It might seem like a bizarre notion, but video game difficulty used to be decided by real life economics. The term "Nintendo Hard" refers to the brutal difficulty of some of the classic games in the NES library, such as Contra, Castlevania, and Battletoads. The reason these games were so difficult was due to the booming rental market - if a game was hard, then it would need to be rented several times in order to be completed.
The fighting game genre was birthed in the arcades of the 1990s. Arcade machines are only profitable if people are paying to play, and you pay more when you lost and wanted to continue. Thus, fighting games were made even more difficult in order to keep you pumping in coins. They would generally be toned down for console releases, but the original arcade version would still be very hard.
At the top of the food chain are the bosses. It is here that the developers pulled out all of the stops when it came to unfair character design. You want to see the credits screen? Then you better earn it, kid. From the four-armed monster of Mortal Kombat to Professor Xavier's dark side, here are the 15 Most Unfairly Hard Fighting Game Bosses.
16 Honorary Mention - Mike Tyson - Punch-Out
This list contains a lot of larger than life characters. The bosses from fighting games have a lot of aliens, mutants, and robots among their number.
It is odd then, that the progenitor of the unfair fighting game boss happens to be a real life athlete - Mike Tyson.
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out is considered a classic of the NES library. It was later renamed Punch-Out, as the licence to use Tyson's name expired before the later printings of the game could be released. It is considered by many to be one of the earliest fighting games, even though the original Street Fighter better fits the mould of what we consider modern fighting games to be.
The final opponent of the game is Mike Tyson himself, and much like the real life version, this boss does not play around. Most players cannot survive his initial bombardment of attacks, as you need pinpoint precision to be able to pull of the dodges necessary to not be annihilated in the first round. During the first few moments of the fight, one of his punches will knock you down. After that, it's a test of your skills against the greatest boxer in the world.
15 Goro - Mortal Kombat
The characters from the original Mortal Kombat were all made using real actors. They would be recorded performing the moves in front of a camera, the images would be digitized, and they would be turned into the character sprites.
One can only imagine the surprise of kids across the world when they reached the penultimate boss of the game, and saw a monster instead of a man - the four-armed beast known as Goro.
Unlike the rest of the cast, Goro was a clay figure, whose movements were created through stop-motion animation. Having an extra set of arms is the reason behind his monstrous strength. Goro's attacks remove somewhere between a fifth and a third of your health, so it only takes a few hits for him to win the round.
Goro is low on this list due to a certain trick that is effective in beating him. Even in the pre-Internet days, most kids across the world learned the secret of cheesing Goro to death. If you constantly perform a forward+jump kick, back away, and repeat, then Goro will not be able to retaliate.
14 Master Core - Super Smash Bros. 3DS/Wii U
Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U actually has several bosses, the one you face depends on the mode you're playing, and the difficulty you have selected. The Classic mode holds the most difficult boss battle in the game - Master Core.
In order to raise the difficulty, you have to bet in-game currency on your performance. If you lose a round, then the difficulty (and the stakes) are lowered. A large part of Master Core's difficulty revolves around completing one of the in-game challenges. The game has a massive board full of accomplishments, but you don't need to complete all of them. There's a limited supply of Golden Hammer items, which let you unlock accomplishments without actually doing them. One of the exceptions is the 9.0 Intensity challenge. If you want to beat it, then you have to do it the old-fashioned way.
In order to even reach Master Core on the highest difficulty, you have to complete a very difficult tournament. Once you reach him, you only have one shot if you want to beat the 9.0 challenge. During the battle, you first have to beat a combination of Master Hand and Crazy Hand before you even get a shot at Master Core's numerous forms. He starts out as a giant that can lift the stage, then turns into a wolf monster, followed by a set of floating swords, and finally, you face a shadow mirror-match of yourself. When fought in the Wii U version, he has an additional form called "Fortress", where he turns into a literal level that you need to complete.
13 Alpha 152 - Dead Or Alive 4
When it comes to designing a final boss, most game developers pull out all of the stops. From the twisted body horror of the numerous Final Fantasy end bosses, to the giant demons from the Doom/Quake series - the end boss is the time to get creative.
The producers of Dead or Alive 4 decided to be lazy when creating the end boss, and just used a reskinned version of Kasumi. Alpha 152 is the final boss of the game, and is a nude model of Kasumi (with Barbie doll anatomy) that also resembles a green hologram.
