It’s Debate Day! Today we’re wrestling with a truly potent question: who is the best video game final boss of all time? If you want to see Aaron’s pick, check this out: The Human-Reaper: The Best Final Boss of All Time. But if you want to read my opinion (the cool and right opinion), read on!
The culmination of any great video game is an amazing final boss. The hero’s struggles against the forces of evil and his emotional highs and lows eventually bring him face to face with the big bad. A great final boss confrontation has dramatic tension, a thrilling atmosphere, and most of all, provides a significant challenge.
I considered a lot of great final bosses when deciding my pick for best ever. Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Ganondorf/Ganon from Ocarina of Time, Robotnik’s Death Egg robot from Sonic 2, and the final Bowser fight from Super Mario Brothers 3 are all among my favorites. But when I really thought about it, there was only one final boss that perfectly balanced all the crucial elements: Andross from Star Fox 64.
Spoilers ahoy! Not that there’s much to spoil, but I’ll be doing it.
First let’s talk about dramatic tension. Andross is one hell of a bastard. This megalomaniacal, floating monkey-head of a scientist is a brilliant mastermind. General Pepper banished Andross from idyllic Corneria to the hellish nightmare planet known as Venom, where presumably he would either eke out a meager existence or die of exposure immediately; Cornerian law is sketchy at best. But Andross was like “hell naw.” He somehow survived and began constructing a massive base of operations from which to strike at Corneria.
General Pepper sent in James McCloud, father of our hero Fox McCloud, along with Peppy Hare and Pigma Dengar. Pigma betrayed the team, selling them out to Andross. Peppy escaped, but James was trapped on Venom, presumably murdered by Andross.
Thus we have classic main character motivation: son of a bitch killed my father. Now that Andross has somehow managed to raise a vast armada who swear loyalty to him for … reasons … it’s up to Fox and his team to put an end to Andross’ madness once and for all. Fox saddles up with Peppy, Falco Lombardi, and Slippy Toad to liberate Lylat one planet at a time.
Secondly, let’s take a look at atmosphere. Setting, mood, and music go a long way towards turning a good boss fight into a great one. Star Fox succeeds on all counts. After battling their way across the besieged Lylat system, Fox and co. reach Venom, its sickly brown surface wreathed in a toxic green atmosphere and covered in jagged cliffs and foreboding structures. On the “true” path, the team confronts Star Wolf one final time before descending into the bowels of the planet to face Andross himself.
The stakes are already high, and after the harrowing battle with Star Wolf the player feels apprehensive about what to expect next. Descending alone through the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Venom’s surface, Fox hears Andross’ voice hurl discouraging threats at him.
Andross himself appears in a void-like space, his disembodied head and hands dwarfing Fox’s Arwing. But the monkey-faced madman proves no match for Fox’s weapons. After some laser fire to the eyes, Andross explodes. Victory seems imminent… but then the real boss appears, and Fox switches to All-Range Mode.
Which brings me to the final, and perhaps most important point: challenge. Andross is tough. His little eye-dudes have to be dispatched first, and meanwhile the brain pursues you relentlessly. It’s easy to bump into the eyes, the brain, or the lasers trailing between them, but this is the easiest part of the fight and the bitching music ought to get you in the mood to inflict some traumatic brain injury.
After the eyes are destroyed, Fox must shoot a small weak point on the lower rear part of the brain. The problem is that Andross is smart enough not to just reveal his weak point, and constantly teleports around the weird, extra-dimensional arena. The player has to combine boosting, breaking, loop-de-loops, and U-turns to get a decent shot at the weak spot. To complicate matters, if you get caught in the weird tentacly bits hanging below the brain, Andross pulls you in and deals a horrific amount of damage to your Arwing, definitely destroying both wings in Expert Mode. Dying to Andross is okay since you get to start at the brain phase again, but you won’t get those Hyper Lasers back if you still had them, making subsequent retries that much tougher.
When Fox deals the fatal shot, Andross still isn’t done. Like any true villain, he brings down the house around him, forcing Fox to flee for his life. As Fox wonders which of the twisting passages in the underground complex will take him to the surface, his father’s ship appears before him, and James’ voice offers guidance. Fox narrowly escapes the exploding base, but there’s no sign of his dad. Andross is defeated, and Fox is left to wonder if what he saw was real, a ghost, or simply his own imagination.
It took me five or six tries to beat Andross’ final form when I first attempted it as a kid. My palms were sweaty from the hours of space shooting leading up to the finale, and I can remember the satisfaction I felt when I first sent the crazy ape to the afterlife. Many final bosses are too easy and a let-down after their build-up, and many are cheap bastards that require rote memorization or pure blind luck. Andross, by contrast, is fair. He’s hard — oh yes, he’s hard — but you never feel cheated, and once you’ve got his number, that bastard’s going down.
I can’t think of any other final boss that so perfectly weaves in emotional build-up, mood, and difficulty. Andross is the culmination of an awesome, fun, and at times brutally tough game, and he fits his role perfectly. When Fox McCloud finally confronts the mad monkey after a game’s worth of build-up, it’s the perfect finale to a damn-near perfect game. Fox has vengeance for his father, hard-won from a tough fight in the spooky core of a barren planet. That’s what makes Andross the best final boss of all time.
So what do you think? Do you agree with my obviously correct opinion, or does Aaron’s argument tickle your fancy? Sound off in the poll below! And if you think we both got it wrong, let us know in the comments!