You may or may not have heard of Cuphead already and that’s ok. The game somewhat came out of nowhere, with its only real notoriety being the 1930’s atmosphere and blazing difficulty.
Cuphead is a platforming style shooter for the Xbox One that plays somewhat loosely like Contra. The difference here is that 95% of the levels in Cuphead consist solely of boss battles. If you like the boss rush at the end of a Megaman game, then Cuphead is for you. Also if you love a challenge, and that is putting it lightly, then you will love Cuphead.
The story in Cuphead is as follows. Cuphead and his pal Mugman (the song gets stuck in your head..) are out one day and happen to find themselves inside the Devil’s casino. Cuphead starts playing Craps and is on a real heater. The devil catches wind and offers the deal of a lifetime should they win, if they lose however and he owns both their souls. As you could probably assume Cuphead takes a loss and is put into quite a jam not wanting to give up his and Mugman’s souls. The devil somehow has problems with collecting the souls he is owed and makes a deal with the pair. If they can manage to acquire the Soul Contracts of all the devil’s debtors, then he will free them from their agreement. Obviously, they take the deal and set out to collect.
Gameplay is very easy to learn. There is an overworld map that you will be navigating to find the, and I use this word within reason, people to collect from. When Cuphead happens upon one of these areas (an object will be moving to clue you in) a boss battle ensues 1 on 1.
These battles come in 3 variations. A battle on solid ground, a battle on moving platforms, and lastly a flying battle that plays akin to something like Gradius. None of these battles are very long and most last less than 5 minutes, which is great because you will be playing them a lot.
All bosses have multiple forms but no visible life meter. You may fight a boss for 30 seconds doing just enough damage to reach its next form where you are completely obliterated since the pattern is new. This is easy to happen because the bosses can take gobs of damage but Cuphead gets only 3-4 hits max and he is done.
The game loves to tease you every time you die too, showing a meter with just how close you came to knocking out the boss and winning the fight. Included are also markings for the phase changes along the way. You will keep playing and playing just to get a little further and wanting to pull your hair out every time you die, just to find out you were milliseconds from winning.
This is not to say the game is unfair at the very least. Cuphead teaches you that you need to be clever in your approach and not just run in guns blazing. Being careful, dodging the attacks on screen, and then counter-attacking when you have a window is really the way to get ahead and feel accomplished in Cuphead. The methods required for success can be compared to the Dark Souls Series. If you rush in then you’re going to have a bad time.
What really draws you into Cuphead is the setting. The game is set in a 1930’s style era with all the graphics and music really driving the point home. The whole game is designed in a very fluid watercolor or pen and ink style mimicking the cartoons of that era. The music drives the point home with upbeat jazz style selections that get you pumped up and really pull you into that era. That setting has to be the largest pro of the game for me, and a large reason why I decided to feature it on here.
Of course like anything Cuphead head has its cons. My biggest issue is the parry system. Whenever a pink colored projectile is shot at Cuphead then it can be parried, which in success will help fill his super meter and eventually unleash a super attack (Meter can also be filled by dealing damage and by one special item that just causes it to fill over time). That is not the problem, I love the idea. The problem is it is just so clunky and unforgiving to pull off. To parry, you must jump into the air, and then hit the jump button a second time which will cause Cuphead to flip. Hitting a pink projectile during this flip executes a successful parry. The problem lies in the fact that many times the attacks are too high up, and you must parry them from the bottom. This part is clunky, and even though I am generally quite good at these style games I could only get the parry in that kind of situation to work around 60% of the time. There are a fair amount of points in the game where you really have to pull it off too so you can unleash your super attack and deal the massive damage required to defeat the boss.
Cuphead Tips and Tricks
Since Cuphead is so difficult I decided to help out and try to make your experience a little bit easier. Keep in mind that any advice here is based only my play style and is solely my opinion.
- Get as many coins as possible. This should go without saying. Along with the boss stages, there are a few platform style run and gun stages where you can collect coins. You want as many as possible so you can buy the whatever items you want to help through the game.
- Don’t bother with any Super attacks past the First. Over the course of the game, you will find mausoleum stages where you parry ghosts away to unlock Cuphead’s super attacks. The first is a large beam style attack that does massive damage, the second is a somewhat controllable helper that deals damage, the third is very temporary invincibility. I say stick with the first because it really does great damage and fills a good portion of the screen. Also during this animation Cuphead is invincible so he cannot be damaged. The problems with the other two are that first the helper is controlled with the same controls at the same time as Cuphead. This means you have to direct the helper toward the boss to do damage without Cuphead (who is moving from the same control input) making contact and taking damage. Second is the invincibility is too short. I tried it a few times and it just never really helped.
- Buy the Smoke Bomb item FIRST. Cuphead has a dash that allows him to dodge quickly and get out of the way. The Smoke bomb item makes Cuphead INVINCIBLE whenever you dash. This means you can literally dash through enemies and attacks taking no damage
- Get the Charge Shot. This may be just me but I feel like the charge shot wrecks in this game. I was having trouble about halfway through and decided to buy and try the charge shot. I feel like that shot does massive damage and really eats through the boss health. I finished some fights in as little as 30-45 seconds. The Chaser is also a good second shot to have equipped. Low damage but great homing ability.
- Don’t be afraid to use your heavy attack. The Super Gauge is not just for super attacks. It has five segments each symbolized as a card. Each one of these cards can be used to do a heavy attack based on your current equipped weapon (Cuphead is allowed to equip 2 weapons at a time). It is easy to get wrapped up in filling the gauge for a super attack and forgetting all about the heavy. The problem here is sometimes 2 heavy attacks may have finished the battle instead of having to replay it…
- Which brings me to the last tip. Do your best to remain calm and not lose your temper. You will be playing battles over and over again. You will be dodging what seems like hundreds of items on the screen. Just remain calm. If you keep cool you will have a much easier time getting through the game.
Would I recommend buying Cuphead?
Absolutely. I spent maybe around 5 hours going through the game and is worth every penny of the $20 I spent on it. The game, however, is only for Windows 10 Pc and Xbox One however so make sure you have one of those systems. Cuphead is also a digital-only release. What is nice, however, is that the game supports crossplay. This means the game code entitles you to play on both platforms no matter which you initially buy it on. So I really do hope you pick up and enjoy Cuphead, and may the odds be ever in your favor…