5. Super Mario 64 (N64)
This is the first time the world has seen Bowser in 3-D. And, granted, he looked like one of those plush knock-offs you win at the carnival, but he’s still imposing. Killing Bowser here involves doing something you’ve never done before — working with the 3-D space. In the first two Bowser fights, all you need to do is toss him into a single bomb. If you miss, he leaps back on to the platform and continues coming at you… very… slowly.
But he can rotate like a mofo, so you gotta turn tight circles around him until you can grab his stubby tail (assuming you don’t jump too early and careen off at an angle), then spin the control stick and press A at the right time to propel him into one of the bombs he’s placed at the edge of the arena… for whatever reason. Whatever Bowser is, a good interior designer he is not.
4. Super Mario Bros. (NES)
I really can’t make a list of Bowser fights without including the first. If by a miracle, you managed to keep your Flower Power throughout the castle, you can pelt him with fireballs (if you can also avoid his hammers, fire breath, podoboos, and whatever else he’s throwing at you). Or you can run under him and hit the “axe” (it looked more like a flashlight to me) to make the bridge collapse and drown him in liquid hot mag-ma.
But I always considered the axe the poor man’s way out. The only true way to beat Bowser is to fireball him to death. Why? For one thing, all Bowser does is fall off screen. How many times has a bad guy fallen off a bridge only to come back? Second, if you fireball him, you see that in each level, except for the last, it’s not really Bowser. It’s a minor enemy–a goomba, a blooper, or a buzzy beetle. I figured, if there’s one Bowser left alive, the princess still isn’t safe.
3. Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
I mostly included this one for the novelty of it. To cleanse the palate, if you will. You really don’t see Bowser at all until the end of the game. For half of it, it’s “Shadow Mario”–some clone responsible for jizzing paint all over the piantas, and Super OCD Mario has to clean it all up. Then halfway through, Shadow Mario is revealed to be Bowser Jr., the illegitimate son of Bowser (first, eww, how do Bowsers reproduce? Second, did he eat his other kids?)
And then the big setting for his final boss fight is Bowser’s jacuzzi. Which he has apparently filled with either lime Jell-O or. We used to have dark, spooky castles and floating platforms surrounded by bombs. No, those are passe. Whirlpools in space are where it’s at now. Plus the boss fight is exceedingly simple, as the video demonstrates. Just pound out the little extensions and rock the boat, tip the boat over.
This form of Bowser is not a boss in the truest sense. SSBM is a fighting game with no discernable “quest” per se. Although Giga Bowser does appear as a boss in Adventure mode, he only appears if you’re on Normal or higher, and you get to him within 18 minutes, using no continues. But the fun part is, you won’t know this guy exists until you launch regular Bowser off into oblivion. The victory pose runs, and you’ve seemingly won… until he hops back on the stage and swallows the last vial of ooze.
Then Mario craps his pants.
The fact that you so rarely fight this fight diminishes the awesomeness of his entrance and attacks. If you can defeat him, that is a feeling of satisfaction unequated. It’s nice that they included Giga Bowser as Bowser’s Final Smash in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but it’s not quite the same as that first surprise.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
This is my favorite Bowser fight because I have the most memories of it. This is the first time seeing Bowser since Super Mario Bros. 1 a billion years ago. He was easy to defeat then, would he be easy to defeat now?
The answer? No. Because he’s basically now invulnerable. Fire flowers don’t work. And if you’re lucky to get through the castle unscathed, without losing your suit, you’ll find those do no good either. In fact, the only way to bring about his downfall is to bring about his downfall.
The first thing that struck me was how well animated he was. Bowser could move, he could jump, and he must have had like ten frames of animation just for turning. Then he killed me with a fireball. The next time I got there (it was not the subsequent time I entered the castle, let me tell you), I remarked about the subtle movements of his body as he bounced up and down, the way his cheeks puffed before breathing fire. Then he jumped on me and killed me.
The hardest part is figuring out what the strategy is while dodging the fireballs and jumps that come at such bad-to-time times. And this is before the Internet, so you had to pay for this knowledge with your lives, and you better have enough to pay the piper. It’s similar to the last time you faced Bowser, in that you have to avoid his fireballs and make him fall off the bridge. But there’s no magic axe this time. You have to avoid his jumps and let him slowly crash through the floor. There are so many ways to screw this up, especially if you win, and find yourself on the other side of an awkward gap to get to the door.
But what I remember most is that the first time I beat the game, I was playing at a friend’s house. We were doing two-player, and we both made it to the end. But I ran out of lives. But since I was the better player, he gave me his controller. And so, really, in my mind, it was Luigi who beat the princess the first time. It was probably one of the rare times when anyone saw the screen of Princess Toadstool (nee Peach) thanking Luigi for saving her.