Boss battles are an intrinsic part of the video game medium and have been around for almost as long as the industry itself. These encounters are usually water cooler moments that test your skills as a player and often have excellent spectacle or narrative pay-offs. However, what about hidden bosses? For those who seek discovery or challenge, many games seem to hide their best, often extremely difficult bosses in the darkest available corners.
Typically accessed through unintuitive means with barely-helpful clues or even just stalwart exploration, these secret encounters can sometimes be so excellent that they raise the bar of whatever game they’re attached to. However, there’s also a flipside: sometimes going through the grueling methods to access these painfully hidden enemies, and then facing their brutal, cruel, ultra-difficult selves ends being more frustrating than exciting, ruining the entire experience.
Today, we’re going to be discussing both sides of that coin. In this list, we aren’t going to pull our punches. Some of these boss battles (and means of unlocking them) are so awful that they practically sully not just entire games, but even the franchise. Of course, there are others that save what could be mediocre experiences, turning them into legends, and some that are so good that they even elevate already superb products.
We’ll be dealing with everything from fighting games and RPGs to even the world of monster collecting with Pokémon.
Here are the 10 Hidden Video Game Bosses That Hurt Their Games (And 10 That Saved Them).
Super Smash Bros. Melee is still regarded by many as the pinnacle of the Smash Bros. franchise (although that might change with the upcoming Ultimate). The fast, skill-focused tight gameplay coupled with a meta-level of glitches that allow for high-tier maneuvers like “Wave Dashing” have made the game a favorite of both the casual and competitive scenes, but there’s one problem that potentially bogs down the experience: Giga Bowser.
It’s not that this hideously monstrous beast isn’t a worthy opponent, or that it’s too difficult to reach him, it’s just unclear why he exists in the first place.
It just seems like such an afterthought to give Bowser (the already eye-rollingly lame boss at the end of Adventure Mode) a completely new form that comes out of nowhere.
Pokémon Gold and Silver are prime examples of the greatest video game sequels ever created. Players were treated to the brand new Johto region, which was filled to the brim with new Pokémon, and experienced everything that the first games offered but in a far more fleshed out state. Then they realized that you could go back to the Kanto region and essentially replay all of Red and Blue.
However, best of all was the fact that you could challenge the protagonist of the original games in the ultimate showdown, champion to champion. Gold and Silver didn’t exactly need saving, but this encounter elevated them to such a level that you might as well have believed they did.
Final Fantasy XV is something of a modern miracle. Since the game sat in development for such a ridiculously long time, many had given up hope that the title formerly known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII would ever see the light of day (sort of how everyone feels about the Final Fantasy VII remake now) and yet it actually come out.
Most surprising of all, was that it was awesome, and the best Final Fantasy in years. Sadly, like so many other entries in its long-running franchise, FFXV is bogged down by a brutally unfair hidden boss battle. There’s no pleasure to be had against Naglfar. Not only is it resistant to all weapon types, but even a team that’s at the peak of their power means nothing in this torturous fight.
Even people who have never played Final Fantasy VII are aware of the main protagonist, Cloud, and his arch-nemesis, Sephiroth. The iconic One Winged Angel is practically the mascot for the entire franchise at this point, and rightfully so. Because of this, it only made sense that he’d appear as an ultra-difficult hidden boss in Kingdom Hearts II.
His battle is a brilliant affair, and it’s something of a high point for the series.
Kingdom Hearts II is just about the point where the series started to stumble into obtuse, nonsensical, and overly complicated plot points, alienating many in the process. For those people, the fight with Sephiroth in KHII is the saving grace for the game and possibly the series.
Mortal Kombat, at its start, was a clunky fighting game that banked on its impressive (at the time) digitized graphics, the copious amounts of blood and gore, and the controversy that came with both. There was one other element that captivated legions of fans, though, and that was the series’ obsession with incredibly obscure secrets, specifically Reptile’s inclusion in the first game.
Mortal Kombat II, often considered the best of the classic series, continued the secret-heavy tradition, and Jade was part of it. Unfortunately, the ridiculous method needed to fight Jade rubs off some of the luster of MKII as a whole. You’ll need to play single-player up until right before the “?” match, win a round with only low kicks, and then you’ll face off against her. Good luck with the brutal difficulty, and keep in mind that she’s impervious to projectiles.
Metal Gear Survive is the latest Metal Gear game following the controversial split between series creator Hideo Kojima and game-making juggernaut Konami. Drama aside, Survive is less of a classic Metal Gear game and more of a survival simulation with a focus on multiplayer. While those who have played it seem to like it, many more are still skeptical.
