I’ve been working to complete Cuphead for years, and I’m okay with that.
Cuphead is a sidescrolling action shooter released in 2017. I would argue that one of the game’s biggest draws is its ridiculously unique art-style for a video game. With its 1930’s cartoon aesthetic, Cuphead won me over in an instant. Without knowing a ton about the game, I knew I had to play it at some point in time. The only issue at the time was that the game was a console exclusive, making the game unobtainable without spending money on a new game console. Eventually the game did end up coming to MacOs, but the idea of playing Cuphead with a keyboard seemed about as fun as playing Dark Souls with guitar hero controller while skateboarding.
In a magical 2019 Nintendo Direct event, Nintendo announced Cuphead was coming to Nintendo Switch. After years of waiting, on April 18th 2019 I finally was able to play the game I admired from afar for so long.
Cuphead is a sidescrolling run-and-gun game that primarily consists of a collection of unique bosses. In-between these bosses are levels where the main goal is to get to the end without dying. Completing these levels that are closer to a traditional platformer allow the player to unlock weapon and agility upgrades. These become incredibly useful when facing the main boss levels. The result is a rewarding experience that encourages progression.
Besides its beautiful art and animation, one of the standout ‘features’ of Cuphead is its difficulty. I have read about and have seen videos of the game’s difficulty before the game came to Nintendo’s hybrid console, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience playing it firsthand.
Being someone who is bad at video games, Cuphead let me know right away that was is not messing around in the slightest. From the beginning ‘intro level,’ the game holds no punches. Struggling to get past the first level through countless attempts, I knew I was in for a ride. Despite this, the game’s charming art, big-band music, and gameplay loop kept me coming back for more. As time went on, I started to gain a better grasp of the game over time. My reaction time improved, as well as grasp of the game’s essential mechanics like evading and parrying. Although each level may have taken at least 50 attempts to clear, the game gave me a sense of progression in skill, and with that, a glimmer of hope that kept me coming back though each level.
This is where my approach to the game, as well as other games, started to change for the better. Cuphead is a game that should be played with the expectation that you are going to die; a lot. A lot of the process of playing the game involves playing a level, seeing the patterns of a boss or level, dying, and repeating until successful. It cannot be consumed in an evening or weekend. I’ve been playing Cuphead for about 11 months so far, chipping away at the game slowly over time. Instead of being daunting and overwhelming, this relaxed me knowing I have a game to come back to and work on over the course of months and months with no rush. A year from now, I could still be chipping away at cuphead, and that’s just fine. This approach to the game turned its immensely challenging and intimidating presence into a less stressful one almost instantly. As if it were a giant meal to be enjoyed slowly in courses, versus a 50 story building to climb in an afternoon. Even if I stepped away for a month or more, the wonderful world of Cuphead will still be there for me. It’s relaxing knowing I can play Cuphead for a week or so, learn some patterns, and when I’ve had enough, come back to it in a month or so for another boss fight attempt.
Over time, I found this approach can be applied to most games of any size. Playing games like Breath of the Wild are an intimidating task, and after a good chunk of a month of playing, can place it on the shelf and comfortably return to it a month or two later, knowing it will be there when I need to go back to Hyrule. After about 80 or so hours with the game, I find this is prolonged experience makes games like Breath of the Wild feel even more alive, as if Hyrule is a living world that I can jump into at any time for as long or as short as I want. Whether it’s Cuphead, Breath of the Wild, or another type of game, this approach makes playing games less intimidating, less stressful, and overall more enjoyable. A year from now I could still be chipping away at games like Cuphead and Breath of the Wild, and that’s perfectly okay with me.