When Cuphead was originally released in 2017, people just wouldn’t stop talking about it. And based on the screenshots I had seen, the game looked cool enough with its 1930’s style graphics. Nevertheless, I was never actually tempted to try it myself, but rather decided to watch a playthrough of the game on YouTube. And at the time, I was confused. The game appeared to be nothing but boss battles. And while I quickly grew to appreciate the game’s aesthetic and unique, over-the-top animations for said bosses, I was left ultimately disappointed. So this is the game everyone’s talking about, huh? A bunch of battles with a few platforming stages thrown in. Plus the game looked so difficult that I wasn’t sure how much fun it would even be.
Well, years later, I was perusing the Switch eShop, which had become more and more appealing when I discovered that you could get some really inexpensive games on there. Plus, I’m currently renting and living out of boxes, so digital games make a lot of sense right now. I skimmed through the games that were for sale, then decided I would look at the best sellers. There at #1 was Cuphead. With the game so easily within my reach, I finally decided to add it to my Wish List and maybe, just maybe, I’d buy it when and if it went on sale.
But it wasn’t gonna go on sale. It was a best seller. Nintendo didn’t need to reduce the price for a game this popular. Right?
It went on sale. Are we really doing this?
I think we’re really doing this.
Despite my doubts that this game would be my cup of tea ( was that a pun…let’s just say that was a pun) and a great feeling of intimidation due to the game’s infamous high difficulty, I found myself growing increasingly excited about giving it a go. After I had played through the majority of my digital library, the time had come to face Cuphead and see if my gaming skills were up to the task. As soon as that title screen appeared, with the main theme being sung by what could have passed as Disney’s Dapper Dans, complete with static on the screen as if this game had indeed been around since the 1930’s and not the far more recent 2017, I fell in love with it right then and there. Even more so when I reached Inkwell Isle I and noted how the music had a distinct Main Street USA vibe going on. I guess I had missed these details when watching the game on YouTube, but now I was appreciating them for their full glory.
But let me tell you, the game’s unique 1930’s style is not a reason to buy it. Is it a reason to experience the game in some form? If you’re into that sort of thing, absolutely. But if you’re tempted to play it, I will repeat everyone else’s sentiments. Cuphead is hard. Oh my gosh, it’s hard, it’s so hard, holy cow, it’s hard! If I’m counting correctly, the game has 25 stages in total (with bosses and Run N Gun levels), which usually take about 2 minutes to beat, meaning this game should only take you about an hour. Due to the sheer challenge, however, it took me closer to 20 hours.
Yes, this game focuses 80% of its gameplay on boss fights. Yes, this game is insanely tough sometimes, forcing you to spend upwards of an hour on a single boss. (The toughest bosses took me anywhere from 2-3 hours to beat. It was miserable.) Even so, I never really felt like the game was particularly unfair, and with enough patience, I was able to learn the bosses’ attack patterns. I’d start out barely lasting 30 seconds to reaching the final phase of the battle with full health because I had mastered dodging attacks and dealing damage in the most efficient way possible. And the feeling of actually defeating that particular boss, with the giant words “Knockout” spilling across the screen upon victory, is one of the most satisfying gaming moments around.
It also makes more sense to me now why Cuphead focuses on boss fights above all else. Let me tell you, the bosses are easily the best part of the game. The animation is so excellent that the bosses can be as delightfully silly as they are fierce. Their movements, their facial expressions, not to mention all the surprising and bizarre things that are all made possible thanks to the surreal style of animation being used. Whenever you encounter a new boss, it’s hard to not grow excited wondering what they’re going to do or what their final phase is going to be. Even the game’s easiest boss, The Root Pack, is pretty darn charming, with an onion that cries and a carrot with psychic abilities.
I mean, the platformer stages are pretty fun, too. That lobster in Perilous Piers cracks me up every time.
Cuphead is one of those rare games that I absolutely adore, but would not recommend to everyone. It all depends on if this is something you think you’d enjoy. Insanely difficult games are not for everyone. Heck, if I didn’t love the animation so much (making fighting the same boss fight over and over again just a tad less excruciating), I wouldn’t have ever bothered playing it. I also learned that this is not a game you want to play for hours on end. Just an hour or so is sufficient, and even then, my hands would be literally shaking after defeating a tough boss I had been focusing all of my time on.
Cuphead is not impossible. It’s not unfair, nor does it expect you to have lightning-quick reflexes. (It’s more about recognizing what attack a boss is telegraphing and memorizing what to do in response to the attack.) But even if you decided this game’s not for you, do yourself a favor and watch a playthrough of it if you’ve got the time. From the art style to the jazzy music, this game is a masterpiece in 1930’s animation.
Dear readers, who here has played Cuphead? Did you enjoy it or was it too difficult to be fun? Which boss was your favorite and which did you think was the hardest? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on April 28, 2020.