Over the span of a few days I’ve found myself in a peculiar spot after playing Studio MDHR’s recently released indie game Cuphead. In the past few days, I’ve also found myself coasting through a storm of emotions, but not because of any form of mental illness or the likes.
Instead I find myself moving between them rapidly due to Cuphead‘s ever-so-increasingly difficult scenarios. But let me tell you how my adventure started with this peculiar little indie game that has taken the world by storm, starting with the moment my download hit 100% and ready to play.
As the game booted up, I was greeted by a game that appeared to reflect something from the 1930’s era. A game that would capture my attention quite easily, but would quickly begin to frustrate me while moving through its rather difficult beginning seconds.
Within an hour, I learned two things. One, I apparently suck at this game, but not because I suck at platformers.
Instead, I suck at it because the game is that infuriatingly hard. It’s a game that has nearly sent this chubby grown man into a fit of rage that would have made Hades in Disney’s Hercules look like a chump to begin with. After nearly three hours, my forehead was coated in a thin sheen of sweat, while my eyes began to grow blood shot from the tears falling from them. After another hour, I finally stared vacantly upon my controller as the words “YOU DIED” sprawled across the screen like some insulting piece of literature.
To be blunt – this is the hardest damned game I’ve ever played. I’m sure not even Contra IV could compare to difficulties such as this. After a few hours, I’ve read through article after article about its difficulty. Reviewers stating that the game would be “tough, but fair” and rather “enjoyable thanks to its difficulty.Truth is? There was nothing enjoyable about the game’s ever-growing difficulty. Instead, I found myself appalled by the “insults” given to me as I died time after time.
How did these reviewers even find the game “tough, but fair?” Is dying a few dozen times tough, but fair? How has their review equipment even managed to stay alive due to a game that was designed to absolutely beat the mortal out of those that play it? I envy these journalists that have managed to eat their way through it. As a journalist, a critic, and a video game enthusiast, I find this game to be excruciatingly hard. So much so that my Elite Controller had almost met my wall a time or four.
At one point, my father poked his head into the room where I was playing on the computer, his words chosen were “Lets get some lunch.” At that point, I’m sure he had noticed the fit of rage I was about to enter. My eyes after all were filled to the brim with tears as my emotions wore thin due to intense moments of combat. But honestly, this doesn’t make Cuphead a bad game at all. It feels a rather needed gap for difficult titles. A gap that titles such as Contra and Altered Beast left when newer titles hit the market.
Even now I sit here, staring at my computer screen, discussing the game with my pals on Discord. I haven’t been able to get that rage inducing title out of my head. Even on Facebook I’ve spent my time venting to one of my colleagues while poofs of steam puff from my ears. At this point, I want to prove that us journalists don’t suck at games, because we don’t. We are given tight deadlines that we must meet. We are given windows where we must have our reviews turned in at a timely manner.
Instead of playing Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, I’m sitting here almost reduced to tears due to the anger seething through me. Not because of the games difficulty at all, but rather because of those people who will tell me that it isn’t as difficult as I make it sound. I’ve already had a few people tell me that it’s a tough game, but it offers mechanics that make the gameplay fair, and rewarding when odds are overcome. Little did they know, I’ve already had to take bosses on with only 3 HP from the start and not a single way to refill those 3 precious digits back up when reduced below their current number.
In truth, Cuphead is a game that is about one thing: memory. It’s a game that wants you to use your muscle reflexes during each encounter. It’s a game that wants you to remember each encounter just as it was before so that you don’t make the same mistakes. It’s a game about patterns; patterns that you must remember no matter what. One fight that enforces this one that includes two toads. One spinning its arms rapidly in order to fling its bullet-like waves at you while the other turns into a fan, blowing you towards the other. At one point, they become one giant slot machine, changing their rhythm based on your draw of the luck.
Just like Dark Souls, The Surge, or even more classic games such as Altered Beast; Cuphead wants you to die, die, and die again until you get the hang of your encounters. It’s a game about constant reminders and memorization. It’s a game that wants you to dodge the falling tears of an onion-like boss, or the psychic attacks of a carrot and his third eye.
Even with bosses that last between 5-10 minutes, some may find themselves on the verge of beating that single boss before being beaten down at the very last second. This was the case for my entire experience with the title, one that reflected its inspirations from the likes of titles such as Contra, Metroid and Altered Beast.
Even with my reputation for persistence, I found myself face-to-face with those who fell me more than once. I quickly learned that each time I came face-to-face, it was a test of my will to continue on, to face down each counter with the knowledge that I may be taken down, and quite easily defeated. Each time, I would die, die, and die some more, being taunted by the words “you died” every time.
Despite my growing rage, anger, and growing close to breaking my controller. I’ve begun to develop a sick fascination with the game, one that brings me back to continually proceed through the game’s vibrant, 1930’s animated art style, with its jazzy filled soundtrack. I’ve grown to appreciate it’s rather detailed boss encounters, ones that are never-the-same no matter how far into the game I get.
Unlike me, there will be others who won’t be bashing their heads in within the first few hours, but instead will find themselves easily navigating through the games lethal designs. While the game is certainly driving me closer and closer to insanity, I can’t fault journalists whom have struggled with each of the game’s difficult encounters.
Like the lot of them, I’m slowly going nuts as my blood pressure rises, but I will – like them – continue through my endeavors as a cartoon cup that shoots water from his finger and steam from his fists.
For us journalists, it’s about time we’ve been given an encounter like what Cuphead has to offer. One that will test our patience, wit, and capabilities as gamers.
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.