Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 1
Image: Nintendo Life

Note: there is specific mention of two Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom bosses in the following list. Only read on if you have finished the main game or are not concerned about avoiding spoilers!

We must admit: Zelda rankings tend to look a little samey, perhaps with a few spicy changes based on the person. But you'll never find Breath of the Wild at the bottom, or Tri Force Heroes at the top, even if the person making that list is the world's most contrary list-maker.

So, we've been mixing things up by celebrating the individual successes that each Zelda game has, and highlighting the incredible things that can be found in each one (even if the rest of the game is a bit duff). We've already ranked every version of Fairy Fountain, ranked all the instruments that Link gets to play, and figured out the 15 best dungeons in the series — and now, we're onto boss battles!

Here are our 15 best boss battles, with everything from atmosphere, puzzles, and the boss arena itself playing into our choices.

With The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom having been out for a little while now, we have decided to throw some of the very best bosses from Link's latest into the mix. We have kept the details to a minimum on the second one of these, but if you want to stay completely spoiler-free for the time being then we'd suggest skipping over numbers 14 and 5 on the following list.

Make sure to head down into the comments section once you're done to tell us your favourites, or disagree with our choices!

15. Tentalus (Skyward Sword)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 10
Image: Nintendo Life

We do love an atmospheric brawl, and Skyward Sword's Sandship boss battle delivers in spades. The battle begins with an unusual feature for Zelda bosses — Link has to actually get to the boss first, running through the ship's corridors and dodging tentacles before you even know what you're about to fight. Even though the eventual reveal can be disappointing because Tentalus looks more like a Pixar character than a giant monster, the ongoing storm is scary enough to claw back some respect for this thing.

Of course, with only the one gigantic eye, it's not hard to figure out Tentalus' weak spot, but the rhythm of destroying tentacles, stunning the beast, then slashing its peepers with the sword is what Zelda combat is all about.

14. Queen Gibdo (Tears of the Kingdom)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 11
Image: Nintendo Life

Tears of the Kingdom has got a lot of great boss fights, but the one-on-one with Queen Gibdo — the boss found in the Lightning Temple — is definitely a highlight.

The battle is split into two parts: one before you can even step foot into the Temple, and another after solving all of its puzzles. Each part makes good use of your Sage's abilities (Riju, in this case), as you focus on building up a lightning strike, getting the boss in range and then getting in a few strikes while she is weakened. But the second phase of the final battle is where the greatness really kicks in. You have to keep an eye on hoards of Gibdo, four ever-dropping nests and the boss that attacks from above. It's the kind of chaos that gets the blood pumping in a way that only a good boss battle can.

13. Helmasaur King (A Link to the Past)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 12
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Although Helmasaur King can't really hold a candle to later Zelda bosses with their fancy gimmicks and their three dimensions and their 1080ps, he deserves a place on this list all the same for his mask-based puzzle. As the first boss in the Dark World that you'll fight, he represents something much more sinister than the Hyrule you've come to know, and his gigantic mask (seriously, it's bigger than Link) leaves more questions than it answers.

Luckily, with bombs and/or the Magic Hammer, you can destroy the mask and weaken the King, allowing you to wail on his weak point (the face, duh) until he explodes like every other boss. At this point in Zelda, most bosses had been relatively straightforward "hit them in the side/tail" affairs, so Helmasaur King's helm was the first inkling for many Zelda lovers that bosses could be more than just a bigger, harder version of the game's regular goons.

12. Crayk (Phantom Hourglass)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 13
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Phantom Hourglass' crabby boss exemplifies one of the best (and occasionally, most frustrating) things about Phantom Hourglass: Its use of both of the DS screens to create interesting puzzles. Crayk can turn invisible, you see, and that makes him hard to find (and hit, and kill), but the top screen shows Crayk's point of view even when he's invisible — and it's up to the player to triangulate the boss' location from his POV.

Although it can be tricky for those with poor spatial reasoning, this boss battle stands out for its creative and interesting gimmick all the same. Zelda bosses have always been more about the puzzle than the punching, and Crayk is a great example. Good crayk, as the Irish say.

