I love the Metal Gear series. In fact, I have an unhealthy obsession with it.
When thinking about what to write for this feature in honor of the upcoming PlayStation 3 release of Metal Gear Solid 4 (OMG!) I had a lot to mull over. Rev Anthony and Jim Sterling wrote some intelligent dissertations on the underlying themes of the series. Maybe I could dissect the subtle nuances between the series’ character arcs? How about an in-depth look at how the games’ visual metaphors have evolved over the years?
After laughing uncontrollably, I realized: Let me just leave the smart stuff to Rev and Jim. I love making lists and I love the bosses in Metal Gear. How about just combining the two?
Over the years, Hideo Kojima has created some of the most intricately crafted boss battles ever experienced in a videogame. They are so well-designed, so original, and so unlike anything ever seen before.
So which ones are the best of the best? It was unbelievably hard to narrow down, but hit the jump for a list of what I think are the ten best bosses in Metal Gear history.
10. Metal Gear Rays (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – PlayStation 2)
The original Metal Gear Solid ends with an epic battle with a huge Metal Gear Rex. The enormous mech towers over Solid Snake and is one of the most daunting and intimidating boss battles in the series’ history. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, main character Raiden is confronted by three. All at the same time.
The set-up: Having thwarted most of the enemies in the game, main character Raiden arrives at the center of the MMMM facility only to be confronted by antagonist Solidus Snake and his three (plus) enormous Metal Gear Rays (aquatic evolutions of the aforementioned Metal Gear Rexes).
The battle: Despite being seemingly impossible at the start, the battle with the three Metal Gear Rays is actually not that hard. By using his Stinger Missiles, Raiden is able to take down the monstrous machines by hitting them in key weak points, all the while cartwheeling around a downpour of missiles and lasers.
Amaaaaazing factor: Besides being undeniably epic in scope, fighting the multitude of Metal Gear Rays is surprisingly fun. Like David and Goliath or even Shadow of the Colossus, there is something immensely satisfying about a relatively weak character taking out a giant adversary. Multiply that feeling by three and you can understand why this battle is so great.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: After beating the game, replay on the hardest difficulty setting. You think fighting a few Metal Gear Rays is hard? Try a seemingly endless barrage of the huge robotic weapons.
9. Gray Fox/Frank Jaeger (Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – MSX2)
The very first Metal Gear for the Nintendo Entertainment System -- while incredible -- did not offer the same level of epic boss battles as its more recent successors. It wasn’t until Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for the Japan-only MSX2 when that classic, slightly ridiculous Metal Gear feel started to shine through. The boss battle with Gray Fox is the perfect example of this.
The set-up: After defeating the massive Metal Gear, Snake discovers that it is piloted by none other than his friend and fellow agent from the first Metal Gear game, Frank Jaeger (a.k.a. Gray Fox).
The battle: Taking place in a tiny room, Snake and Gray Fox battle to the death using no weapons at all, only their fists.
Amaaaaazing factor: To explain why Snake only can fight with his fists, right before he heads in the room to battle Gray Fox the game suddenly informs the player that all the items in Snake’s inventory have caught on fire! Hurriedly, the player checks his/her inventory screen and, behold, everything is aflame! You actually have to toss the items out of your inventory to avoid further damage to Snake’s health. Sure, it’s absolutely ridiculous, but that is what Metal Gear games are all about!
Oh, that crazy Kojima: Why do those two guys in the Codec screen look so familiar? Kojima decided to base the in-game models of Solid Snake and Gray Fox on actors Michael Madsen and Tom Berenger, respectively.
8. Fatman (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – PlayStation 2)
The first Metal Gear Solid was definitely absurd at times (love on a battlefield!), but Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty took things to a whole new level!
The set-up: Fatman is a member of Dead Cell, the special forces group that serves as the antagonist for Raiden in the Metal Gear Solid sequel. Named after the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki, Fatman is an explosives expert that challenges Raiden to a duel near the beginning of the game.
