The Super Mario franchise isn’t known for being difficult, but it isn’t exactly easy either. The best stages tend to be the hardest ones, challenging players to really understand the mechanics and concepts at play. Time and time again, Mario’s level design soars. Unfortunately, the same praise can’t always be extended to boss fights.
This isn’t to say that the series has bad bosses, just that they aren’t the focus and it shows. Often, Mario games will come to underwhelming conclusions thanks to their final boss fights. It’s the stages that fans are here for. That said, every now and again, Nintendo proves that Super Mario can boast quite the epic battle.
10 BEST: Super Mario Odyssey (Bowser)
Super Mario Odyssey’s final boss fight against Bowser isn’t particularly difficult, but that has less to do with Bowser being an easy boss and more to do with Mario himself just being capable of so much in Odyssey. Mario naturally runs circles around Bowser— something the game does design itself around.
While the fight be a bit on the easy side, it’s certainly memorable and makes for an incredible conclusion to the game. Better yet is Odyssey’s entire final segment where Mario takes possession of Bowser and players blast their way out of the final stage. It’s an appropriately epic conclusion to one of the Switch’s best games.
9 WORST: Super Mario Bros. (Bowser)
Any final boss that plays out more or less like every other boss in the game is not going to leave a particularly good impression on the player. To its credit, Super Mario Bros. final Bowser fight does throw plenty of obstacles at the player to the point where they’ll need quick reflexes to survive long enough to drop Bowser into lava.
Unfortunately, the game’s RNG means that some players can immediately run past Bowser without much issues while others might find themselves choking in the same position. Either way, it doesn’t make for a satisfying conclusion to the fight.
8 BEST: Super Mario Galaxy (Bowser)
Super Mario Galaxy wasn’t the first time that a Bowser fight felt both epic in tone or challenging, but it was the first time where a Bowser fight managed to pull off both very successfully. Super Mario Galaxy feels like it comes to a genuinely bombastic ending, one that’s been building up not throughout the game, but over every confrontation between Mario and Bowser.
It actually feels like two rivals duking it out for the final time. Of course, that doesn’t end up being the case (Super Mario Galaxy quite famously got its own direct sequel,) but that doesn’t make this final boss fight any less incredible.
7 WORST: New Super Mario Bros. (Bowser & Bowser Junior)
New Super Mario Bros.’ final boss fight wants to be a direct reference to the first game’s final boss fight. Honestly, all of them on a whole feel like they wants to be the original Super Mario Bros. While that may work in the game’s favor as far as level design is concerned, the boss fights suffer as a result.
Fighting both Bowser and Bowser Junior at the end of the game just makes for such a dull conclusion. Worse yet, the real meat of the fight is against Bowser Junior while players are just expected to dodge flames from Bowser before casually knocking him into lava.
6 BEST: Super Mario World (Bowser)
Some swear this fight is difficult, others claim it’s easy. Really, it all comes down to how well someone manages to master Super Mario World’s control scheme. More than any other game in the series, Super Mario World’s difficulty curve is designed with the player improving in mind. It makes for a very dynamic playthrough and final boss.
It’s certainly nice that Peach plays a role in the boss as well. There’s more at play than just jumping on an enemy three times. Players need to be strategic and quick. As far as classic 2D Mario goes, there’s really no beating Super Mario World.
5 WORST: Wart (Super Mario Bros. 2)
Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t a bad game by any means. Worse than both Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3? Absolutely. A bad game? Not a chance. It’s an amazing follow up to the original SMB that does a better job expanding the first game’s inherent level design than its Japanese sister game. Too bad it has a lackluster final boss.
Really, of the NES games, only Super Mario Bros. 3 has a good final boss and that one isn’t even that good. Wart certainly requires more strategy and thought than Bowser did in the first game, but he feels too far in the wrong direction— slow and methodical in an otherwise fast and concise platformer.
4 BEST: Super Mario 64 (Bowser)
The fact that the final boss fight in Super Mario 64 plays out more or less like every boss fight is disappointing, but the change scenery, the new music, and the slow destruction of the boss arena make for a truly climactic finale to one of gaming’s most important video games. Throwing Bowser off for the last time really proves one’s worth as a Super Mario 64 master.
Tragically, the Super Mario 64 DS version isn’t handled nearly as well and just feels lacking thanks to worse lighting. Something The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D’s final boss fight also suffers from.
3 WORST: Super Mario Sunshine (Giant Bowser)
While Super Mario Sunshine is incredibly underrated and mechanically far more complex than almost any other platformer from its era, it almost feels like Nintendo learned the wrong lessons from Super Mario 64 in some places. Super Mario Sunshine feels bigger, but bigger isn’t always better, and this giant version of Bowser leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s a poor boss fight just in general, failing to take advantage of the core ideas that made Super Mario Sunshine so unique. It feels epic, but far less natural than Super Mario 64’s final boss fight. The ending itself also comes off very stiff and awkward, bringing the game to a strange close.
2 BEST: Yoshi’s Island (Baby Bowser)
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island wasn’t designed as a traditional Super Mario title, but it’s impossible to deny how intimately this game ties into itself the Super Mario mythos. It’s in every aspect Mario’s origin story, just starring Yoshi. It’s also one of the best platformers on the SNES and a truly inspired game on all fronts.
Its final boss fight is epic, chaotic, and incredibly fun, genuinely challenging the player while providing a thematically sound conclusion to the game. This was before the time the Yoshi franchise became brain dead easy, too, so Baby Bowser does pose a genuine threat.
1 WORST: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Bowser… Again)
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels isn’t a bad game, but it’s the closest any of the NES Mario games come to being one. It’s legitimately unfair, hard to the point of being tedious, and really seems to exist just to torment the most hardcore of 2D Mario fans. Worse yet, it features more or less the same boss fights as the original.This means that the final Bowser fight is nothing special whatsoever. Though, to be fair, it’s not like Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is a particularly special game. At its core, it’s more akin to a New Game + bonus mode in terms of content than a completely new game, let alone a direct sequel.