing them in a giant ball of jelly. More options for both weapons and traps are available on the harder difficulty setting, but at a price. There’s a longer play period before the police show up and the Bandits visit houses at random instead of the regular pattern in beginner mode.
Though most likely very unexpected, what puts this duo on the list is the shear amount of entertaining ways to make their lives miserable. They’re being clawed by cats, zapped by ghosts, and falling through floors; all the while you’re wailing on them with elaborate weapons made of tin cans and rubber bands. Just writing this makes me want to go back and take a few whacks at them again.

5. Baby Bowser – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES)

Sure, King Bowser from the original Mario World was great in all his clown pod glory, but his younger self was just much more fun. In this case, the poor Mario Bros., Mario and Luigi, are separated at birth (er… stork?) and it’s up to the Yoshis to reunite them, but not without Bowser’s right hand man, Kamek, getting in the way. After an array of levels and huge boss battles, they make it to the last castle and face the main Koopa himself.

The first part of the battle is very easy, taking only a few seconds if you’re quick with those buttons. The baby wants a ride on the “donkey” and tries to force Mario off with ground pounds. The ripple on the ground is the clue to fight back, with three ground pounds of your own hit Bowser with his own playroom floor and get ready for the second round. The number two magikoopa shows his face again and uses magic to make the king grow to a monstrous size, more so than any other boss.

Now you have to knock him back down to size with giant eggs in a shooting range-like battle. Having to avoid pits and dodge his fireballs while trying to aim just right to hit him still proves a little challenging at times. If you’re not accurate or fast enough Bowser will come crashing right through you, ending the game. That is if you haven’t ended it yourself being a klutz.

Kiss your tail goodbye because it belongs to his over pixilated highness.

4. Ganon – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

The great King of Evil is probably one of the most famous in video game history, kidnapping the Princess Zelda to further his plans of dominating Hyrule. While his motives are generally the same, he always brings something new to the table when you fight him each time, and he was at his 2D best here. After finally rescuing all of the maidens, including Zelda herself, Link tackles Ganon’s stronghold for the final showdown. At the top of his tower awaits Agahnim, Ganon’s alter ego, for his revenge. The battle is similar to the first with two images of himself by his side, but after victory Ganon rises from his fallen body and flees to his pyramid.

Now Ganon is cornered and his only option is to fight back. He starts by throwing his triton and summoning a ring of fire bats to harm you while warping around the arena to avoid your attacks. After enough damage is dealt he breaks away the parameter of the room and outs the lights, becoming invisible in the process. Falling through the new holes doesn’t damage you, rather it takes you to a lower level to wrap around to the surface and start the last battle over again. Avoiding the pits, ignite the torches again to unveil Ganon and finally put those Silver Arrows to use (if you didn’t choose to get them after Turtle Rock).

With Ganon gone the Triforce is yours to make things right. As mentioned above, this was probably his greatest appearance of the old overview games and whenever I hear the name Ganon, I usually think of this one. The battle was also somewhat “saved” for me. There was already a completed file when I first got this used, but no matter how hard I tried I could not beat him, only until I got to him on a game of my own. It’s like the game knew I’d appreciate the moment better if I got there on my own, and it was right.

3. Kaptain K. Rool – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES)

Donkey Kong Country blew people away when it first came out with it’s sharp new graphics style, but everything that was good about the first one was only capitalized on by the second, including the bosses. The best being the final showdowns with K. Rool himself, no longer a king, but the kaptain of a rowdy krew of pirate Kremlings and he’s kidnapped D.K. to boot. He shows up in his Flying Crock after several challenging stages to show off what he’s learned since the last time. No more jumping on his head (which doesn’t make sense, he not wearing a pointy crown anymore), you’re now trying to make his own rifle backfire in his face by clogging it with his own ammo, which becomes available to grab after a series of predictable attacks.