Enter Frostbite. This hidden boss pushes even the most battle-hardened survivalists to their outermost limits, and breathes life into a game that they may have thought they’d done and seen everything in. This incredibly dangerous behemoth only comes around after beating the first legendary boss, Big Mouth, and it’s much more powerful. It’ll take everything you’ve learned in the game to take it down, and manages to be a ton of fun in the process.
The Final Fantasy games are notorious for well-hidden boss battles that border (and often cross) the realm of the unfair. Final Fantasy VII’s Emerald and Ruby Weapons are no exceptions. While Final Fantasy VII as a whole is a beloved favorite amongst RPG fans the world over, these two bosses are a sickening black mark on an otherwise enjoyable product.
We get it, Square, these bosses are supposed to be the ultimate test for longtime player, but they shouldn’t be controller-smashingly difficult.
They both have enormous pools of HP, defenses that are almost impossible to breached, and their attacks can make short work of whatever feeble party goes up against them. They should have just named them the “Frustration” and “Rage” Weapons.
Bloodborne is a spiritual sequel (perhaps successor) to the Souls games, and it’s pretty easy to see. Luckily, just like the Souls games, Bloodborne is excellent. Unfortunately for Bloodborne, though, it’s not the Souls games and despite a unique aesthetic, it teeters on the edge of losing its identity.
That’s where the hidden boss Moon Presence comes in, which happily saves the game with a difficult boss battle that neatly helps to define Bloodborne as its own thing. We hope you’ve got an appetite for umbilical cords, because you’re going to need to chomp down on three of them. After a few more steps, you’ll be treated to this surreal and scary encounter that gives Bloodborne a life of its own.
Borne of the surprising union of Squaresoft and Nintendo, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is a traditional JRPG in the style of Square’s Final Fantasy games, but starring the familiar Mario cast and taking place in their world. Since it was created by Square, which is known for the genre, the game is a wonderfully done RPG, as would be expected.
However, Square has a little bit of a problem, and that problem is inserting extremely difficult hidden bosses into their games. Not only did they do that with Super Mario RPG, but they also shattered the tone by having their Final Fantasy-styled boss, Culex, be an utter anachronism. When playing Mario games, you expect cutesy antics and mushrooms that make you grow, not “Dark Knights of Vanda” who consume time itself in a celestial realm of matter and anti-matter.
Many of the bosses who hurt their games on this list dip into the “too difficult to actually have fun beating” category, while those on the “save” side either have a certain level of narrative satisfaction or fair challenge to them. Borderlands’ Iwajira is unique among both because, although he is hidden within Pyroclast Grotto, he’s not that difficult. No, the reason he saves his game is a meta one, and it’s that he’s able to satisfy the brains of all players who are addicted to seeking out the seemingly endless amounts of loot that the series is known for.
This hidden and strong (but easily farmable) boss is a simple key in looting high-level items as much as you’d like.
Never mind dueling with countless grunts - you can get everything your addicted brain desires by slaying Iwajira.
Noob Saibot is a pitch-black variant of the generic “ninja sprite,” but, like all Mortal Kombat characters, he has tons of lore surrounding him. We won’t get into that here, but we will get into the fact that he’s just another mark against Mortal Kombat II’s record.
To access the battle against him, you’ll have to win 50 straight matches in the two-player mode (or 25 if you’re playing on Genesis) and then you’ll have a chance to face-off against this palette-swapped nightmare. This relentless opponent will make you pull your hair out, particularly when his black form blends in with the background of Goro’s Lair. What do you get for beating Noob Saibot? Nothing but John Tobias and Ed Boon laughing at you for wasting your time.
The Souls series is highly-regarded by fans across the globe, but its luster was somewhat dimmed by Dark Souls III. While nothing drastically different transpired, the game just felt a little too different than its predecessors, particularly the well-loved original Dark Souls.
Though we can certainly understand some of the complaints leveled against the third entry, there are few who would complain about the Nameless King, a brutal hidden boss that ranks among the best encounters in the whole series. This malevolent nemesis rides into battle on a dragon from which you’ll need to dislodge him and then face him directly. The battle is impressive, cinematic and, of course, incredibly hard. In other words, it’s a ton of fun.
Indie darling Spelunky is a blast. Taking on the role of an Indiana Jones-styled adventurer, you need to navigate randomized caverns and ruins while risking everything to collect all the treasure in sight. Though the game is already exceedingly hard to begin with (in a way that’s challenging but fun), the developers decided to stick in an ultra-secret extra level and boss, both of which are challenging, but not very fun.
While you’re rewarded with a new character should you miraculously survive your hellish encounter, it hardly seems worth the added stress in a game already filled to the brim with it.