Alpha 152 has incredible strength, and can chop off three quarters of your health in a single combo. The Dead or Alive series has a large focus on counter attacks and throws, the kind that Alpha 152 can pull off with flawless accuracy due to her unfair A.I.
The most overpowered of Alpha 152's moves is her teleportation ability. She can disappear just as you are about to pull off a combo, and reappear behind you to perform her own devastating attack.
12 Azazel - Tekken 6
Most of the story in Tekken is based around the Mishima family. Heihachi, Jin, and Kazuya Mishima have been feuding for years now, and most of the other playable characters are connected to that struggle.
The end boss of Tekken 6, Azazel, is one of the few characters who is unrelated to the overarching story. Azazel looks an ancient Egyptian gargoyle that is made from crystal. The only explanation behind his appearance is that Azazel is the "ultimate evil". When enough evil energy is gathered in the world (in this case, by Jin Kazama), Azazel will awaken, and destroy humanity.
Azazel's crystal body isn't just for show, he has incredible durability. If you attack him while he is standing, then your hits will do very little damage. You have to get him off his feet and juggle him while he is in the air to do any significant damage. Due to his sheer size, he has the highest reach in the game. Not only can he strike you with his long limbs and tail, but he likes to spam a ground-based projectile attack, where crystals burst up from the floor. He is, quite simply, the best character in the game. He is actually playable in the PSP version of the game, but you need a cheat device in order to use him.
11 Seth - Street Fighter IV
Some fighting games will have a character that randomly possesses the moveset of another fighter. Examples of this archetype include Mokujin from Tekken, and Edge Master from Soul Calibur. With each new round of combat, they use the attacks of a different character.
Seth, the final boss of Street Fighter IV, takes this idea to absurd new levels. His moveset is made up entirely of enhanced versions of the best attacks used by other characters. He can use the Sonic Boom, he mixes Dhalism's teleport with Zangief's spinning piledriver, and he can perform several variants of the Shoryuken as part of a combo attack. His unique moves involve the engine in the centre of his body, and he can pull you towards him at will.
It seems that Seth was intentionally designed to be as frustrating as possible. He has all the strengths and none of the weaknesses. Even the most skilled players would have trouble against him on the hardest difficulty, as his character has overwhelming advantages over the rest of the cast.
10 Night Terror - Soul Calibur III
In the original Soul Edge, Siegfried the Knight canonically won the titular sword (presumably through spamming his long-range spin attacks, as he was the cheapest character in that game). In the sequel, he was possessed by the Soul Edge, and was turned into the evil being known as Nightmare.
Siegfried would eventually break free from Soul Edge's influence. The evil sword was not done with him, however, and possessed his suit of armor. This creature became the new Nightmare, and contained the power of the Soul Edge without requiring a wielder.
In Soul Calibur III, if you reach the end of the "Tales of Souls" mode, you will encounter the final form of Nightmare - Night Terror. After having achieved ultimate power in this realm, Nightmare grows a pair of fiery wings, and sets out to destroy his enemies.
Due to his power of flight, Night Terror cannot be defeated through a "Ring Out" (where you knock an enemy out of the ring and win the round, regardless of their remaining health). He possesses an unblockable eye laser attack that can knock off half of your health. In terms of stats, he is the fastest and strongest character in the game, with the longest reach by far. If you want to beat him, then you better be ready to cheese the hell out of the A.I.
9 Rugal/Omega Rugal/God Rugal - The King Of Fighters
Rugal Bernstein is one of the most notoriously difficult fighting game bosses of all time. What he lacks in style, he more than makes up for in strength.
The King of Fighters '94 was the first game released in the series. It was essentially the Smash Bros. of SNK, featuring characters from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier. All of the characters from these games were invited to the first ever King of Fighters tournament. Rugal organized this tournament to find worthy opponents to dip into liquid metal and turn into trophies.
Rugal has been a recurring final boss throughout the series, and he is an overpowered, cheap bastard in all of his appearances. He uses a mixture of the best moves of every character, along with a few devastating special attacks of his own. The most notable of these is his "Genocide Cutter", a powerful kick with a name that was censored in certain versions of the game (where it was either changed to "Destroyer Cutter" or left nameless).
