50 Years Of Boss Fights Review (Book) – Battles Through The Ages

Boss fights are pretty cool, aren’t they? It’s easy to forget, in a time where a title like Elden Ring can have over 100 named bosses, that they had a rather humble beginning. 50 Years of Boss Fights is a deep dive into the history of the climactic clash of giants throughout our favourite hobby’s history. A blend of descriptive narrative and informative anecdotes from the minds behind the madness, it’s a fun read for any video game enthusiast.

Of course, the author, Daryl Baxter, has limited themselves to just 50 from a pantheon of choices. Some of your own favourites may be here, and some will be omitted to utter distain. Instead of this being an arbitrary look at “the best” or “greatest”, 50 Years of Boss Fights more focuses on the history, innovations and development of bosses as a whole.

There are obviously the usual standouts, but the attention to how boss encounters have morphed and changed over time is what really hooked me throughout. I’d never heard of the Golden Dragon from 1974’s DND, but it’s a compelling piece of video game lore to uncover. Even if the book itself doesn’t have all of your own personal choices, there’s plenty to learn and discover within.

50 Years Of Boss Fights

Biggest Boss

To its credit, 50 Years Of Boss Fights will have you delving into the history behind popular franchise figureheads like Sephiroth or Psycho Mantis. In fact, the Metal Gear Solid series is featured five times. Given it’s my favourite franchise of all time, I’m feasting merrily. Zelda, Portal, Mario and Dark Souls III all make their expected appearances, though some omissions may be grating for some.

As an example, I was surprised not to see Vergil of Devil May Cry fame not make an appearance. Moving away from the well known franchises gives space for IP like Gunstar Heroes, Pandemonium! and Ridge Racer to get a moment in the sunshine too. These were my particular favourite sections of the book, providing insight into how the very concept of a boss battle crystalised over the years.

It’s also worth noting that most of those franchises were before my time. Make of that what you will. However, as someone who has no personal history with those titles, it made it all the more compelling to learn about them. Which is why not seeing all of our own choices listed is vindicated – it expands the perspective you’ll have about the various games and bosses featured.

On the flip side of that same page, it’s always nice to read another viewpoint of a boss or encounter you yourself hold fondly in your memory. I remember my own encounter with Sander Cohen from BioShock way back when, but hearing the details of how Fort Frolic and the mad hack artiste came to be provided a wonderful sense of context to my own experience.

50 Years Of Boss Fights

Not The Boss Of Me

Different readers will search for different things when delving into Daryl’s exploration of our gaming adversaries. For me, the stronger parts of the book were the developer anecdotes and explanations behind the bosses themselves. Finding out there’s a spider companion in Donkey Kong Country 2 because one of the main devs wanted to make the scary critters less intimidating for people is fundamentally interesting.

In contrast, if you know a particular game or boss well, and there’s no real insider deep-dive for that entry, you won’t always be gleaning much new information. That was the case for me a couple of times, but there were others where Daryl’s ability to spot more nuance in some encounters changed my perspective of well-explored characters, too.

So, while there is the odd section you might not find as engaging or learn as much from, there are plenty others where your knowledge may be expanded, and that’s great. It helps that it’s all an easy read and is an upbeat celebration of a medium that’s been soured in more recent years thanks to controversy. It was warming to shed all of the negative industry press and tune into why we all love video games in the first place.

Plus, who doesn’t want to reminisce about the Hades duel in God of War III. Simpler, bloodier times.

50 Years Of Boss Fights

Bossed It

Is 50 Years Of Boss Fights worth the time to flick through? Most definitely. Being able to rekindle memories of old favourites, debate about which I’d have included or not, and expand my own knowledge of the entertainment I love through someone else’s perspective was fun. There were the odd entries that didn’t do as much for me, but the insight about titles I wasn’t even yet born to experience was great.

Boss battles are some of the most bombastic, innovative and memorable encounters from video games, for all sorts of reasons. 50 Years Of Boss Fights takes you on a journey through the timeline of their inception and thoughtfully considers how they’ve developed over the decades. The idea of Nemesis pursuing the player through Raccoon City might seem obvious now, but the book helps remind us that games have come a helluva long way over the past 50 years.

So, why not put down the controller for an afternoon or two and enjoy a pleasant reverie about all the big bads that have kicked our protagonists to the curb over the years?


A fun and insightful backwards exploration of the history of video game bosses, 50 Years Of Boss Fights provides a compelling way to reminisce over our favourite antagonists. The developer tales are fascinating, and even if some entries may not be as relevant for you, or you query where your favourites may be, there’ll be more than a few to pleasantly ruminate on and ponder.

50 Years Of Boss Fights is available now from all good book stores including Pen & SwordWaterstones and Amazon.

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the book. For our full review policy, please go here.

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