In recent weeks, one thing has come to the fore with Cuphead: the difficulty. As press, YouTubers, and everyone in between got their hands on it at various events, it was clear to all that it’s a balls hard game. Most have known for a while that StudioMDHR Entertainment’s debut title is going to separate the wheat from the chaff, but a single clip that was doing the rounds on the Internet demonstrated just how hard it can be. The tutorial wasn’t a cakewalk for me, either, in truth, which made me realise that I probably wasn’t going to fare all that well with the Moldenhauer brothers’ first ever game. Funnily enough, I wanted to play more, though.
In my short 15/20 minute demo, I was able to play a number of boss battles and a run-and-gun style stage, none of which I finished. I came close on a couple of occasions, but because of how unforgiving it is, I didn’t have enough time to properly learn the tells of my large enemies, including two massive frogs and something I can only describe as Satan in a car. As soon as I thought I was getting places, a sentient sweet dispenser would throw something new at me, I’d die, and have to start all over again.
There are two shooting styles in Cuphead to aid you in defeating the baddies: one that sees you shoot in a straight line; and one that doesn’t go quite as far, but allows you to shoot up and down diagonally at the same time as forward. There didn’t appear to be any discernable difference between them when it comes to damage; just two different ways to attack the cartoon villains. As well as the boss fights, I had the opportunity to mess about in one of the game’s Run n’ Gun stages. In traditional 2D platformer style, these ask you to get from left to right, offing all of the murderous bluebells, sunflowers and mushrooms along the way. As I sprinted through the stage, narrowly missing out on finishing it according to the progress bar that shows up once you die, there was a constant barrage of expletives going through my mind as flowers smashed me right up.
The obstacles put in your way are only half the story, though. A screenshot can’t truly communicate how the 1920s aesthetic looks in motion. The rhythmic motion of characters as they dance along to the old timey tunes, while simultaneously setting out to kill you, is sublime. The scratchy, filmic filter over the top of the action is the icing on this glorious cake. To say it looks beautiful feels wrong, because the look in your enemies’ eyes doesn’t suggest anything other than evil. It’s mesmerising.
Cuphead’s launch is right around the corner, and I can’t wait to see if my brief experience with it will translate to hours of fun or an hour of frustration before throwing in the towel. I can already tell that defeating a boss, or finishing one of the platforming levels, will be as satisfying as anything, but the question is whether or not most will stick with it long enough to find out. I’m gonna give it a fair shake, at the very least.