The battle: Taking place on a heliport covered in huge metal crates, this boss battle involves Fatman on a pair of roller-skates as he outruns Raiden and plants bombs everywhere in an attempt to blow MMMM up. In order to defeat him, the player must figure out a way to attack the fast moving boss while constantly neutralizing the C4 with some equipped coolant.
Amaaaaazing factor: Did you not read that Fatman is on roller-skates? The battle with Fatman is ridiculous, there is no denying that, but it is a shining example of the now common Metal Gear tradition of featuring boss battles that are the perfect combination of ludicrous, creative, and ultimately rewarding. Fighting Fatman may be humorous, but trying to recognize his chaotic patterns while disarming lethal explosives is very challenging.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: If you wait a bit while fighting Fatman, he will eventually get distracted by the pretty seagulls flying around the strut and stare out at the ocean. Use this strange window of opportunity to cause massive amounts of damage!
7. Cyborg Ninja/Gray Fox (Metal Gear Solid – PlayStation)
Gray Fox makes one of the greatest returns in videogame history in Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation.
The set-up: Clad in ninja gear, the character once known as Frank Jaeger -- who first made an appearance in the original Metal Gear -- keeps his identity a secret until his dramatic encounter with Solid Snake. Thought to have been killed after their last confrontation, Snake is surprised and saddened that the two have to do battle again.
The battle: Just like in Metal Gear 2, this boss battle utilizes nothing but good old-fashioned punching. While Snake’s weapons don’t catch on fire like the previous game, every time he uses a weapon other than his fists Gray Fox easily dodges. Carefully avoiding Gray Fox’s agile attacks and returning with a few well-placed punches will eventually lead to a bittersweet victory.
Amaaaaazing factor: Even tough it is very similar to the original battle with Gray Fox, the Metal Gear Solid battle feels much more powerful on so many different levels. From the dramatic cutscenes that precede it to the massive sword that Gray Fox fights with, Snake’s battle with his old friend uses the advanced technology of the PlayStation to offer something much more substantial and dramatic than the original Gray Fox/Solid Snake encounter.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: When playing through the game a second time, Snake has access to a camera to take pictures of anything he wants. If Snake snaps a picture in the room where he fights Gray Fox, some of the developers will appear as “ghosts” in the background of the photograph. Creepy.
6. The Boss (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – PlayStation 2)
Despite its feeling of familiarity, the final sequence in Metal Gear Solid 3 is gorgeous, displaying some of the best graphics ever seen on the PlayStation 2.
The set-up: In Metal Gear Solid 3 -- a prequel to the series -- The Boss betrays Naked Snake and becomes the main antagonist of the game. It isn’t until the very end when Snake finally gets an opportunity to confront his former mentor.
The battle: The fight with The Boss is the final battle in the game, but it is actually not that unique. Running around a flower field, Snake must hide behind trees and camouflage himself in the bright, white flora to defeat his surprise adversary. While still an awesome battle, the combination of stealth and shooting mechanics make it feel like any other boss battle in the Metal Gear series.
Amaaaaazing factor: In addition to its beauty, the battle with The Boss offers an ending that is equal parts surprising and disturbing. After bringing The Boss down, Snake is tasked with administering the final, fatal shot to her head. The kicker is the player has to pull the trigger. After a long cutscene plays out, the game waits for the player to push a button on the PlayStation 2 controller to deliver the final blow. You have to make the decision to kill Snake’s former mentor and friend. The effect is haunting.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: The flower petals that float around the field will actually change color when Snake or The Boss is hurt by the other.
5. The Sorrow (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – PlayStation 2)
Now we’re talking! The Sorrow is what the Metal Gear series is all about: a battle that completely puts a spin on what players expect from a normal boss fight.
