Video games have always relied on boss battles to challenge their players and change up their style of play. Any game based on fighting or competition is bound to have some rivals more difficult than others, and no developer is absolutely perfect about the progression from early to late game. That means that there are always bound to be some hugely challenging boss battles that the player winds up facing early in the game, and some climactic fights that feel awfully anti-climactic.
This list collects entries from both those categories, focusing on shockingly difficult bosses that wound up near the beginning of games and disappointingly easy bosses that were supposed to be a game's ultimate challenge. We found bosses from the Souls series, classic Nintendo franchises, and a variety of other games, and every single one of them will stick out in the memories of players - though not all for the same reasons.
There are a lot of ways a boss can be too hard or too easy, and many of them have to do with a player's expectations. Many of these bosses find their way onto this list because they seemingly came out of nowhere-- the early bosses with a huge difficulty spike or the final bosses with a limp ending to an otherwise challenging game.
Some players may not remember these battles as anything out of the ordinary, as some of these bosses were only challenging or easy to players in specific circumstances.
Here are 10 Hardest Early Video Game Bosses (And 10 Final Bosses Way Too Easy).
20 Too Hard: The Sand Bird—Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine has a somewhat conflicted legacy, with some devoted fans declaring it one of the best entries in the franchise, others decrying it as a drop in quality. However they feel about it, though, everyone agrees that certain levels are incredibly, frustratingly difficult.
There's no guarantee of the player's order, since they can pick and choose which levels to beat first, but the first real challenge players were likely to encounter is the Sand Bird.
Found on Gelato Beach, the bird isn't really an enemy, more the stage for a red coin collection challenge that left many newbies tearing their hair out. Wheeling above an endless abyss, the bird's slow flight gave players numerous opportunities to slip up and plummet, forcing them to start over.
19 Too Easy: Dark Beast Ganon—Breath of the Wild
With a game as vast, beautiful, and surprising as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it would have been hard for developers not to have a final boss battle that didn't quite live up to the rest of it.
While most of the fight against Calamity Ganon is a thrilling challenge, the very last part just disappoints.
Dark Beast Ganon forms after the player defeats Ganon's normal forms, a gigantic creature made out of pure Malice that appears in Hyrule Field.
While Calamity Ganon requires strategy and skill to defeat, the fight against Dark Beast Ganon is laughably easy by comparison. The player simply rides around beneath Ganon on horseback with Zelda, waiting for an opening to shoot him with the Bow of Light. The fight is visually impressive, but not hard at all.
18 Too Hard: Brock—Pokemon Red/Blue
Admittedly, this battle was only difficult for some players. Brock, the famous Rock/Ground trainer from the anime, was originally the first gym leader in the Kanto region, whom players met while they still had only a few Pokémon.
Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow all featured Brock as the first gym leader, and about a third of the kids who played those games did not have an easy time.
Basically, the problem was that Brock's defensive Rock/Ground type Pokémon destroyed Fire, Electric, and Bug types, and if the player chose Charmander (or Pikachu, in Yellow) they were pretty much screwed. Squirtle and Bulbasaur could mow the gym down singlehandedly, but without a Water or Grass move the player was out of luck, requiring much more work to make it through.
17 Too Easy: Gwyn, Lord of Cinder—Dark Souls
The Souls franchise made its name on tough fights, but that doesn't mean there aren't occasional letdowns. In the lore of Dark Souls, Lord Gwyn was a former God who sacrificed himself to begin the Age of Fire, giving parts of his soul to others. Thus, it makes narrative sense why Gwyn would finally show up looking tired and weak.
Still, for players who went through the game for the challenge of it, the fight was disappointing.
Compared to other battles in the game, Gwyn doesn't rank anywhere near the toughest.
People got ready for a fight to end all fights, only to be able to parry their way through Gwyn pretty easily. Though it made sense for the character, it was still too easy.
16 Too Hard: Matriarch Benezia—Mass Effect
Like a few other entries on this list, Mass Effect allowed players to pick their own path through the game's narrative, meaning that players occasionally chose to do missions that were better left till later in the game. One of those is the ice planet Noveria, where players can face the Rachni and Matriarch Benezia, Liara T'Soni's mother.
Benezia is a powerful biotic, and players should really recruit Liara, help the colony of Feros, and do some side quests before facing her. It's certainly possible to beat her before doing the other stuff, but players new to the game are likely to need to restart the battle several times before winning.
Benezia is no pushover, and her space magic powers can be frustrating even for experienced commanders.
15 Too Easy: The Black Hand of Sauron/Sauron—Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of Mordor made waves back in 2014 when it introduced several gameplay elements that allowed for a unique, free-flowing playing experience. The Nemesis system, combined with combat and stealth systems that drew comparisons to the Arkham and Assassin's Creed games, gave players a ton of freedom over how to attack certain fights.
