I wouldn’t say that the Mario series is one that’s known for having particularly good bosses, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some great ones, and in this article I’ll elaborate on how they stack up. These bosses will be judged on three criteria: design, presentation, and battle mechanics. I didn’t have any sort of rule limiting these selections to 3D Mario titles, but they do all happen to be from the 3D Mario games; the 2D fights just aren’t as compelling.
10. Boomsday Machine – Super Mario Galaxy 2
This is one of the most underrated Mario boss fights if you ask me. It’s far and away the best Bowser Jr. Battle. And also the only boss fight from Galaxy 2 that made it on this list; Galaxy 2 doesn’t have the strongest selection.
Design: First off, let’s talk design. You’re fighting a castle tower. With rods of fire rotating around it. Mounted atop continuous tracks, like a tank. The thing looks badass, and I can’t believe it doesn’t get talked about more.
Presentation: You start the level off landing right next to the broken remains of the Megahammer, which was the last machine Bowser Jr. tried to use against Mario. It’s a really neat touch that adds significantly to the build-up of the battle: what is he going to use next? What could top Megahammer? The cutscene wherein the castle transforms into a tank was pretty sweet; always cool to see an immobile boss gain mobility. Reminds me of Koloktos. As for the music, it’s Bowser Jr.’s theme, not great, but serviceable.
Battle Mechanics: This battle actually makes pretty good use of the Cloud Flower, which has got to be one of the most easily-forgotten power-ups of all time. You have to use the gusts created by the fans on the battlefield to propel the cloud you create upwards so that you can ground pound the control unit where Bowser Jr. resides at the top, avoiding the fire rods and energy blasts along the way. After dealing this bit of damage, you must repeat this method but with the added difficulty of dealing with the tower’s newfound vacuum ability that it uses to destroy the clouds you create. After dealing damage a second time it rises from the ground, revealing itself to be a tank that will try to crush you as you once again make your way to the top to deliver the last blow. The fight does a good job of continuously building yourself and while it’s not really challenging(what Mario boss is?), it’s satisfying to beat.
9. Bouldergeist – Super Mario Galaxy
Easily the best non-final boss from Galaxy, and one of the more predictable additions to this list.
Design: It looks surprisingly hellish for a Mario boss. It’s comprised of boulders stacked together that form a demonic face, complete with horns and yellow eyes, along with a pair of massive hands. That’s right, it’s one of Nintendo’s signature head-with-hands bosses. This is at least the best variant the Mario series has seen, though, so I don’t hold that against it. Bonus points for being a clear shout-out to Luigi’s Mansion’s Bogmire.
Presentation: Not a lot of build-up, to be honest. Very standard fare for a Galaxy boss: you soar to the boss platform, very aware that a boss fight is about to take place. You get a quick cutscene of the boss materializing and it’s on to the battle! The music, while not memorable, fits the fight and the way it picks up when you have Bouldergeist on the ropes is a joy.
Battle Mechanics: The behemoth will throw several different attacks at you: it’ll throw rocks, create stalagmites, punch, and slam its hands down. Nothing special; it’s very typical stuff for a head-with-hands boss. What makes this fight so delicious is the way you use its own minions against it(again, like Bogmire); you wait for a Bomb Boo to approach you and then spin, allowing you to grab hold of its tongue and start swinging it around in a wide berth. And looks great and feels even greater. You then slam the Bomb Boo into quagmire’s body, dealing damage. Deal enough and you’ll reveal its weakened state, wherein it’s just a floating face with dangling uvula that you must bomb. Rinse and repeat. I swear, nothing is more satisfying then gathering three or four Bomb Boos at once and hitting Bouldergeist all at once with their combined force.
8. Lord of Lightning – Super Mario Odyssey
And here we have our first Odyssey boss. This boss is a bit of a special case in that it’s simultaneously amazing and underwhelming; the former attribute is enough to get it on this list, but the latter keeps it from getting any higher.
Design: Far and away this boss’s strongest suit. It’s a massive, black/purple photorealistic dragon that looks like something straight out of Dark Souls. That’s right, a photorealistic dragon. Not some cartoony thing like Gobblegut; a genuinely intimidating flying lizard. It’s just a sight to behold, and may have the best design of any Mario boss. You can see every last detail, from the gums encasing its teeth to the individual scales glistening with electric energy.