The set-up: The Sorrow is actually dead before Metal Gear Solid 3 even begins! A former member of the evil Cobra unit, The Sorrow sacrificed himself in battle for his lover, The Boss. After encountering strange visions of him throughout the game, Snake finally faces The Sorrow in the spirit world after jumping off a waterfall and almost killing himself.
The battle: The battle with The Sorrow is not really a battle at all. In fact, Snake never even fights this boss in the traditional sense. Wading through a long, dark river, Snake must dodge attacks by a floating Sorrow while avoiding spirits that try to slow him down. Once all the spirits are avoided, the battle is “won” and Snake awakens back in the world of the living.
Amaaaaazing factor: The length of the boss battle with The Sorrow is completely determined by how many people Snake kills throughout the game. Every single character that dies by Snake’s hands comes back as a spirit during the boss battle and tries to slow Snake down, making it harder for him to dodge The Sorrow’s attacks. Since the game promotes stealth, if the player only kills a few enemies, the battle with The Sorrow is extremely short and easy. On the other hand, if Snake kills a huge amount of foes, the battle feels like it will never end.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: If you shoot the spirits of the bosses you have defeated up to that point in the game, they will react in very strange ways. For example, The Fury – a boss fought earlier in the game – will perform a wacky dance for no particular reason.
4. Liquid Snake (Metal Gear Solid – PlayStation)
As the Metal Gear series moved to the PlayStation, it went from a well-designed stealth game to a ridiculously over-the-top cinematic tour-de-force. While this is what polarized the series amongst gamers, it is also what made Metal Gear what it is today (and the main reason most gamers love it).
The set-up: At the very end of the first Metal Gear Solid, Solid Snake finds out the main antagonist Liquid Snake is actual his brother, as both of them were clones of their “father” Big Boss (the main villain from the original game). The final battle with Liquid starts on the top of the massive (and destroyed) Metal Gear Rex.
The battle: Having been stripped of his shirt (huh?) Solid Snake is forced to fight Liquid with nothing but his fists. The battle is extra tricky for a couple of reasons: Snake can fall off the edge if he is not careful and there is a very limited window of time for Snake to emerge victorious. If he doesn’t beat the timer counting down on screen, it is an immediate game over.
Amaaaaazing factor: The fist fight with Liquid is revealing and challenging, but it is what follows that makes the boss battle so memorable. After depleting Liquid’s energy, Snake and his companion Meryl hop into a jeep to escape the facility. Once in the jeep, the vehicle is automatically controlled by Meryl, with Snake manning the gun turret. What follows is one of the most intense and cinematic experiences in videogame history, with Snake shooting a not-dead-yet Liquid as he chases behind him and Meryl in a jeep of his own.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: While fighting Liquid on top of Metal Gear Rex, Meryl is seen tied up in the background. Defeat Liquid and Snake unties Meryl before they jump in the jeep. However, if Snake surrenders during a torture scene earlier in the game, once Snake unties Meryl, she is dead. Luckily, companion Otacon jumps in the jeep to assist Snake. But talk about a sad alternate ending!
3. The Shagohod (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – PlayStation 2)
While the jeep sequence in the original Metal Gear Solid is incredible, the battle with the Shagohod in Metal Gear Solid 3 is just plain jaw-dropping.
The set-up: After defeating one of the main antagonists Volgin in a one-on-one battle, the evil, electricity-filled boss hops in a giant tank called the Shagohod. Hero Naked Snake and his companion Eva leap into a motorcycle and take-off, the monstrous tank following close behind. Like the jeep battle (see #4), Eva drives and Snake shoots from the sidecar.
The battle: The battle is broken into three main parts: The first part finds Snake and Eva driving through the massive facility Groznyj Grad while being pursued by other motorcycles and the enormous Shagohod. Once this dizzying and stunning sequence is complete, Snake is then required to use his sniper rifle to detonate three sets of explosives as the Shagohod crosses a bridge. Once that is complete, the final section of the boss battle involves Snake fighting Volgin and the Shagohod an epic arena free-for-all.