This rule did not, apparently, extend to the final boss. The Black Hand of Sauron, the entity Talion has spent the whole game searching for to get his revenge, doesn't have any kind of an entertaining boss battle.
He completes a ritual that allows Sauron to manifest in his body, and all the player has to do to win is complete some quicktime events.
It's not exactly the epic finish fans were expecting.
14 Too Hard: Iudex Gundyr—Dark Souls 3
When the Dark Souls franchises decides to teach its players a lesson, you better believe it's going to be a harsh one. The very first boss players face in Dark Souls 3 is Iudex Gundyr, a corrupted champion knight.
While not a difficult fight compared to other bosses in the game, facing Gundyr as the player's very first fight is a moment they won't soon forget.
Iudex Gundyr was designed to force players to try different combat strategies in the same fight, as there isn't one foolproof way to deal with all of his attacks. He made players abandon an old standby strategy from previous Dark Souls games (turtling up with a sword and shield), forcing them move and dodge instead.
Oh, there's also a giant lizard monster that rips its way out from inside him halfway through the fight.
13 Too Easy: Rodrigo Borgia--Assassin's Creed II
The Assassin's Creed series is known for a lot of things, but impressive final boss battles isn't exactly one of them. Arguably the best example of these underwhelming fights came in Assassin's Creed II, when Ezio Auditore finally caught up with the man who orchestrated the destruction of his family: Rodrigo Borgia. This fight should have been epic; instead it was pathetically easy - even boring.
After landing in the middle of the Vatican and attacking Borgia, all players had to do was deal with a pretty standard fight before a cutscene.
After that, players had to beat Borgia up with their fists, a slow, tedious process made less enjoyable by listening to Borgia rant about his philosophy all the while. The whole thing could've been a cutscene and there would have been little difference.
12 Too Hard: Berserker—Gears of War
In a game like Gears of War, you might not expect to have to use brains to defeat brawn, but that's exactly what it asked of players in the early going. One of the first bosses the player encounters is the Berserker, a female Locust Drone that players can't damage with any of their normal weapons.
Instead, players had to lead the Berserker out of the building they found it in. The Berserker is blind, so players had to get its attention and carefully bring it into the open where the Hammer of Dawn could take care of it.
This slightly counterintuitive approach cost a lot of players' lives, as the Berserker was a real threat in close quarters. You couldn't just shoot your way through this one, making it frustrating for many players.
11 Too Easy: Yu Yevon—Final Fantasy X
While Final Fantasy X received good reviews when it first came out, modern gamers might find the dialogue and combat system more tedious than anything else.
Yu Yevon is the final boss of that game, and he might as well have been a cutscene. An unexplained floating entity, his battle takes place while the player's party is under the effects of the Auto-Life spell, making it impossible for the players to perish.
There's quite literally no way to lose this fight, making it more of a protracted formality than anything else.
Some players consider the previous fight with Braska's Final Aeon the "true" final boss.
10 Too Easy: Bowser—Super Mario Galaxy
To make a good final boss fight, you just can't afford to do a simple retread of fights the player has already completed. Super Mario Galaxy, while certainly a great game, didn't listen to this advice, and the Bowser levels are some of the least interesting in the entire game.
In earlier levels, Bowser appears as a boss, prompting Mario to have several showdowns with him. Unfortunately, all three of these battles have the same structure-- Bowser attacks Mario on a small planet, Mario has to get Bowser to land on lava, Mario uses his spin move to win.
This was a fine early boss, but reusing the same format for the final boss felt lazy, and players didn't have any trouble using the same tricks to win again.
9 Too Hard: Odogaron—Monster Hunter World
The Monster Hunter series of games is packed with tough fights and fiddly gameplay mechanics, so it should be no surprise to see one of their number here. Odogaron might not seem any more threatening than other monsters at first, but it quickly taught any arrogant new players a lesson in just how quickly they could perish.
A surprisingly quick fanged wyvern, Odogaron can surprise players in the early game with its speed and added bleeding damage.
Since players need to either eat a steak or crouch without moving to heal bleeding, Odogaron is able to punish them with its fast attacks. This can be tricky even for experienced players, and for new players it served as a wake-up call that the monsters in this game weren't going to be easy to hunt.
8 Too Easy: Moon Presence—Bloodborne
Bloodborne, the only part of the Souls family of games that doesn't have "Souls" in the title, is yet another video game that excels at giving players extremely challenging bosses. So why does this final boss earn its place on the "too easy" side? Simple: the game gave players another, harder boss to compare it to.
