1: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Somewhat ironically, the best Bowser fight didn’t involve Mario facing off against his archenemy (at least not directly), but Yoshi!
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has always been one of the best and most heralded Mario titles. But two things it doesn’t get enough credit for are its rogues gallery of memorable bosses – who mostly fit into the “larger versions of regular enemies” category but somehow are made into something special – and its cinematic, atmospheric approach to them (need I mention the ominous fog that leads into the Hookbill Koopa battle?).
The final level of Yoshi’s Island sees the game’s true antagonist, Kamek the Magikoopa, stalking Yoshi and baby Mario and bombarding them with spells and minions in the spooky halls of Bowser’s castle. When Yoshi finally outmaneuvers Kamek’s spells, he comes face to face with an infant Bowser, and a wacky battle ensues in which Yoshi takes advantage of the bouncy floor of baby Bowser’s throne room to launch the would-be king skyward.
But after Yoshi bests Bowser in battle, Kamek reemerges and uses his magic to transform baby Bowser into a gargantuan, hulking monstrosity. Bowser becomes so big that he can no longer fit in his own castle!
Yoshi takes to the rooftop, and launches giant eggs at a looming Bowser in the background. But Yoshi has to act quickly, because the longer the fight goes on, the closer Bower gets to his castle. If Bowser makes it all the way to Yoshi, it’s all over. For a game as cute and happy as Yoshi’s Island, this is one terrifying and dreadful final boss.
Subsequent Yoshi games have attempted to recreate the feeling of Yoshi’s Island’s final showdown, but none of them have come close to matching its impact (or its awesome music).
There’s never been a more cinematic or ominous fight against the Koopa king. Nor a better one.