Amaaaaazing factor: The opening part of the boss battle is enough to impress, as Naked Snake and Eva race from the tank in the extended sequence on the motorcycle. But as you just read, the entire battle is made up of three separate parts, each requiring different skills learned in the game to obtain victory (driving, sniping, action gunplay). Even more impressive is the fact that this battle -- offering set pieces and cinematography any summer blockbuster would kill for -- is not even the last one in the game.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: While fighting the massive tank, if Snake equips some camo obtained by a fallen boss, Volgin won't attack him.
2. Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid – PlayStation)
As the Metal Gear series progressed, Kojima began to incorporate gameplay mechanics that broke down the mystical “fourth wall” -- the space between the player and the actions occurring in-game. Never before has this technique been so cleverly utilized than during the mind-blowing fight with Psycho Mantis.
The set-up: About halfway through Metal Gear Solid, Snake joins forces with Meryl, the niece of one of Snake’s superiors. Before they make it very far, Meryl complains about not feeling well right outside the office of a deceased commander.
The battle: Upon entering the office, Meryl is possessed by FOXHOUND member Psycho Mantis and tries to kill Snake. After freeing her, Snake is forced to battle Mantis while defending himself from the spooky boss’s lethal mind tricks.
Amaaaaazing factor: Although it takes place in a less-than-epic small office room, the battle with Psycho Mantis will go down in history as one of the series’ most memorable boss battles. Mantis actually reads the controller plugged into the PlayStation, making the battle near impossible to beat. Once the player removes the controller and plugs it into the other control port (the one normally reserved for a second player), Mantis can not read the player’s actions and is therefore much easier to beat.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: Before the battle begins, Psycho Mantis actually psychically reads the Memory Card inserted into the PlayStation. Have a saved game from fellow Konami game Symphony of the Night? Mantis will comment on how much you like playing Castlevania. He even controls the rumble on the controller with his mind. Super creepy? Yes. Totally awesome? Absolutely.
1. The End (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater – PlayStation 2)
Is it really a surprise that this ended up as number one? The battle with The End is not only the best boss fight in the Metal Gear series, it is arguably the greatest boss fight in the history of videogames.
The set-up: After traveling a long way, Naked Snake eventually makes his way into a large, thick section of the jungle. Perched on the edge of a hidden precipice, master sniper The End sits waiting for Snake with his rifle in hand, determined to eliminate him.
The battle: The battle with The End can literally last for hours. Taking place in a huge section of the jungle, The End remains hidden through the entire battle, finding a good spot and just waiting for Snake to move into view. The End will rarely move unless threatened, making the boss battle a test of endurance and extreme patience.
Amaaaaazing factor: Where to begin?! As mentioned earlier, the fight with The End can last for hours. While this may seem boring to some, it ultimately adds to the fight’s overall realism and reliance on strategy over intense gunplay. The epic game of hide-and-seek Snake and The End play with each other in the beautifully designed jungle setting is unlike anything experienced in any other videogame. Add in the fact that the meticulous fight is littered with some incredible details (realistic weather effects, tracking footsteps with a directional microphone, The End falling asleep if the battle takes too long, etc.) and you easily have the most creative and original boss battle in the Metal Gear series.
Oh, that crazy Kojima: Want to kill The End the easy way? Once the battle begins, save your game, exit to the PlayStation 2 main menu screen, and fast forward the internal clock about one week. When you restart the game the already decrepit End will have died … of old age.
As you can see, there are some pretty incredible boss battles in the Metal Gear series. Hopefully this tradition of excellence continues in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 4 that I am about to play IN JUST A FEW SHORT HOURS! OMG!
From the little I know about the game (I am trying to stay as unspoiled as possible), it looks like some pretty epic boss fights await. The anticipation is killing me.
Who knows? Let’s hope this list requires a little updating in the near future.