The hardest battle against Rugal happens at the end of Capcom vs SNK 2. After draining the dark energy from Akuma, Rugal becomes "God Rugal" (or in some versions, Ultimate Rugal). His new name is well-earned, as God Rugal is one of the most unfair final bosses in fighting game history. He can kill you with two or three attacks, he has almost no move recovery (meaning his attacks happen almost consecutively), and he barely takes any damage from your hits (a feature that is removed when you play as him). The only advantage you have against God Rugal is the fact that you can use three fighters against him consecutively.
8 M. Bison - Street Fighter II
M. Bison is a brutally difficult boss in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. What adds insult to injury is the fact that he sucked when you got to play as him in Street Fighter II': Champion Edition.
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was the first of many versions of the game. Once you beat all of the other playable characters, you had to face off against four bosses. Balrog the boxer, Vega the matador, Sagat the Muay Thai expert, and M. Bison, the psychic dictator. Each of these were challenging in their own right (except for Balrog, whose moveset was very limited). As befitting the end boss of the game, M. Bison was the strongest of them all. He could leap across the screen and stomp on your head, a move that was very difficult to defend against. He could fly across the screen whilst covered in energy, turning himself into a deadly projectile that was hard to counterattack. M. Bison was all about fast movement, and being able to attack from unexpected angles.
In Street Fighter II': Champion Edition, the four bosses were made playable for the first time. In the hands of the player, M. Bison was much less effective in combat. The moves that the computer can perform so easily are a lot harder to emulate with human hands, meaning that his wide-range of aerial attacks saw a lot less play.
7 Eternal Champion - Eternal Champions
Eternal Champions was a series of fighting games that were exclusive to Sega. They were designed specifically for consoles (while most other fighting games of the day started out in the arcades). The Sega Mega Drive/Genesis needed this most of all, due to the limited number of buttons on the original gamepad. The series had a strong following, but was ultimately abandoned before the 32-bit era.
The plot of Eternal Champions is like a mixture between Street Fighter and Quantum Leap. A being from the future known as the Eternal Champion finds several fighters throughout history, and saves them a few moments before they were due to die. He offers them a chance to return to life and be saved from their fate... if they can win a tournament against each other, with the final opponent being the Eternal Champion himself.
To call the Eternal Champion cheap is an understatement. Not only can he spam projectiles (the player only has a limited ability to do so), but you need to defeat him five rounds in a row. You get a little bit of health back between rounds, but you only get one shot at beating him, as you will be knocked back to facing the fighter you fought two rounds ago in the tournament.
6 Chaos - Dissidia Final Fantasy
The end boss of the original Final Fantasy was a demon called Chaos. His design seemed to be based on the Pit Fiend monster from Dungeons & Dragons (who also took its design from the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings). Over twenty years later, he was brought back to become the chief antagonist of Dissidia Final Fantasy, a fighting game with a cast composed of the many heroes and villains from the Final Fantasy series.
Dissidia Final Fantasy has the best 3D movement in any fighting game since Power Stone. There are massive arenas to run around in, with destructible environments, and platforms to move between. The stage in which you fight Chaos is tiny by comparison. Chaos also has massive range and area of effect with his attacks, meaning he can hit you from almost any point in the arena. You have no room in which to manoeuvre or hide - your best bet is to try and go straight for him, and hope you get lucky. The battle against Chaos takes three rounds, and he gets stronger with each loss.
A greatly toned down version of Chaos would be made playable in the sequel, where he became known as Feral Chaos.
5 Karai - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise seems like a perfect fit for a fighting game. Konami apparently agreed, as they created Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for the NES, SNES, and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. The three games were actually distinct, with their own cast of characters that were different from the other versions.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters was kind of like a Smash Bros. for the TMNT franchise (even though Smash Bros. was still years away). The games used a mixture of characters from the cartoon, the Archie comics, and the original Mirage Studios comics. The end boss of the game was a character who, up until that point, had only appeared in the original comic - Karai of the Foot Clan.
The use of Karai for an end boss was unusual, as most players at that point would likely only be familiar with the cartoon. A more logical choice would have been Shredder or Krang. With that being said, the developers made Karai an absolute badass. She is the fastest character in the game, with a series of spammable aerial attacks. Her most devastating move is her "Dark Thunder" attack, where she briefly goes Super Saiyan, and creates a golden aura that deals tons of damage.
4 Dural - Virtua Fighter
The original game in the Virtua Fighter series is credited as being the first fully-polygonal fighting game, and one of the first games to use 3D graphics. Due to being the first of its kind, the developers can be forgiven for playing it safe with the design of the end boss. The final battle of each Virtua Fighter Arcade mode is Dural, a basic female character model made from silver polygons.
