We’re down to the final five of the Willtendo Ranks: Top Ten Mario Bosses two-parter. Click here for a link to the first part, featuring bosses 6-10.
5. Bowser – Super Mario Galaxy
And here we have the last and best boss from the Galaxy games! This is a case similar to the Lord of Lightning in that it’s basically all flash(a really impressive amount of flash, let it be clear) but not much substance in terms of the actual fight.
Design: Well, it’s Bowser. He’s a pretty well-designed character in general, though he looks pretty great in Galaxy and it bumps up his standing considerably. The textures on his skin and shell were surprisingly detailed for a Wii game and impressed at the time. It’s not quite as impressive now, but it still looks good.
Presentation: Yes. This is what sells the fight. The battle takes place at the center of the universe with a massive star set as the backdrop. The buildup is incredible when taking into account the cutscene prior to the level’s start, the battle theme that starts as you enter the final phase is godly, and the cutscene that follows the fight with Bowser watching his galaxy crumble as the supernova is set off is just… the presentation is glorious. It’s the best presentation of any boss fight in a Mario game and possibly of any Nintendo game. I cannot overstate just how epic it is.
Battle Mechanics: THIS is why this boss fight only barely squeezed into the top five. The actual battle mechanics are very underwhelming.
So for the first phase, you start on a fairly plain planetoid with a few thorny bushes and encased coins scattered about. First he’ll do some stomps that send waves of energy at Mario which must be avoided, like he’d done before in fights prior. Bowser transforms into a boulder for some reason and you have to time your spins properly to knock him out of his stony state and send him spinning before hitting him again to deal damage. While the boulder thing hadn’t been done before, it feels kind of odd to throw in and the whole spin shtick had already been done in the two fights you had with him prior.
In the second phase you’re taken to a planetoid that’s more or less the same as the first, but with the addition of Stretch Plants. He’ll start off breathing fire, as he’d done before. From then on he fight involves Bowser rolling around at high speeds yet again, this time in his shell rather than in a boulder. You must use the Stretch Plants to knock him out of his shelled state and send him spinning so that you can deal damage to him. It’s not much different from the first phase.
If you thought those first two phases were bad about reusing ideas, the third is even worse: it’s rehash central. It employs the fire breath, wave beams, and rolling that were already used in the previous phases and/or previous fights. In addition to this, the central mechanic used for this phase is getting Bowser to jump up and land onto glass that shatters and burns him with the lava underneath, allowing you an opportunity to spin him. THIS HAD ALREADY BEEN DONE IN BOTH OF THE PRIOR FIGHTS AGAINST HIM.
The final battle is ruined by Nintendo’s insistence on providing multiple Bowser fights beforehand which use the same mechanics. There isn’t anything substantially new here. And the same criticism applies just as much to the Bowser fights in 64, Galaxy 2, and Odyssey; the final fights are all just rehashes of a fight that’s already been done before, usually twice. While the presentation really is strong enough to get it a spot in the top five, the actual battle doesn’t live up to it, keeping it from being better than the next four.
4. Phantamanta – Super Mario Sunshine
I absolutely adore this boss. There’s just so much creativity on display. Can’t believe it never comes up. Completely underrated.
Design: It’s so plain and minimalistic, and yet so glorious. The Hotel Manager puts it best: “This giant manta-shaped thing showed up. It was this paper-thin…floating silhouette.” It’s just so eerie and it creeped me out as a kid; out of nowhere this massive(and it really is massive, spanning most of the width of the stage as it first comes at you) ghost sliding towards me. Plus Phantamanta actually fits in with the tropical resort theming of the game, which surprisingly few of Sunshine’s bosses made an effort to do.
Presentation: Oh, I love it. When you first come to Serena Beach you’re met with a ton of deadly electric goop lying all over the place with a massive square of it located on the far end. Make your way over there and speak to the Hotel Manager and you find out that some manta-shaped ghost caused all this destruction, even making the hotel disappear. Then, as he’s speaking, it returns as a spooky variant of one of Sunshine’s boss themes begins playing. It’s just glorious. And it doesn’t hurt that this is all going down at the most atmospheric location in the game; the seaside resort at sunset is just so good!