11. Parasite Arachnid Gohma (Ocarina of Time)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 14
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Gohma pops its creepy little arachnid head above the parapet in multiple Zelda games, becoming more of a friend than an enemy (until we have to pull its legs off and shoot it in the eye, at least). Our choice of the best Gohma is Ocarina of Time's version — although we do love Wind Waker's dragon-botherer, too, but we can't have two Gohmas on this list — because it's the very first boss battle in Ocarina of Time, and that means something.

Not everyone's first Zelda experience was Ocarina of Time, of course, but the gigantic leap between previous Linkcarnations like Zelda I, Zelda II, and Link's Awakening and Nintendo's 3D N64 masterpiece was so gigantic that this felt like a first Zelda experience all the same. And Gohma is Link's first "things just got real" moment, after battling all the creepy-crawlies inside of the Deku Tree's tummy. The moment Gohma looms over the tiny Child Link, you know this game is gonna be SCARY.

10. Phantom Ganon (Ocarina of Time)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 15
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The Forest Temple is one of our favourite dungeons, so it makes sense that Phantom Ganon would be one of our favourite bosses — partly because it's an exciting introduction to the villain of the game (other than the bit where he nicks Zelda, obvs), and partly because horses very rarely get to be evil in video games.

When he's not jumping in and out of the haunted paintings on the wall, Phantom Ganon will ride his evil ghost horse directly at Link, and it's up to the player to detect which one is the real-fake-Ganon before it's too late (which you can do by finding the one that's a slightly lighter colour). The haunted paintings theme tie this boss battle nicely in with another couple of N64 gems that use cursed artwork — Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Must have been something in the water.

9. Puppet Ganon (Wind Waker)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 16
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You've finally found Zelda, and you've found Ganon, too — but you won't get the denouement just yet, as Ganon makes the slightly odd choice to transform into a terrifying puppet that wants Toon Link dead. You'll need to cut his strings, attack his weak point tail, and then he'll drop to the ground like a lifeless marionette. Easy, right? You might think so — but this is a Zelda boss, and they never just have one phase, do they?

After his puppet form, you'll have to fight Puppet Spider Ganon, and then Puppet... Snake Thing Ganon. All have the same glowing orb on the tail as the weak spot, but each one requires a different strategy to defeat. But all that puppet fighting was just a distraction so Ganon could get away, dangit!

8. Stalblind (A Link Between Worlds)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 9

A Link Between Worlds was a game all about squishing Link down into the second dimension, so it's no great surprise that ALBW's greatest boss used that mechanic to full effect.

Stalblind is just a large Stalfos, but he's got a matchingly large shield on him — big enough, in fact, to fit a certain two-dimensional Hyrulian lad on it. The humour in the animation of the Stalblind not being able to find Link is incredibly well done, and being able to sneakily drop behind him to give him a couple of quick bum-stabs is brill, too. If anything, we wish the mechanic lasted a bit longer, because it's only the first of his three phases — and the other two are pretty derivative, if you ask us.

7. Big Green Chuchu (Minish Cap)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 7
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A Chuchu? Those little blobs? The Zelda equivalent of Mario's Goombas and Dragon Quest's Slimes? How could this goopy lad make it into the Hall of Boss Fame? It's precisely because the Chuchu is an inoffensively tame little creature that this Minish Cap boss battle stuck with us. "What if the most pathetic guy was a big guy" is the kind of heel-turn plot twist deserving of its own movie — the bullied becoming the bully.

From the first moments that the Chuchu slime starts drip-drip-driping from the ceiling, to the last moment of toppling the top-heavy boss and going to town with the Picori Sword, this boss battle is one for the ages. Though he be but small, he is fierce.

6. Ganondorf (Wind Waker)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 5

This ultimate clash between Link and his greatest enemy may take a lot of its cues from the same battle in Ocarina of Time, but it stands out thanks to its poignant storytelling and its setting. After sailing the seas, collecting the Triforce, befriending/losing/discovering Tetra, and unearthing the drowned land of Hyrule, you finally reach the pinnacle of the story: A final battle with Ganondorf.