Dural was originally a ninja named Tsukikage. She was kidnapped by the Judgement 6 Corporation, after they had discovered her incredible fighting ability. They transformed her into a cyborg, and removed her emotions, making her the perfect fighter. Tsukikage was changed into Dural. Depending on the game in which she is fought, Dural uses a mixture of the best fighting moves of all of the other characters.
The true difficulty with fighting Dural is the fact that you only get one shot at her. Most of the other characters on this list can be re-fought straight away through the use of extra lives or continues. Whenever you fight Dural, you only get one shot - it's either win the battle, or game over. As such, you have no opportunity to learn her patterns and attacks, without having to go through the whole Arcade mode again.
3 The Undertaker - WWE 2K14
The Undertaker is the second person on this list to also exist in real life. Mark Calaway might be able to convince the WWE fans that he is some sort of undead monster when he steps into the ring, but he is no Mike Tyson. This is not real life, however; this is a video game. Anyone can be deadly when they are turned into a computer sprite, and the Undertaker is no exception.
In WWE 2K14, a mode was added into the game that was based on the Undertaker's legendary streak. Before he lost to Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XXX in 2014, the Undertaker had won all of his previous 21 Wrestlemania matches. The developers decided to turn this into part of their game, with the creation of "The Streak" mode. You could either play as the Undertaker, and defeat 21 other opponents, or you could play as another character and face the Undertaker.
The WWE present the Undertaker as a character with supernatural abilities. WWE 2K14 takes this to its logical extreme, and just straight up gives the Undertaker magical powers. Not only is he harder than the most difficult opponents in the game, he has an incredibly cheap move to escape losing a match. If you go for a pinfall, the lights will go out, and the Undertaker will now be standing behind you. Get ready to be hit by his finishing move (the Tombstone Piledriver), and just hope you have enough strength left to break the pin.
2 Geese Howard - Fatal Fury/The King Of Fighters
Geese Howard might be the most boring looking fighter on this list. In most of his boss battles, he's just a blond guy wearing an Aikido outfit. You should not let appearances deceive you, however. While Geese may not be a robot or a demon, he will still mess you up.
Appearing as the boss in the Fatal Fury series, Geese Howard is the organizer of the King of the Fighters tournament. Terry and Andy Bogard enter the tournament in order to take revenge on Geese for murdering their father. Geese would go on to appear in numerous other SNK fighting games, such as the Art of Fighting, and King of Fighters series.
In battle, Geese is known for spamming his Wind Slice ranged attack in order to deal lots of chip damage (due to the speed with which he can fire them). This is a ruse, however, in order to make the player try and fight him at close range. Geese is devastatingly strong and fast, and was one of the first fighting game characters to possess a reversal move (which he could abuse as no one else had one). In his subsequent appearances, Geese is still a powerhouse, and a challenge no matter what game he appears in.
Geese Howard proves that you don't need to be more than a human to make for an interesting boss. His appearance is as vanilla as they come, but his tremendous fighting skill is what sets him apart.
1 Onslaught - Marvel Vs Capcom
In 1996, Marvel Comics began the company-wide "Onslaught" event. In the X-Men comics, Magneto rips the Adamantium from Wolverine's skeleton. In retaliation, Professor Xavier uses his telepathy to wipe Magneto's mind, leaving him brain dead. This act allowed the dark side of Professor Xavier's mind to grow stronger, and eventually become its own independent being known as Onslaught. At the end of the event, many superheroes sacrificed their lives to stop Onslaught. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four both died in the final battle (...or so people thought).
With such a badass villain appearing in the comics, Capcom decided that Onslaught would make a great addition to their newest fighting game. Onslaught would become the final boss of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes.
Onslaught's first form has a huge sprite that flies around above the character, making him difficult to hit. He fills the screen with ranged attacks, most of which are unblockable. He can also spam assist characters (like the Sentinel) to do his dirty work for him.
In his second form, Onslaught becomes so huge that he takes up most of the background of the screen. The only part of his body that takes damage is his head, and he keeps flying around whilst filling the screen with projectile attacks. You only have a short period of time in which to defeat Onslaught, as the chip damage alone will kill you swiftly. You have to make every hit count if you are to succeed.
Have any of these final bosses brought a frustrated tear to your eye? Let us know in the comments!