Look, we can skip all the fighting if you would just give me the contract.
Available on: Steam/Consoles
Genre: Bullet Hell Platformer
Publisher: Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc.
If you ever needed a reason not to gamble, come here and go through the story of Cuphead and Mugman. Against the wishes of their caretaker, the boys decide to visit the Devil’s Casino and manage to get a winning streak. However, they caught the Devil’s attention, and the bet is raised; if they win the casino is theirs, but if they lose the Devil will own their soul. To their dismay, they lose, but the Devil decides to strike them a deal the boys couldn’t refuse. The Devil will let them keep their souls if they collect all the soul contracts of other debtors. With three worlds to go through, Cuphead (and Mugman if in co-op) has a lot of work to do.
There are two different types of stages, Run and Gun and Bosses. Each world, has two Run and Gun stages which has you running through a side-scrolling stage occasionally gunning your way through or perhaps dodging to be a Pacifist. These stages may not be bosses, but they do have their fair share of difficulty. While completing Run and Gun stages optional, only needing to get the contracts to proceed, it’s your main source of coins other than finding them hidden in the worlds. These coins will allow you to buy the various upgrades that would ultimately help you on your journey. And with all the bosses varying in their approach, both between each other and in their own phases, just having the basic weapon will just make it harder.
The upgrades, while helpful, each have their advantages and disadvantages. For weapons, this means how far it goes, how much damage, and their path that it takes. If a boss has a phase that takes part on the bottom of the screen with platforms above, you might want to bring in the Lobber, which has the downwards path but is slow firing. Have difficulty aiming while dodging? Equip the Chaser, which homes onto the boss at the cost of lower damage (and possibly other enemies confusing it). You can also buy charms, or passive abilities, that gives Cuphead an advantage such as a small invincibility window when dashing or one auto-parry per jump.
The vast majority of Cuphead is the bosses who are (mostly) the debtors. All the bosses are unique and have at least three phases, all of which switches up the boss’s attack or adds more onto it. Mixing and matching your loadout is best, as some weapons may or may not work well with some bosses and you can switch out your charm or super art to accommodate your weaknesses. However, this will not exactly make the boss easier. Each boss has their own patterns that are choreographed and apart from the first couple tries to learn the boss, getting hurt is your own fault. With Cuphead’s controls being responsive, most damage you will take will not be because the game decided to not respond to your button presses. There are some randomized parts, but you can clearly can still tell what is coming. React accordingly and you are destined to win.
You don’t just dodge attacks, there are some that you can parry that is shown by the pink coloring. Each parry, with some exceptions, charges a full card on your super meter were it would usually be slowly filled by landing hits. Charging the cards lets you do EX attacks or Super Arts. The EX attacks (costing one card) is different depending on what weapon is equipped and deals more damage than the usual attack. Super Arts, however, is granted by completing Mausoleums, cost a full super meter, and can either deal a ton of damage or grant temporary invincibility if you get into a rough spot. Just make sure you equip what you need. Getting parries and using your super meter will raise your grade on the stage card as getting under a certain time and not being hit as much will not cut it.
It is no secret that the visuals are absolutely amazing. They totally captured the look of 1930’s cartoons and you can tell how much they put into every background and character. You can clearly tell where you are, discern what is background and what is projectiles, and see upcoming threats if they appear in the background first. The jazzy soundtrack is great and ties in with their corresponding bosses easily while also not being annoying after multiple replays. Despite how many times I retried a boss, I never got tired of the music nor art, just my inability to not get hit despite knowing the attacks. Just admit defeat, I was right on top of the end flag when I failed.
There are a few things that I wished was put in/not a problem. I found that sometimes parrying is inconsistent and won’t register when I press the button to parry. Even worse, when I have the charm to auto-parry when jumping, I would take damage while also getting the super meter charged. The RNG can easily go against you in the few bosses it is a problem in, just as an attack forcing you to one side at the same time a background attack is coming forward or not getting enough parries. The foreground can also hide projectiles that can just blindside you. Lastly, I do wish there was a way to switch between Cuphead and Mugman, especially when the story focuses on both of them. Give poor Cuphead a break and let Mugman get tagged in.
I honestly liked Cuphead more than I thought I would. Getting it on a whim, I just wanted to check it out and suddenly I went on a journey of constantly dying, winning, then dying all over again. I did take breaks when I got into a rough spot, but I had fun and felt a sense of accomplishment when each boss was defeated. I even went as far as completing it again in Expert mode, which just makes the projectiles faster and changes some patterns. Cuphead certainly is a hard game and if you’re up for the challenge, consider picking it up.