Gehrman, the First Hunter, is the final boss in most normal playthroughs of the game. He's a candidate for hardest boss fight in the game, and by comparison, the Moon Presence (the final boss of the game's true ending, obtainable only if the player ate three Umbilical Cords) is a breeze.
There are several effective strategies that allow players to carve through the monster, and it's hard not to recall just how much more challenging Gehrman was.
7 Too Hard: Soul Master—Hollow Knight
Don't let the cute artwork fool you. Hollow Knight, the recent indie 2-D platformer and action game, hides some extremely difficult challenges within, both in its battles and its platforming.
The Soul Master isn't anywhere close to the hardest boss in the game, but the fight arrives so early that it can catch players off guard.
Found in the Soul Sanctum in the City of Tears, this boss will likely be the third major fight players have to face, and it's much tougher than the previous challenges. Using quick slam attacks and long-range magic, the Soul Master can make players feel stupid and slow, especially the ones that didn't spend time adjusting their charms and strategy to face the flying wizard. And that's before the second phase starts.
6 Too Easy: Lucien—Fable 2
Fable 2 is a game that built up a final confrontation that was ultimately solved with the press of a button.
Players watched in the beginning of the game as Lord Lucien Fairfax, mayor of Bowerstone, shot the protagonist's sister and sent the player crashing to the streets below. Yet when the time came, instead of a pitched battle to decide the fate of the world, players ended Lucien's life with one shot from a gun.
If the player chose not to shoot, one of the companions took the shot instead.
All in all, the game started with a bang, but ended with a whimper.
5 Too Hard: Nue—Nioh
Nioh, like many games that were inspired at least in part by the Souls series, is an extremely difficult video game. And like many games that appear on this list, there is one boss in particular that served as a wake-up call to players. That was Nue, the fourth boss in the game-- a spooky chimera comprised of monkey, tiger, and snake parts.
Dealing consecutive lightning attacks, Nue presented a serious challenge to players, especially if they didn't stock up on lightning-resistant items.
Nue was in contention with Yuki-Onna for a spot on this list, as she is also a tough fight in the early game, but Nue comes earlier, so it gets the edge.
4 Too Easy: Lambent Brumak—Gears of War 2
Gears of War, the third-person cover shooter set to get a new installment soon, finds its enemies in mutated life forms, usually as grotesque as possible. That was certainly the case for the Lambent Brumak, a mutation of the normal Brumak (which already grew to 40 feet tall) that served as Gears of War 2's final boss.
There were some pretty effective strategies to take the Lambent Brumak down, mostly involving the Hammer of Dawn.
Players found that it was much easier to survive this fight than the fights that came before in the game. The Imulsion-fueled mutated version of the gigantic Brumak should have been a colossal challenge, but players found themselves in a cake walk instead.
3 Too Hard: Grilgan—Lost Odyssey
Who doesn't like to repeatedly fail to beat the very first boss of the game they're playing? Grilgan, a huge winged monster the player meets soon after the tutorial, probably turned many players off from the game thanks to the immediate, oppressive difficulty.
Possessing several attacks that were way more powerful than anything else players had seen thus far, Grilgan could easily bring the entire party down to 0 HP. If players got unlucky, Grilgan would use these attacks consecutively, and even experienced players would be able to do very little but restart the battle.
More than a few people had to look up the best strategy to face this beast online -- apparently, the best way to do it is spam Flare.
2 Too Hard: Father Gascoigne—Bloodborne
Most players were having a very nice time in the early going of Bloodborne. The atmosphere was spooky, the enemies were challenging but not frustrating, and everything was going fine. Then they ran into Father Gascoigne, the game's first mandatory boss. That's when everything went to hell.
Gascoigne was the wake-up call boss, like several others on this list, designed to show players just how fiendishly difficult the game could get. At first seeming to be nothing more than a quick, challenging version of the player's own move-set, Gascoigne morphs into a ferocious beast that can be difficult just to dodge, let alone damage.
If you played Bloodborne, you likely have a story involving perishing at the hands of Father Gascoigne.
1 Too Easy: Baby Bowser—Yoshi’s Story
Yoshi's Story wasn't nearly as beloved as its predecessor, Yoshi's Island, and one of the reasons for that was the odd, easy gameplay. The whole game was pretty short and definitely on the easier side, one better suited to pawn off on kids than hardcore Nintendo fans, and Baby Bowser might be the best example of this.
The baby version of the classic villain Bowser is the main antagonist of the game, after he stole the Super Happy Tree.
In his battle, Baby Bowser spat fireballs and threw bombs, among other attacks.
Kids who grew up on the Mario family of video games couldn't help but feel disappointed--this just wasn't a fight worth having.
What's the hardest early boss you've ever battled? Let us know in the comments!