Cuphead delivers on it’s promise of a old school hard Run N’ Gun shooter with a presentation surprisingly not seen in many other games.
- Boss Fights
- Co-op isn't great
- No Online
I always had high hopes for Cuphead since it was shown of in 2013 and 2014. Konami wasn’t making mainline Contra’s anymore, and Metal Slug was relegated to ports and crappy mobile spin offs. I was surprised no other major indie title tried to capture the art style it imitated. I anxiously waited for its released and waited….and waited. Eventually, it came out in 2017… after I lost my good job and couldn’t afford it. Fast forward to 2019/2020 when I can finally spend money casually on retail games, and buy the #2 game on my wish list.
Cuphead was pretty much exactly what I wanted it to be.
Cuphead is a Run N Gun shooter that focuses on boss encounters with occasional platforming stages, which is the inverse of most games in this genre. The core gameplay is about learning boss attack patterns and when the best time to attack, dodge, or jump. The boss animations perfectly imitate its inspirations and it’s always amusing to find out what they will throw out next, how they transition to new phases, and how they react when they are defeated. It is some “best of the industry” level of presentation, causing the birth of imitations and inspirations, and of course copyright breaking mobile games.
You start off with the Peashooter, which shoots continuous shots of average damage as long as the shoot button as held. Eventually you can hold up to two weapon types and buy different shot types from the Shop on the world map, such as a homing chaser shot, a damaging boomerang shot, a enemy seeking chaser shot, a short ranged high damaged spread shot, and a high damaging Charge shot that makes short work of enemies and bosses if you’re willing to wait 4 seconds per shot.
The dash mechanic can get you out of tight spots, help maintain a little bit of air and help with platforming. In side scrolling levels where Cuphead transforms into a plane, the same button is used to switch to mini-mode in which you move faster and shrink in size, but sacrifice shooting range.
The parry is essential to beating bosses fast and clearing some threats. Cuphead and Mugman can parry bounce pink colored objects after jumping, allowing a second jump and prevents you from being damaged from the pink object. Pink objects are usually projectiles from enemies, but can also be enemies, switches, platforms, or random butterflies. You can probably beat the game without parrying, but it’s not recommended.
Super used for up to five enhanced attacks of your weapon and fully charge bar can activate a Super Art like a Marvel vs Capcom Style “Shinku-Hadouken of Milk”, temporarily invincibility, or a Giant Cuphead ghosts that attacks enemies for you once you find them at the Mausoleums.
The Shop also sells charms such as extra health, a smoke bomb for invincibility during Dashing (very helpful), an Axe Parry that damages when you parry bounce, and a Parry Sugar that activates parry upon jumping instead of activation (also very helpful). Purchases are made with coins picked up from Run N Gun levels, much like Yoshi coins in Super Mario World.
Certain weapons and charms will definitely make some situations easier, but Cuphead is purely a game of skill and level knowledge. That can be annoying, since its pretty rare to complete a boss fight or level in the first attempt. The need to practically study boss patterns and level design will turn off many players who didn’t game in the 8-bit/16-bit/Arcade era of very difficult games.
I can’t say Cuphead is unfair – mistakes are generally your fault for not being in the right place at the right time, but I will also say that the timing of things can be a bit unpredictable at times, and I wouldn’t be surprised some gamers will hate this game because of it.
I’m not sure if it is input delay, frame delay, or just too short of a active frame window on parries, but there were many times I was angry I missed a parry when I knew when and where I had to parry an object. Worse off, parrying makes you automatically jump and depending on how the boss decided to randomly make one object of a wave of projectiles parryable, you may accidentally jump into another hazard or miss a jump or charge for your super art when you need it most. The Parry Sugar charm helps with that sometimes, but that also means that jumping to dodge hazards won’t allow you parry something when landing, so it isn’t great for all levels – it would be nice if you could manually prevent the instant activation of the Parry Sugar jump.
Bosses generally have about 3-5 attack patterns, but it’s almost completely random which one they choose, so you can’t quite “learn the pattern” as you would in other shooters like this. As I said before, the boss may send out a volley of objects with one or two that can be parried, but which the one that is parryable is somewhat random – leading to scenarios where you can’t quite save yourself when you really need to, or min-max your damage output. It’s slightly annoying that the game rates you on your skill at the end of each boss, but also has such RNG that can ruin your run, even if you know the bosses patterns. The perfect execution Cuphead requires is a jarring juxtaposition to the cute and familiar art style that made this game so popular.
As a person with experience in this genre, It’s strange that this game is easy (when using high damage weapons), but it’s also monsterously hard requiring multiple restarts – at least it is easy to restart a boss battle quickly
Cuphead Final Verdict
Cuphead is a must-play for people like myself that “cut their teeth” on hard games of the 80’s and 90s while growing up watching reruns of classic 1930s-1950s cartoons. I had some irritations with some of its mechanics, but if you’re willing to repeat and improve yourself until you win, you will have a great time.
What do you think? Did Cuphead exceed your expectations? Or was the challenge too much to bear? As always, we welcome all views. So, feel free to air your stance in the comments.