Boss battles are always an iconic part of any Zelda experience. The jewel in every dungeon’s crown, they put everything you have learned to the ultimate test. They are the only thing that stands in your way, the one obstacle separating you from victory and defeat, and there’s nothing quite so gratifying as dealing the final blow to a monster often ten times your size.
But there are just some boss battles which stand head and shoulders above the rest, the ones which we always look forward to no matter how many times we’ve played through them before. We all have our particular favourites, but the following entries are the boss battles which have particularly stood out for me over Link’s 25 years of adventuring. I hope you agree.
10. Lava Lord: Cragma
It’s a well-known fact that minecarts just make everything infinitely better. Taking a leaf out of Donkey Kong’s book for this boss battle, Link must use his bow to topple this giant molten monster as he careers round Cragma’s chamber in a small minecart. While the precision of the stylus makes hitting the glowing pressure points rather easy, it’s the battle’s fun and novel idea which makes this Spirit Tracks fight particularly memorable.
9. Ancient Stone Soldier: Eox
The last boss before Bellum in Phantom Hourglass, Eox is another mighty foe for our small hero. Using his trusty hammer, Link must catapault himself skyward and strike Eox at vulnerable weak points. Timing was everything in this three-stage fight, and it was always a mad dash to avoid Eox’s arrows and hand-slams as Link came into land. What’s particularly great about this boss battle is how it utilises both screens of the DS to emphasise Eox’s height, as you could only reach his head by launching yourself into the air. Similarly, while the stylus allowed for a similar level of weapon precision, Eox’s gradual increase in attack speed made it more and more difficult to hit the right spots as you hammered away at his heavy stone exterior.
8. Masked Mechanical Monster: Goht
You get to fight a boss as a Goron. ‘Nuff said.
Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out why Thunderbird is called Thunderbird. For starters, he attacks with fire, and it’s only by casting Link’s Thunder spell that you can actually make Thunderbird reveal his one weak spot (his head). It’s pretty counter-intuitive if you ask me, and it makes absolutely no sense. Even so, despite this elemental confusion, Thunderbird is certainly no push-over. He starts out as a pretty manageable monster, but the more successful hits you land, the faster his fireballs become. Toward the end they get so fast they’re practically a never-ending stream of utter pain and only the most nimble of warriors can break through and deliver the final blow.
6. The Demon Train
Perhaps somewhat unconventional for a Zelda boss battle, the Demon Train was the highlight of Spirit Tracks bosses for me, much more so than the fight against Malladus right at the end (if only because it was a poor imitation of The Wind Waker’s final battle against Ganondorf). Players had to navigate Link’s tiny locomotive across a series of four tracks to avoid colliding with the monstrous Demon Train as it swerved across the screen, all the while trying to brake, blast it with the cannon and steer clear of its numerous laser beams. There was a lot to think about onscreen and a lot of strategy involved– do you drive in close to avoid the lasers and risk getting squashed, or keep your distance at the peril of more damage?– but its main strength was that it was also very unpredictable, always keeping you on your toes. It was definitely a step up from other battles featuring other methods of transportation, such as the Big Octo in The Wind Waker and Ganondorf on horseback in Twilight Princess.
5. Twilit Dragon: Argorok
As I’ve already ranked the Double Clawshot as the best item in Link’s large inventory, it’s only fitting that Argorok, the City in the Sky’s final boss, puts on good show to match the Double Clawshot’s sheer level of greatness. Speed was everything in this fight, as Link not only had to avoid death by fire as he clawed his way from one floating peahat to another, but he also had to outwit his flying foe by striking him from behind. But Argorok wasn’t stupid—he often caught on to Link’s tactics and players had to react fast to avoid getting burned both literally and figuratively by this clever dragon.
4. Dark Link
Fiendishly difficult but ever so satisfying, Dark Link was waiting for you at the very end of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Just when you thought you’d beaten Thunderbird and finally claimed the Triforce of Courage, a tiny old sage makes you fight your own shadow to test your true worth (as if trekking through Death Mountain and the Great Palace wasn’t already proof of that). If you thought Shadow Link in Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple was frustratingly hard when he kept jumping onto the tip of your sword, then you clearly haven’t met this guy.
3. Nightmare: Dethl
The final boss of Link’s Awakening, Dethl took the idea of different boss forms to a whole new extreme. This nightmarish ghoul quite literally feasted on Link’s memories and morphed himself into six different enemies our hero had previously defeated in either the NES Zelda titles or A Link to the Past, including Agahnim and Ganon. But the real joy of this boss fight was how Link had to utilise nearly every last item he had to defeat Dethl, making a pleasant change from simply using his sword and bow all the time. Some of the boss solutions were pretty unexpected (magic powder to defeat the Giant Bot form?), so you really had to be prepared when you jumped down into the depths of the Wind Fish Egg– something which can’t be said of many other Zelda games.
Only number two!? What is this madness? Well, while Ganon has certainly been a staple of Zelda boss battles over the last 25 years, there’s just something about that sense of familiarity that prevents him from gaining the top spot on this list. With a weakness to light (or silver) arrows and the legendary Master Sword, the path to Ganon’s downfall has been engrained in the minds of Zelda fans the world over. That said, that doesn’t stop each of his appearances from being some of the most epic and nerve-wracking boss battles in the history of the series. I’ll never forget the first time Ganon knocked the Master Sword out of Link’s hands in Ocarina of Time– in that moment I thought all hell was about to break loose, but then I found my courage– I had a princess to save, and I wasn’t about to let her down.
1. Twilit Fossil: Stallord
The Spinner might have been a pretty useless item outside of The Arbiter’s Grounds in Twilight Princess, but it definitely made the fight against Stallord the most fun and enjoyable boss battle in the entire series. It has everything that makes a boss battle great– it relies on Link’s newest item and tests the player’s mastery of the Spinner’s dexterity; it’s a challenge befitting its place right before a critical plot point in the game; and it has excellent pacing. The difficulty curve between Stallord’s two larger-than-life forms was also pitched just right, and the limited amount of Spinner track when battling Stallord’s head forced the player to make quick decisions and timing judgments to great effect. But the most important thing about this fight is that it’s immensely fun and an utter joy to play. It’s a boss battle I always look forward to, more so than any other, and that’s why it’s number one.
So there you have it. Is your favourite boss battle on this list? Do you think Ganon should have been at number one? If you have a bone to pick, then I challenge you to a duel in the comments below!