VR Zelda Month: Top 10 Minibosses

VR_Zelda_Month

Dedicated minibosses are one of the newer concepts in the Legend of Zelda series, believe it of not, having only existed since Link’s Awakening. Yet they are now regarded as one of the most prominent and indispensable parts of the traditional Zelda dungeon equation. They break up the puzzle solving rhythm of a dungeon nicely, more often than not guarding that dungeon’s unique item. They are a great chance for Nintendo designers who can’t quite get their ideas made into full bosses to sneak them into a Zelda game in another form. Consequently, several of the series’ miniboss fights are regarded as more memorable than their full boss counterparts.

That said, this list doesn’t just include foes who appear in the middle of a dungeon. Zelda fans also tend to regard standalone enemy designs that appear at the end of a ‘mini-dungeon’, or even in the overworld, as minibosses in their own right. They too are eligible for the list. Basically, if an enemy has a design not seen anywhere else in the game up to that point, summons a music track that is different to the game’s standard battle music, isn’t found at the end of what could reasonably be called a “full dungeon” and lacks a visible onscreen title preceding its fight, it is fair game. Phew.

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VR ZELDA MONTH DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. Respectful disagreement is welcome. Spoilers may follow.
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10. Darkhammer – Twilight Princess

This heavily armoured reptilian foe is most notable for recreating a memorable early moment from A Link to the Past, specifically the Hyrule Castle fight against a knight swinging a devastating ball and chain in a narrow corridor, in three dimensions. The feeling of claustrophobia during this Snowpeak Ruins battle is palpable and only adds to the urgency driving both Link and the player to find his weak spot and topple him as quickly as possible. The most notable thing about this battle outside of its callback to the SNES game is the way it ends – there is no treasure chest spawning animation, as is usual in Zelda miniboss situations. Instead, Darkhammer simply collapses and disappears, leaving behind… his ball and chain. For Link to use for the rest of the game. I can’t think of a bigger “you can’t be serious” moment in all of Twilight Princess.
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9. Grim Creeper – Link’s Awakening

The game that brought the idea of the miniboss into the Zelda frame experimented with a few cool ideas, but my favourite embodiment of the then-new concept is the Grim Creeper from Eagle’s Tower. This smartass, Stalfos-like imp thing taunts you from atop his perch and then calls forth a bunch of cute flying creatures to do his dirty work for him. When you mercilessly defeat them all, he simply shouts insults at you and then flees to the rooftop, where he awaits at the end of the dungeon as the rider of the dungeon’s full boss, the Evil Eagle. Needless to say that when you finally finish off his mount, it is satisfying indeed to end the smug bastard.
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8. Scervo – Skyward Sword

I’m surprised that the forever-cool combination of robot and pirate that Scervo brings to Skyward Sword hasn’t been used more across all entertainment media (Disney’s Treasure Planet is the only other instance that comes to my mind at the moment). In any case, the Sandship miniboss takes the concept to the next level by a) adding a skeletal aesthetic and b) making you fight him on a long beam that essentially means you beat him by making him walk the plank. Yep. That happens.
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7. Big Octo – Ocarina of Time

One of Ocarina of Time‘s many memorable moments comes inside Jabu-Jabu’s belly, when the super-annoying Princess Ruto decides to wander off onto a giant platform that promptly lifts her away from sight. As much as the player may be OK with calling it a day and walking away from the entitled royal forever at that point, the ensuing appearance of the Big Octo miniboss unfortunately makes that impossible. The fight with the overgrown octorok is one of the more difficult at that point in the game, as Link needs to run around as close as possible to the aforementioned platform in order to reach the creature but also has to contend with the painful spikes that line its perimeter.
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6. Gomess – Majora’s Mask

Just look at this guy. If that doesn’t scream bad news, I don’t know what does. Majora’s Mask‘s four dungeons are unique among the Zelda series in that they each feature two minibosses instead of the standard one, making Gomess’ appearance as the second Stone Tower Temple miniboss slightly more impactful than it otherwise might have been. Not that it needed that little boost. I mean, again, look at it. To best Gomess, Link has to fight past the many frenzied bats that flutter around it, blowing temporary holes in the black cloud of wings using either bombs or light arrows and then striking at the heart of the matter.
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5. Winged Mothula – The Wind Waker