This showdown follows a replay of the bosses you've met so far (albeit easier versions) and Puppet Ganon, all of which contribute to the feeling that this is going to be one epic battle. And, unlike many other boss battles in Zelda's past, it takes place in a brightly-lit underwater arena, as the tides rush in to sink Hyrule forever. And then there's Ganon's final line: "The wind... it is blowing..." What a way to make us feel a twinge of pity for the evil pig-guy.

5. Final Boss (Tears of the Kingdom)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 17
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No, we're not going to spoil this one just yet. Rest assured, it is epic, nail-bitingly frantic and perhaps the most cinematic that a Zelda boss battle has ever been.

We won't say any more for the time being, but we can see this one climbing the list in years to come as we get a little distance between us and the game's release.

4. Dark Link (Ocarina of Time)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 2
Image: Nintendo Life

Do you remember how you felt the first time you met (and fought) Dark Link? Despite only being a mini-boss of the Water Temple, Dark Link is far more interesting than the actual boss, and that's not just because Morpha turns out to be a pile of sentient, angry goo.

No, Dark Link is the best because he represents Link's psyche, trapping him in a world that stretches off to the horizon like the Rom the Vacuous Spider fight in Bloodborne — a liminal space beyond time and beyond help, where your worst enemy is your worst self. Here in Link Limbo, there is just an exit, a tree, Link, and himself, like some sort of avant-garde staging of Waiting for Godot where all the dialogue is replaced by HYA HUH HEEEEYAH watch out UH HA HA hey HRGH HUH HYAAAA. To be honest, we'd watch that.

3. Stallord (Twilight Princess)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 3
Image: Nintendo Life

Stallord is undoubtedly one of the more "gimmicky" boss encounters in Twilight Princess (or any Zelda game for that matter), but it remains instantly memorable thanks to the focus on the Spinner item, acquired earlier in the 'Arbiter's Grounds' dungeon.

Like most Zelda bosses, Stallord consists of two phases: the first has you circling a sand pit atop your trusty Spinner before launching yourself towards Stallord, dodging enemies along the way and slamming into the giant skeleton's spine, gradually chipping away at the brittle bone. The second phase has you jumping from wall to wall as you get closer to Stallord, who is now a giant, floating head complete with projectile fireballs - nice. Once you're able to knock Stallord down to the ground, you have a short window in which to launch a series of basic attacks on the evil sword thingy that Zant casually jammed into its head. What a meany!

It's a relatively straightforward fight, all told, but remains one of the most cinematic and thrilling in Zelda's history.

2. Twinrova (Ocarina of Time)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 4
Image: Nintendo Life

If we were twin sisters with opposing elemental magic, we would simply choose not to be in the same room. That really seems like elemental magic 101, does it not? You wouldn't make a Charmander and Squirtle hang out in a small room unless you really wanted two dead pets on your hands.

Nevertheless, we can't help but be glad that Kotake and Koume decided that the best course of action was to fight a guy with a Mirror Shield by shooting eminently reflectable beams of elemental magic at him, because it makes for a proper good fight with some excellent sound effects. Pacifism is the best defense, indeed. Well, pacifism and well-judged angles.

Arguably the best part of the battle is the end, since the two witches will both be seen floating off to the afterlife together, arguing about which one of them is older. It's all very Muppet Christmas Carol.

1. Koloktos (Skyward Sword)

Feature: The 15 Best Zelda Bosses, Ranked 6

Skyward Sword's best boss is also the climax of Skyward Sword's best dungeon, the Ancient Cistern, with all of its Buddhist afterlife theming that culminates in Link's "awakening". Ho ho, see what we did there? Anyway, Koloktos is a gigantic, six-armed automaton that was designed to protect the Ancient Cistern, but became corrupted, leading Link to exterminate it once and for all.

Although Koloktos' weak point, his big red gem of a tummy, is a very by-the-numbers Zelda boss design (the only way it could be more so is if it was an eye), it's the use of the Whip that makes this battle exciting and different. After all, the Whip is one of Skyward Sword's more unique items, and using it to wrench off Koloktos' arms feels satisfyingly tactile and weighty.

Have we missed off your favourite Zelda boss? Get in the comments and let's duke it out!