Over the past two days I’ve spent approximately 8 hours in the highly anticipated and much discussed Cuphead. Having arrived at the not-so-pearly gates of the final stage last night, I can safely say two things: Cuphead is every bit the GOTY material I expected it would be. And also, most of the press reviews on this game are hyperbolic garbage. I wasn’t gonna mock that one journalist who so famously failed at Cuphead’s tutorial and I won’t – but wow is this game being failed by current mainstream gaming media.
Due to the public hype before launch, I fully expected Cuphead to be an unforgiving, bust-my-balls shooter platformer that may well leave me sobbing already at the first boss. It’s been called everything from bullet hell to elitist niche game, so I envisioned something in terms of Dark Souls that I was still gonna get because music and graphics, but ultimately would have to put aside in frustration.
Turns out this is far from true. Cuphead is actually a game with an excellent learning curve, tight well-balanced mechanics and a ton of fun, creative and very beatable encounters. It is harsh but fair and built in a way that makes it more accessible than one would think. Every boss fight or stage is generally split into 3-5 parts you will need to learn counter individually. After that, it’s just rinse and repeat, reload quickly after every death and keep your nerves steady most of all. Thanks to the somewhat randomized order of events every time, the game keeps you on your toes and victories are immensely satisfying. SO SO GOOD!
If I had to make comparisons, Cuphead is a mixture of old platformers like Yoshi’s Island and Mario (especially Super Mario on Gameboy or Mario 3) as well as Metal Slug and Parodius, all among my favorite titles of all time. If you ever beat older games like that or heck, if you’ve been a raider in WoW who knows all about learning strategies for bosses, Cuphead’s challenges will delight rather than frustrate you once you accept dying as a necessary part of the learning process.
Despite how it’s been represented in the press, Cuphead DOES in fact have two levels of difficulty: simple and regular. That goes for all the boss fights which it largely consists of, not it’s “run & gun” levels which everyone has to beat on regular. While it’s true that you won’t be able to access the finale without collecting all souls on regular, this means you can play through the game on simple mode and enjoy the majority of its brilliant content. Cuphead also features a very effective upgrade system adding important tactical choices to your gameplay. Encounters that seemed difficult at first become trivial once you switch weapons or special abilities (pro tip: if you struggle, hug that Smoke Bomb and Chaser combo!).
Now that I’ve picked up all the coins and upgrades in the game, it’s time to work on more regular modes before I can enter the final stage. It made sense to me to first play through all the simple modes and I’ve methodically started to pick up the regulars since. It gets a lot easier once you have all weapons and extra hearts to beat the more difficult encounters. So I can only recommend this game to anyone who looked at it and thought “this looks like a lot fun” – Cuphead is a remarkably well-made game with outstanding visuals and music that’s also way more accessible than it’s made out to be. There is no easy/god mode as of now (which I got nothing against, more options are cool!) but there’s local co-op too in case you missed it. Here goes my usual motto: give it a go and see for yourself!