You beat him, Donkey’s free, and he sends Rool to a watery grave. The End, right? Nope. Now you have the Lost World to worry about, if you haven’t tackled most of it already. Once you snatch every bonus coin you can face the final final boss… K. Rool. Okay, so it’s the same guy again, but after he shakes off the seaweed, he’s tougher than before, even though you only have to hit him once this time. Along with his usual spiked canon balls, he shoots colored gas that alters the controls, making you more prone to run into his attacks. After a long string of attacks a barrel with your one opportunity appears and you can make the captain walk the plank for good (pirate puns are horrible).

2. Wario – Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB)

Mario Land 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and though Wario isn’t number one, he’s one of the most memorable. From the very beginning you can watch Mario’s rival roaming the castle halls and roof, taunting you and daring you to try and take the castle back. And dare we did. You can tackle the worlds in any order you wish, but I always moved counter clockwise starting with the Tree Zone. After finally getting the sixth coin, and back then for me it took a while, the final door opens to the last level.

This was the hardest part yet, avoiding lava, dodging fireballs, and evading swinging balls; and that’s just the first floor. The tricks and traps only got more dangerous the higher you went until you reach Wario’s throne room. He doesn’t waste any time before he tries to run you over by dashing back and forth, occasionally pounding the ground to knock whatever that ball on the ceiling is supposed to be on you. Three blows to his head and it’s on to the next room for round two where he picks up the rabbit ears power up. Now he flies back and forth, still pounding the ground to hit you with his little orb of doom. You can either use the statue in the center to get to him up high, or wait for him to come down to you. Either way, with three more hits he’s down and running to the next room again.

You may have expected it from before that Wario would be using a fire flower for his last stand. He jumps around erratically while launching fire balls at you and you have to time your jumps better than before to nail him. The rabbit power up between rooms defiantly helps, but however you beat him he throws a hissy fit and jumps out the window. Luckily not to his death, otherwise there wouldn’t be a flood of Wario spinoffs. The amount of fun I had with his game made this boss fight bitter sweet, knowing that it would be over after I won, but it didn’t make it any less enjoyable.

1. Dr. Robotnik – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

And topping the list at number one is the evil Dr. Robotnik, specifically his giant robot from the Death Egg Zone. I had played Sonic 2 at my uncle’s house a couple times, but it wasn’t until I opened it up along with my first console, the Genesis, one Christmas morning that I really delved into it. Previously I could never get past Chemical Planet Act 2, but when I finally did and went on to Aquatic Ruins my heart was racing. From then on it was a wild ride leading all the way up into space for the final showdown, and to me it couldn’t be any more epic.

From the beginning of the final zone with the stars whizzing by outside and the weird crazy clown music I knew I was in for something special, then when I saw that I wouldn’t have any rings I knew I was also in for something hard. Only a few steps forward were needed before I was proven right and Silver Sonic came down and roughed me up nicely a few times before I finally over powered him, but he was a push over compared to what I’d face in the next area, and a good thing too because I would be fighting him a lot until I finally beat the game.

After taking out the first Sonic doppelganger in the series, Robotnik makes haste and hops into what is possibly his greatest contraption ever, aside from the Death Egg itself. Rising out of the floor the intimidation factor is high and immediate with its height and protective spiked arms, the only weak point being the main pod. He takes a few steps towards you before taking off and trying to stomp on you. Luckily a cursor alerts you to when he’s landing, but if he misses he resorts to shooting those dreaded spiked arms at you before taking off again to repeat this pattern. Alright, the front is a little risky, but his back is defenseless except for the rocket’s flame. Not likely. If you try to attack him from behind he launches a couple bombs to keep you from getting close enough to attack. All in all an excellent boss for an excellent game.

And so that concludes my personal favorites from the old 2D days. I’ll be willing to bet there are several people screaming at their monitors asking, “Why not Kefka?” of “What about Mother Brain?” Well I just haven’t experienced some of the more popular bosses much, or even at all. Even with my list I could have added others like Trinexx or Robotnik’s ball and chain, but there were so many good choices that condensing it to just ten proved a little hard at times. Regardless if I made the right picks or not, it was fun remembering and, more often than not, reliving theses classic roadblocks.
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