Battle Mechanics: It’s certainly unique. You have to spray water at the thing to get it to split itself into two smaller versions of itself. And then you spray those to get them to split into two smaller versions of THEMSELVES. And so on and so forth until you have a ton of the little buggers sliding around and spreading little electric goop trails all over the place. Eventually they’ll become small enough to disappear when sprayed rather than divide. Take out enough of them and the rest will all change color, becoming angry at Mario and chasing him down. While I could see some finding this tedious, I think it’s a lot of fun, and I found it pretty challenging as a kid.
3. Mecha Bowser – Super Mario Sunshine
This is the last Sunshine boss on this list. I wasn’t sure whether I should place this above Phantamanta. They’ve both got great designs, unique fights, glorious presentation, and they take place on the two best areas in the game. But ultimately I think I have to give the third spot to Mecha Bowser.
Design: It’s a giant robot version of Bowser. And this is the first time that’s been done(excluding Paper Mario, because let’s face it, that doesn’t count). Despite being kind of goofy-looking it’s a nice design, and the way it falls apart and becomes more decrepit-looking as you deal damage to it is a really nice touch. Plus it has a bullet-bill blasting breast.
Presentation: Oh yes. Oh boy does it have presentation. You start the level chasing down Shadow Mario as he runs through the newly-discovered Pinna Park. You track him down to the pool at the end when a glorious cutscene initiates in which Mecha Bowser makes his spectacular entrance. Then after an unfortunate text dump from the park manager(really messes with the flow, but it’s not too big an issue) you’re put on a roller coaster to fight Mecha Bowser, going through loop-de-loops and such, providing for awesome camera angles over the whole park as catchy music plays. And the way the machine falls apart as you do damage is satisfying to behold, and of course you get the Bowser Jr. reveal after defeating it. Very well-done.
Battle Mechanics: You’re riding around on a roller coaster using missiles to deal damage to Mecha Bowser as you have to use FLUDD’s spray feature to avoid oncoming bullet bills and extinguish Mecha Bowser’s flame breath. This fight may just be the high-point of creativity in Mario bosses. Plus it’s just hella fun.
2. Bowser – Super Mario 3D Land
If you ask me, this is far and away the best fight against Bowser as well as the best final boss fight of the mainline Mario games.
Design: It’s Bowser. He’s always had a pretty nice design. Not much to say here, although I guess one might point out the 3DS hardware limitations.
Presentation: The boss introduction goes for the bit where the floor starts cracking as Mario and Bowser look at each other comically before they’re both sent falling into the real final boss arena. It’s been done before and been done since. Nothing particularly special about it. I can appreciate how Peach is tied up against the flagpole, though; that’s an amusing touch. The music, while not anything glorious like what was in Galaxy or Galaxy 2, is pretty nice for what it is and fits the fight well(nothing like making that final sprint to that guitar riff). After beating the boss you get an amusing cutscene where Bowser is falling dramatically towards lava before being hit by falling debris and knocked off-camera. The presentation all-in-all isn’t phenomenal, but for a 3DS Mario it was fine.
Battle Mechanics: This is what a Mario final boss should be. Don’t give me some rehash of a fight against Bowser that you’ve already had twice before. I know a lot of people want to deal damage to the boss rather than play through the obstacle course with the Switch’O’Death at the end, but these obstacle course final battles make much more sense for the genre. Why not test a player’s platforming skills in one final flashy, exciting level rather than stopping the flow of the game for a mediocre final boss fight? Because let’s face it, 64, SMS, Galaxy, Galaxy 2, and Odyssey all had mediocre final battles against Bowser. They’re all just the same fight you’ve already had multiple times already; there’s nothing you haven’t seen in them. This Bowser fight manages to deliver in that it manages to feel like its own thing despite incorporating a few elements from previous fights and doesn’t end up being anticlimactic.
