One of the biggest surprises of 2017 was Cuphead. A beautiful and delightful game that goes back to the roots of 2D ‘run-and-gun’ platformers and 1930s animation. Players are met with unforgiving difficulty; you will have to have patience with this game. And like all other games, it isn’t without its flaws. However, unlike previous lists, Cuphead is simply too short to do 10 things wrong. Here are 5 things wrong with Cuphead.
1. Cuphead is too difficult for some
Many will argue that you have to ‘get good’ sometimes to enjoy a game. Cuphead has a basic formula: memorize the pattern, and play repeatedly to execute these patterns correctly. There is nothing wrong with hard games. I enjoy a challenging game, and if I give up, it’s due to my lack of patience. However, we have the ability to have different levels of difficulty. This game suffers from the ‘NES syndrome’; it’s such a short game, that it has to make up for that in difficulty. So many of us have spent hours on NES games solely because they are so difficult. Some of that attributes to poor game design, but regardless, they were short and difficult.
Cuphead suffers from that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s lacking in good design, but it is unfair. We can have hard games, that’s not an issue. The issue is that not everyone can enjoy some games because there is no other option than hard gameplay. I am acting like Cuphead doesn’t have different difficulty settings. It does, but they are useless.
2. Easy mode is useless
The point of the easy mode is to practice. This mode gives you the ability to see each stage of the ‘boss levels’. Every boss level has three-to-four stages, and this can ruin a great run. It is nice to be able to practice, especially when you are stuck on a particular level. But why can’t we use this mode to advance in the game?
If you beat a boss in easy mode, it doesn’t count. You HAVE to beat the boss in regular mode. I understand that the satisfaction of beating the game comes in overcoming the challenges in front of you. What I don’t understand is why we can’t cater to casual players. Or younger players, for that matter. I can’t see many kids having the patience or ability to play through this game in regular mode. There should have been a ‘medium’ mode or if you play in easy mode, you can’t upgrade anything. That seems more balanced than giving this ‘all or nothing’ approach to players.
3. Don’t bother with Co-op
Finding a ‘couch’ co-op game is exciting in this day and age. Most games only have online co-op options, so it was refreshing to see something that two people could play in the same room. Cuphead’s co-op isn’t worth it though. The only advantage you have is that your partner can resurrect you if you run out of health. That’s a nice feature, but you have to parry your partner’s ghost that is floating away to the top of the screen. Most of the time, when attempting to do this, you end up dying yourself. On top of that, the difficulty ramps up even more with two people. The developers thought it would be a good idea to make the boss sequences longer. They probably saw this as the only solution to balance the gameplay. Isn’t that the point of co-op though?
Some of the best games of all time feature co-op, and the difficulty doesn’t change. You play co-op to enjoy an experience with someone, or to get help on a level you can’t beat. For example, the Donkey Kong Country series has always featured co-op. The game’s design was executed so well that the level of difficulty was perfect for one and two players. I was able to beat most levels by myself because it was such a chore to do it with two players.
4. The Levels Are A Mess
It’s hard to focus in Cuphead. You have to be really sharp in order to dodge projectiles. The game fails in telling you what is a projectile sometimes. So many times I ran into something I thought was part of the background. I ran into enemies that I thought you could parry in order to regain some health, but they weren’t the correct shade of red. When you are playing a platformer or ‘bullet-hell’ game you expect there to be an indication that you shouldn’t get near an enemy or object. It will typically be outlined in red, try to attack you, look dangerous (i.e. spikes), etc. Cuphead isn’t like that. Puffs of smoke are going to hurt you. There is no excuse for this type of design.
Newer games like Furi, have a distinct indication of what you need to dodge. The projectiles and the enemies you face are colored neon, so the game sets it up fairly for you. Furi is a difficult game because timing is key, but it gives you a fair shot. Cuphead seems to be so wrapped up in its own aesthetic that it forgets that it’s a game. They were so dedicated to making it look like a 1930s cartoon so much they seem to overlook elements that make a game good.
5. Glitches Galore
This is more proof that aesthetic was more important than execution. It is unheard of for games to not have updates and patches to fix issues. When Cuphead was first released, the game was unplayable in co-op mode. The controller would vibrate uncontrollably until you restarted the game. This issue was finally fixed after it had been out for some time, but there are still some issues. The game is still riddled with issues that cause it to crash or freeze. Part of this was probably due to the pressure put on the developers. The game is a marvel to look at, but that’s where a lot of the effort went into. There shouldn’t be game-breaking issues like this on day-one release.
Cuphead is full of eye-candy and really is a wonderful game. It was so much fun playing through it, and the absolute satisfaction you get when you beat each level is worth it. If you like challenging games, you should definitely give Cuphead a shot. And yet, even though it’s an amazing game, Cuphead isn’t without its blemishes.