There is no foe in all of gaming as persistent as Bowser. Since his debut in 1985, the King Koopa has dedicated his life to defeating Mario, kidnapping Princess Peach, and causing all around mayhem in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Though Mario has bested him countless times over the past 30 years, Bowser just keeps bouncing back. But with so many memorable encounters against the King Koopa, which ones stand out as the best? The following is my list of the top 10 battles against Bowser from the Mario series. Keep in mind that I’m just sticking with the Bowser fights from the primary platformers in the series. So even though that final battle in Paper Mario was pretty awesome, it won’t be here.
Also note that this isn’t a list of “hardest” Bowser battles. Too often these days do gamers simply think a difficult boss automatically equates to good and an easy boss is automatically bad. This list is based on how creative the boss fights were, the tension they create, and how definitive they are for their respective games. Difficulty is a secondary thing here.
So without further ado, the top 10 Bowser battles!
10: Super Mario Bros.
Bowser’s debut appearance (and the first true boss fight in gaming) had to appear somewhere on the list. Although its simplicity puts it at the bottom of this top 10, that doesn’t take away the impact Bowser had in Super Mario Bros.
Bowser would cap off each of the game’s eight worlds waiting at the end of a castle. The fight simply consists of waiting for the opportune moment to get passed Bowser, grab the axe, and destroy the bridge, thus sending Bowser into a pit of lava (or just pelting him with fireballs if you’ve managed to keep the effects of a Fire Flower intact). But each subsequent battle in the game adds a little something extra to the equation. If Mario should manage to reach the eighth and final Bowser battle, you might still get a game over with all the hammers and fireballs Bowser dishes out.
It may be simple, but the fights against Bowser were memorable enough to make him Mario’s primary antagonist to this day. Not to mention they’re the most replicated boss fights in the series, with most of the New Super Mario Bros. titles imitating their simple formula.
9: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
While the New Super Mario Bros. games get a good deal of flak for being more uninspired than other entries in the series, there are times when they show a real sense of invention.
Although the Bowser fights of the New Super Mario Bros. games expand on the concepts from the original Super Mario Bros., the final battle in New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the most unique twist to that formula, and the best the series had to offer.
Sure, New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s level design can’t hold a candle to Mario’s finest (or even against New Super Mario Bros. U, for that matter), but it’s final boss deserves mention with any Bowser battle.
After Mario does the usual trick of sending Bowser into the lava below, Kamek the Magikoopa uses his magic to save his king, as well as making him gargantuan! Bowser becomes so big, in fact, that Mario and friends can’t even fight him head-to-head. Instead, they fight for their lives as they avoid Bowser’s bombardment of attacks, taking advantage of his destructive nature as Bowser inadvertently creates new passageways for Mario to escape the Koopa King’s wrath. Should Mario survive this obstacle course, he hits a switch that once again sends Bowser plummeting to who knows where.
A final battle so memorable, it outshines the rest of the game.
8: Super Mario 3D Land
The “run like Hell” method of Bowser fight that was started by New Super Mario Bros. Wii was later adopted into the “Super Mario 3D” sub-series. Though 3D Land isn’t the best Mario game out there (though still highly enjoyable), its final battle once again reached new heights, as Mario would have to brave yet another obstacle course and use every acrobatic in his arsenal to survive Bowser’s onslaught of fire and destruction.
But this fight also has a good sense of humor, with one segment seeing Bowser do his best Donkey Kong impression, throwing barrels from the background into the foreground, recreating Mario’s oldest antics for a new generation.
A second version of this fight appears in the last of the game’s “special worlds” after completing this fight. The second version is even more intensified, and should test even the most experienced of Mario veterans.
7: Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the best and most beloved Mario games of all time. It’s only fitting that it has a memorable Bowser fight to go with it.
Much like the original Super Mario Bros., you didn’t actually hurt Bowser, unless of course you used a Fire Flower or Hammer Suit (which is kinda cheap, really). Instead, the battle takes place on a series of blocks, and Mario has to outmaneuver more of Bowser’s fireballs and the King Koopa’s dreaded new stomp attack. But said stomp attack also demolishes the blocks where the battle is taking place. If Mario can outsmart Bowser and survive the encounter, he can trick Bowser into breaking enough of the battlefield to fall, once again, to a seemingly bottomless chasm.
The fight itself isn’t as difficult as the level that precedes it, but it is nonetheless a fun and inventive battle that capped off an amazing game.
6: Super Mario Galaxy
Yet another all-time great in the Mario canon, Super Mario Galaxy was a return to form for Bowser, after Sunshine not only had him take a backseat in the villain department to his own son, but also had a rather disappointing final encounter.
Galaxy returned to the 64-style three Bowser fights, with each battle tougher than the last. Accompanied by genuinely badass music, the Bowser fights took advantage of Galaxy’s gravity based gameplay. The plumber and Koopa did battle on a spherical battlefield, with Bowser sending shockwaves and flames across the miniature planetoid. If Mario manages to trick Bowser into breaking glass-like areas on the planetoid – revealing its molten center – Bowser will burn his tail and become vulnerable to Mario’s spin attack (not to mention the music becomes even more badass with a gregorian chorus). Mario then sends Bowser spinning across the planetoid in a battle that’s as weird as it is epic.
After years of playing things more comedic, Galaxy brought the true villain out of Bowser again. Both Bowser, and Galaxy, were better for it.