Presentation: It’s amazing in this regard as well. While traveling in the Odyssey, Bowser shows up out of nowhere standing atop this titan, which proceeds to blast away the Odyssey with its lightning breath. You land a wrecked Odyssey in a Kingdom that, like the dragon, looks like something straight out of Dark Souls. You can’t help but be in awe of your uber-dark surroundings as you make your way to the boss arena.
Battle Mechanics: THIS is where the underwhelming aspect comes into play. For such an aesthetically unique boss the battle is surprisingly standard. Most of the dragon’s body looms outside the battlefield, with only its head within reach of the boss arena. It shoots some rings of lightning at you before slamming its head onto the arena to create a wave of lightning, at which point you jump atop its head, remove some stakes to take off the crown, and ground-pound its revealed weak spot. Rinse and repeat twice and you’re done. It’s just so… NORMAL. You’d think they’d try to make a crazier fight; you know, something that actually takes advantage of the fact that you’re fighting a giant photorealistic dragon. I would have preferred a sort of obstacle course/escape sequence wherein you’re running away from the Lord of Lightning as it destroys the Ruined Kingdom around you, but alas, ’twas not meant to be. The lackluster fight really leaves a sour taste in my mouth and hurts the boss’s standing somewhat.
7. Petey Piranha – Super Mario Sunshine
Having made numerous appearances in spin-offs and inspiring quite a few knock-offs, it’s safe to say that Petey Piranha has become one of the most iconic Mario bosses to date.
Design: It’s a mobile Piranha Plant in full bloom: yeah, that seems like the best way to describe it. It looks goofy between the disparity between its giant head and small body and the underpants it appears to be wearing, but I quite like it. It’s a cool design, and the subsequent rip-offs the boss got in Galaxy and Galaxy 2 is a testament to that.
Presentation: Yes. Just… yes. The beast stands on the roof of a windmill atop a massive hill, and the second you begin your ascent up towards it you’re bombarded with balls of vomit that don’t cease until you reach the windmill. And once you do, the cutscene that follows is a pretty great intro to the boss fight: Petey roars so loudly that the windmill roof cracks before collapsing, sending both him and Mario falling inside. The boss fight then takes place inside of the windmill, complete with a shaft of light shining down from where the roof broke; the presentation for this boss is just superb; it’s easy to see why it left such a lasting impression.
Battle Mechanics: Left unchecked, he’ll vomit sludge all around that spawn those slimy enemies nobody remembers. The key is to start spraying him as he opens his mouth to upchuck; you fill him full of water to the point that he acquires an outie, which you must ground pound to do damage(the noise it makes in pain when this happens is extremely satisfying). It’s definitely among the quirkier fights in a Mario game, as well as one of the most fun.
6. Brigadier Mollusque-Lanceur III, Dauphin of Bubblaine – Super Mario Odyssey
And here we have another boss from Odyssey. That name alone is almost enough to justify its placement, but it’s got a lot more than that going for it. I really hope this one becomes the next Petey Piranha.
Design: It’s an octopus with a European aristocratic flair to it. The thing has a gem-encrusted cravat, an ornate cape of sorts, and a cute little feathered hat sitting atop its bald head(prior to getting the first cork launched at it). And the hairs! UGH, THEY’RE SO NEAT TO LOOK AT. They give Mario’s mustache hair a run for its money in how well Odyssey textures it. It may have my favorite design of any Mario boss.
Presentation: It’s pretty good presentation-wise. I like that he’s visible from the second you enter Seaside, causing trouble for the citizenry. You have to activate switches that launch corks at him, progressively making him more and more pissed until the boss fight begins. His defeat animation sticks out as well; his head swells to the point of exploding, launching Mario to the top of the tower.
Battle Mechanics: This is ultimately what puts him above the Lord of Lightning. The boss fight takes place over the entire Kingdom rather than a confined boss arena, and consists of Mario capturing a Gushen in order to chase Mollosque down and spray his cranium with water; it gives off some strong Sunshine vibes, which is a good thing. Attack-wise he’s nothing special, spitting out a couple different projectiles, but that’s not what makes the fight fun: it’s the chase. Because sufferin’ succotash, is he evasive. And once you do corner him and start hitting his head, he’ll actually manage to escape again before you can deliver the last bit of damage necessary to bring the fight into the next phase. It’s a neat little expectation-subverter.