Super Mario Bros. – Bowser’s Castle by Koji Kondo
This song may be the earliest musical indication of “shit’s about to go down”. Super Mario World was one of the very first video games I ever played, and every time I approached one of Bowser’s many vacation castles that were placed upon the overworld map, I prepared myself for an epic battle as the organ-like chiptunes oozed out of my television speakers. While it might be for a kid’s game, the song still managed to create a sense of tension and suspense as you trudged towards your battle with Bowser or one of his Koopa kids. The super-dramatic music added just one more level of stress to the ominous level design present in each of the overwhelming castles you climbed, sprinted, dodged, ducked, and jumped through and dared you to continue to face the challenge that awaited you in the final room of the dungeon… the boss.
Resident Evil 4 – El Gigante by Shusaku Uchiyama
One of the most memorable battles of the uber-intense Resident Evil 4 was EL GIGANTE. And suitably, the music that complimented Mr. Gigante’s arrival was similarly intense. Bass-heavy drums filled your speakers, and rattled your room as the game rattled your controller, hopefully leaving a strong insinuation that you were about to fight something brutal. The Resident Evil games have always been just as much about the lead up to the scare as they were about the final “boo!”, and this music is no exception to that tactic. As rain poured down in the ancient looking arena, you, Leon Kennedy, prepared yourself for one more fight against yet another overwhelming foe, and the thumping theme of “El Gigante” remained to ensure you that you had a challenge ahead of you.
Far Cry Blood Dragon – Far Cry Blood Dragon Theme by Power Glove
I’m not sure if this song completely counts as a “boss battle” song, since it’s the theme of the game, but it plays during the final level, so I’ll count it. This upbeat love-letter to ’80s action themes kicks in as Blood Dragon’s protagonist, Rex Colt, infiltrates the lair of the big-bad of the game Colonel Sloan. But while most final levels of games are the most intimidating sequences of the entire game, this level has you outfitted with a ridiculously overpowered, laser-shooting cyber-shruiken called the “Killstar” basically meaning that you’re on the scene to wreck everything and everyone in your path. As your Killstar begins to whir and cyber-commandos rush forward to assault you, the high-tempo theme begins to kick in as an extra shot of inspiration before your marathon of bad-assness begins. I had a big smile on my face the entire time I rampaged through Sloan’s base in Far Cry: Blood Dragon and I think this theme took most of the credit for it (sorry, Killstar).
Bioshock – Fort Frolic Fight by Tchaikovsky
A bit of a change in pace, Waltz of the Flowers plays at the climax of the Fort Frolic level of the classic game Bioshock. After exploring every nook and cranny of the former artistic haven of Rapture, you realize just how twisted and sinister the former art giant, Sander Cohen, has become. How convenient then, that you get to follow this realization up with a final “dance” with Cohen–who unleashes hordes of grotesque splicers at you in the courtyard of Fort Frolic as the wild, beautiful melodies of the song play on in the background and contrast with the chaotic, violent scene. Splicer after splicer throw themselves at you as you dodge, electrify, “wrench”, and shotgun-blast every assailant that sprints your way. During this “final battle” of Fort Frolic, it’s hard to resist timing the rhythm of your attacks to the song–a good sign that the song was a great choice.
Halo 3 – Warthog Run by Martin O’Donnell
The term deja vu comes to mind when this song kicks in during the final segment of Halo 3, and Bungie Studios was well aware of that. The final level of the game consists of you (and hopefully some co-op buddies) escaping yet another catastrophic explosion that drums forward just yards behind you. As you hop from collapsing structure to collapsing structure Bungie subliminally asks you just how much better you’ve gotten since Halo: Combat Evolved with this tune, which essentially remasters the iconic theme from the first game. Luckily, the theme continues to exist as one of the most motivational, ass-kicking songs in all of gaming and ended up giving me that extra “oomph” to slide into each Warthog turn at just the right time as the world crashed down around my soldier. Okay, maybe I had to restart the level a couple of times, but it was just another excuse to listen to this great dramatic overture!
God of War – Final Battle with Zeus by Cris Velasco
The God of War games all led up to this one moment. The final battle between revenge-hungry (and former God) Kratos and King of the Gods, Zeus. As you finally reached the top of Mt. Olympus, this epic chorus rang in to justify the blood crusted on Kratos’ knuckles. This music needed to ensure that you were ready to undertake one of the most incredibly bad-ass tasks in all of video games–that’s it…time to bash in the Zeus’ face. The horns blared as the chorus bellowed, providing a perfect backdrop for you to sling you Chains of Chaos into Zeus’ gut, punctuating every hit you gave and received. My adrenaline pumps just listening to this tune, so much so that I need to stop talking about this track before I go out and start fighting a moving vehicle.