The fight has you utilizing the platform skills you’ve learned thus far to traverse across crumbling platforms, tightrope your way across crevasses, and dodge whatever Bowser throws at you: this ranging from fireballs to spiked balls to even barrels in an unexpected and glorious homage to Donkey Kong. You eventually confront Bowser, forced to dodge his fireballs and wait for him to jump so that you can run under and activate the Switch’O’Death in an homage to the original Super Mario Bros.(love the homages to classic games). This isn’t the end, however, as you must partake in another platforming segment as Bowser isn’t through yet, until you reach the final stretch of the level. I absolutely ADORE this part. The camera shifts so that you’re looking straight at Mario as he run towards the camera with Bowser sprinting after him in the background. You’re forced to get through a bunch of brick blocks that block your path and reach the end, wherein the TRUE Switch’O’Death lies which allows you to defeat Bowser for good. This portion just feels so simple yet so fresh. I loved having this final sprint for the finish and it made for a nice climax to the fight. While the presentation can’t hold a candle to the battle in Galaxy, unlike Galaxy, the actual battle is really well-done here, and for that I have to give it this spot.
1. RoboBrood – Super Mario Odyssey
Yeah, Odyssey has the best bosses in the series, doesn’t it? And Mecha-Broodal was easily my favorite of the bunch. And it even got me to get over my contempt for the Broodals to the extent that their inclusion doesn’t stop this from being my favorite Mario boss!
Design: It’s freakin’ awesome. It’s this giant wooden robot with Japanese theming. It’s this wooden cube with metal plating that has a cannon sporting the face of Madame Broode on its front held up by two metal legs with plating resembling that of Japanese armor. The best part is that there’s four glass domes housing each of the Broodals along the cube’s sides. That’s right: the Broodals got all Voltron up in this thing. I just love the concept.
Presentation: You get a cutscene with Mario trying to board Bowser’s airship only to be knocked away by those goofy top-hat boxing gloves Bowser has(Bowser could’ve just thrown a punch himself like he did in the opening cutscene; that would’ve even made for a nice parallel, what the heck, Nintendo). Upon landing on the ground in defeat, the RoboBrood falls out of nowhere with the camera delivering a shot of each of the Broodals greeting Mario from within their respective cockpits before the battle begins. And like I said, it’s totally a Voltron situation. Gotta love it. And when you factor in the sweet battle music that plays and the spectacular visuals(the colorful skies and fireworks are just… yes), you’ve got a boss battle with presentation out the wazoo. Having the Broodals’ dilapidated likeness appear in fireworks-form after their defeat is just icing on the cake. Oh, and different music plays when you put the thing in its vulnerable state; it’s just so awesome.
Battle Mechanics: This fight has what is, in my opinion, the single best use of the capture mechanic in the entire game. And what is it that you’re capturing? A tiny bird enemy called a Pokio. That’s right: the game’s best capture is not the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex, or the powerful Chain Chomp, or the tank-like Sherm. It’s a tiny bird. I love it.
The fight begins with the RoboBrood launching bouncing bombs at you. Avoid a few and a Pokio will pop out of the cannon. You use the Pokio’s ability to thrust its beak like a spear to smack the bombs back at the Robo Brood; take out the metal plating on the legs and the whole thing will topple over, at which point you can use the Pokio’s beak to bounce your way to the top where you can take out one of the cockpits, stabbing the glass with your beak until it shatters and sends the Broodal inside flying. It’s incredibly satisfying to knock over the machine, climb up, and take out the Broodals one by one.
As you progress the machine will acquire rainbow legs and start charging at you at a speed which forces you to abandon the Pokio and wait to capture another. It’ll also start ejecting these snake-like rings that rotate about and home in on you while you try to take out the legs. Not sure what they’re called, but they’re a nice addition to the fight. And I love that you can actually take out the legs in a different fashion to change up the order of which Broodals you remove from the machine first. All in all just a really well-done boss fight. It’s not necessarily the best boss in terms of design, presentation, or even the battle, but it does hit all three points at a very high level, allowing it to be a relatively flawless boss fight that earns the top spot on this list.