Throughout The Wind Waker‘s Forbidden Woods dungeon, one of the largest and most atmospheric in the whole Zelda series, the feeling of being inside an actual forest is enhanced by several pockets of spiny, bug larva-esque creatures called Morths that stick to Link in swarms. Eventually you’ll discover a few wingless adult Mothula creatures that shoot their Morth young out as an attack. Then, finally, a winged version of the Mothula appears in all its colour-saturated glory to bring the picture of a micro-ecosystem to full realisation, serving as a wonderful justification for both the distinct cel shaded art style and the multiple combat nuances that define The Wind Waker.

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4. Dark Link – Ocarina of Time

I would probably have been flamed endlessly if I left this guy off my list. Dark Link is indeed a very impressive miniboss whose appearance in a gigantic single-tree room midway through the infamous Water Temple is beyond iconic. The idea of a shadowy doppelganger who mirrors all of Link’s moves certainly wasn’t new to Ocarina of Time back when it was first released, having actually debuted in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. But, like pretty much every other older Zelda element revisited in the N64 classic, Dark Link proved to be a triumph in 3D. If you didn’t have the Megaton Hammer when you first reached him, he presented a real challenge too.
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3. Dangoro – Twilight Princess

While brushing up on my Zelda history in preparation to write these lists, I struggled to remember who the actual boss of the Goron Mines was. I actually thought this guy was, before an internet search proved me wrong, and that should showcase just how highly I regard Link’s fight with Dangoro. As far as design effort goes, the wrestling duel with the giant misled Goron is one of the best-crafted fights in the series, not least because it fits very well into the wider ‘wronged species’ narrative that characterises the dungeon. The topsy-turvy confrontation itself, which makes good use of a few mechanics that are still unique to Twilight Princess, is plenty enjoyable as well.
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2. Byrne – Spirit Tracks

Byrne is an enigmatic villain with an incredibly badass design whose motives remain unclear throughout most of Spirit Tracks. He gets a number of cool moments in the limelight throughout the game’s story but his real time to shine comes when Link faces him at the top of the Tower of Spirits. An arena resembling a wrestling ring plays host to a battle that shows off just how physically superior the bandanna man is to our hero. In fact the player needs to control two characters at once in order to best him and without the help of Phantom Zelda, Link may indeed have ended up sliced into nicely even strips before even meeting the Demon King Malladus.
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1. Dead Hand – Ocarina of Time

Few people who ever finished Ocarina of Time when it first came out in 1998 have forgotten Dead Hand. The few who have probably did so as a natural defense mechanism, because he was scary. If you were a kid in the late ’90s, as I most definitely was, the dark and incredibly creepy Bottom of the Well mini-dungeon would have scared the life out of you all by itself. But if you somehow found the courage to reach its conclusion (or, alternatively, gave the controller to someone else to do it for you) the sudden appearance of a slow-moving, pale, blood-soaked abomination with a twisted grin and a multitude of skinny arm allies all ready to immobilise you so that he can creep ever closer to you… well, your pants may have begun to resemble the wall colour of the final room.

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Honorable Mentions
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Death Sword – Twilight Princess
The miniboss of the Arbiter’s Grounds from Twilight Princess initially appears to be a battle with a sentient black sword, but transforming into Wolf Link reveals a ghostly weilder who makes himself normally visible only when attacked by the animal. The spooky atmosphere and the constant switching between forms necessary to win make the battle a real corker.

Rocktite – Spirit Tracks
Rocktites show up three times within some of the longer tunnels of Spirit Tracks‘ overworld, twice during the story progression and once during an optional sidequest. It is that third and final appearance that is the most infuriating, because more than one collision from this constantly chasing monster will effectively fail the task. But it never feels unfair – it’s always your fault when you let it reach you.

Gekko – Majora’s Mask
You fight two Gekkos in Majora’s Mask – one in the Woodfall Temple and one in the Great Bay Temple – and though each one plays very differently, both are equally memorable. Whether riding a turtle or manipulating bubbles, the Gekko just has that perfectly executed sassy streak that makes players long to shut it up. And, as it happens, to turn it into a harmless frog (but more on that later this month).

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