However, if you lust for achievements and 100% completion as much as the Spelunky guy, we guess we understand.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a massive, massive game that has enthralled countless players for countless hours. Essentially the standard for Western RPGs, the Elder Scrolls series is known for gargantuan worlds crafted with intricate detail, and Skyrim is no exception.
That said, no Elder Scrolls game is particularly difficult (well, except Daggerfall, but that’s only because the engine itself is so unchained that it can create randomized dungeons that simply don’t end and/or block the exit.) Skyrim doesn’t fall victim to this, however, and that’s due to the inclusion of Karstaag, an extremely hidden and difficult behemoth of a boss. Satisfying longtime players of Skyrim who still seek a challenge, Karstaag stands out as an epic encounter in a game filled with pushovers.
With clues like “Toasty,” “you can start finding me,” and “Mortal Kombat One,” Smoke is likely the most obscure hidden fight in the already obfuscated world of Mortal Kombat II. Did that selection of clues help you figure out how to fight him? No? Obviously, you need to press down and start as soon as (if) the Toasty guy appears on the Portal stage.
If done correctly, you’ll have a showdown with the mysterious Smoke, who will likely wipe the floor with you due to his immense speed. Not only is it ridiculous to decipher his clues, but with the match’s brutal difficulty, you’ll likely lose, and then have to repeat the entire, practically random tasks again. However, surely, after receiving nothing for defeating Jade and Noob Saibot, Smoke yields something… right? No.
Reptile was the secret character that started it all for the Mortal Kombat franchise. So after not one, not two, but three separate entries bashing the highly concealed characters of Mortal Kombat II, why are we now praising the one that pioneered the insanity? The answer is actually pretty easy: Reptile helped grow and spread the popularity of the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Along with the graphics, blood, and controversy, it was the existence of this super secret character that more or less led a grassroots campaign into discovering who he was and how to access him.
To top it all off, unlike the others, you at least get something for defeating Reptile: 10,000,000 points to go along with your bragging rights.
As a footnote for some and a benchmark to others, Final Fantasy IX is one of the least talked about entries in the franchise, at least outside of the inner circle of hardcore fans. While VII is fondly remembered by the masses, it’s cool to hate on VIII, and X has its own massive fanbase, and IX often seems forgotten.
This is a shame because this lovely throwback game is one of Squaresoft’s supreme masterpieces… except for that one superboss that they put in because they just couldn’t help themselves. Ozma is a disaster. In fact, it might be the most diabolically cruel superboss in the franchise, which is saying something since the entire franchise is filled with comparable abominations. It's so completely awful that you’ll actually regret wasting hours of your life to farm the items necessary to fight it.
The original two Donkey Kong Country games are legendary. They helped define the level of quality the SNES was known for and, even if only for a brief time, they were seemingly more prominent and popular than Mario himself. That all came to an end with Donkey Kong Country 3.
While not a bad game by any means, DKC3 was developed by a mostly different team, and it contained some unusual gameplay and design elements that didn’t quite mesh with the incredibly high bar set by the previous outings. Luckily, DKC3 had an ace up its sleeve: an entirely hidden zone and secret final boss. To reach it, you’ll need to drive around four rocks on the map and collect every bonus coin. The ensuing world and battle are excellent and nearly raises the quality of DKC3 to the expected level.
A large chunk of the list is dedicated to the annoying secretive boss battles in Mortal Kombat II. All three of them are extremely difficult to not only access, but also to win. This problem is expanded upon in Super Street Fighter IV to an even worse degree. Riding the coattails of the game that essentially resurrected the fighting genre, this expansion added a huge problem in the form of Oni, an absurdly difficult boss.
Most fighting games have obnoxious boss encounters at the end of their arcade modes that frustrate and challenge players, but Oni is the worst of all.
Accessing his battle is a pain in the butt that requires immense skill, precision, and luck, and the actual combat against him is so painfully unfair you’ll feel bad for even trying in the first place.
Melee was not in need of saving. It’s a brilliant game and, as we mentioned earlier, it's still considered the best entry in its series. Aside from the characters, stages, music, and gameplay, Melee was also blessed with a ton of secrets and extra content (like Trophies.) In short, it always felt like it had something left to uncover and surprise you with, and the addition of Crazy Hand might be the best secret in the game.
Unlike other hidden bosses, Crazy Hand actually has a poetic and paradigm-shifting presence. After years of being groomed to battle Glover, aka Master Hand, it was nothing short of a total shock to face off against his erratic partner in crime, the lefty known as Crazy Hand. Again, Melee did not need to be saved, but this impactful hidden boss did it anyway.
Are there any other hidden bosses that hurt or saved their games? Sound off in the comments!