Cuphead Review

Dan Webb

In the God-knows-how-many-years I’ve played video games, I’ve always found myself to be quite capable in whatever task has been thrown my way. I breezed my way through various Dark Souls, finished numerous Call of Duty games on Veteran with relative ease – I smashed the Mile High Club pretty easily – I grew up with the likes of Contra, but when it came to Cuphead, it nearly broke me. Anyone that tells you otherwise is off their rockers. Cuphead is hard. Wait, that doesn’t really do it justice: Cuphead is fucking rock hard. I’d go as far as to say that Cuphead is the hardest game I have ever played. Ever! Fun fact: I used to have a full head of hair before I started playing Cuphead!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Cuphead is the 30s-cartoon-inspired game that everyone has been raving about for months. Nay, years! It’s basically a 2D, bullet hell, boss-battling shooter with a tiny bit of platforming. If you thought Cuphead was a platformer, you'd be wrong. Only a small fraction of the game itself is dedicated to platforming, while the rest is all about the bosses. Wonderfully conceived, hand-crafted bosses, each with their own unique style, soundtrack and challenges that you’ll have to overcome to beat them.

This boss is bastard hard.

When talking about difficulty in games, the first question one should pose is whether the game is responsive, and in that regard Cuphead is a treat. Not at any point do you feel like you don’t have full and complete control over Cuphead or his compatriot, Mugman. It’s the kind of game where you can only blame yourself if you fail, whether it’s positioning, timing or concentration: the game itself is rarely to blame for your failure. It's also worth mentioning that you'll need to be prepared to fail… a lot!

Speaking of Mugman, yes, Cuphead is a co-op game. Unfortunately it’s only couch co-op, but to be completely honest I would recommend playing solo as there’s already enough going on on-screen without the unnecessary addition of another player character. They're less a help, more a hindrance.

Usually when you assess the difficulty of something, it’s worth taking into account another important question: is the game fair? And for the most part I would argue that Cuphead is a pretty fair game. I say pretty fair because there are the odd occasions where you could actually blame the game for your downfall, but 99 times out of 100, it’s down to you. That one time where you couldn’t see what was happening on-screen because the foreground covers you up if you’re down low during the game's flying boss battles will frustrate you to the nth degree, though!

It’s not really a game where you can learn patterns easily from the off either. Cuphead is essentially a boss rush game, we’ve established that, and like all good bosses each one has several stages to master before you can move on. The difficulty comes when the first stage of one boss could have multiple different incarnations.

For instance, one of the more standard fare bosses in the game – Baroness Von Bon Bon, the queen of candyland – has two phases and while phase two largely stays the same, phase one can differ from attempt to attempt. In phase one you will come across five differing forms of candy (well, four and a giant waffle) and of the five, you can come across three in any one phase.

For instance, on the first run you could battle against the candy corn, cupcake and gobstopper, then die. The on run number two you’d fight the cupcake man, the gumball machine and the giant waffle. It makes memorising patterns and nailing tactics that much harder as you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. While it can keep you on your toes, it makes the boss battles infinitely harder to learn. The game could do with a practice mode for each phase of the boss as well, as it’s frustrating to get to phase four only to die because you haven’t mastered it. Not sure that defeats the purpose of the game, but it would certainly bring down my blood pressure immeasurably.

This boss is also bastard hard. Wait... they all are.

While in other notoriously hard games like Dark Souls, if you hit a difficulty spike you could venture off and grind for a bit. You can’t really do that in Cuphead. It does have a shop where you can buy weapons and perks, yes, but it’s not like an RPG per se. In fact, there aren’t really any RPG elements in it at all; there are just weapons and tools that suit different situations. You’re going to have to rely on skill alone to get the best out of this one. Finding what suits which situation is one of those skills you’re going to have to hone.

I have pondered the difficulty question over the last few days though; it’s kept me awake at night in fact. Well, rather the Cuphead-infused PTSD has, but is there such a thing as 'too hard'? Is Cuphead too hard for its own good? It is a question I’ve gone back and forth on over the last few days and my conclusion is: I genuinely have no idea. Is Cuphead fair? For the most part, yes. Is Cuphead responsive? Very much so. Is it too hard? Well, that’s subjective.

Some will breeze through Cuphead, but most will struggle like hell. The thing that I am sure of, is I imagine a good portion of its audience won’t actually see all of its content and that, my friends, is a damn shame. It’s a damn shame because under its rock-hard exterior is a brilliant game. A stunning game that won’t appeal to that many people. An exquisitely presented game that elicits frustration and pure nirvana in equal measure. It’s an experience like no other. Cuphead is one-of-a-kind game and if you really want to test your mettle, give it a go. You’ll probably rip your hair out along the way, but it’ll be more than worth it.



Cuphead is the kind of game that you only need to play for 10-minutes to realise the attention to detail Studio MDHR has poured into it. It looks incredible, sounds wonderful and is a pleasure to play… then the difficulty kicks in and it turns you into a quivering mess. It’s a game that can evoke frustration one minute and pure elation the next. Cuphead will go down as a classic, that's for sure, and it's quite possibly the hardest game I’ve ever played, but you just have to try it. If only for a short-while. Just get out before that blood pressure rises!

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Brilliant! Simply brilliant! Every track as catchy as the last, and considering you’re playing each level over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, it never gets old.


Google “30s cartoons” and then compare it to Cuphead. Studio MDHR has nailed it. Each boss is brilliant. Each platform stage is wonderful. Cuphead is one of the most stylish games I’ve ever seen.


Cuphead’s controls are responsive, easy to control and hard to master. It’s all you really need from a bullet hell game such as this.


The load times are a bit annoying and it could do with a quick-start button, but other than that, it’s great. Could probably cater to casuals a little bit more, but we all knew this was going to be a rock hard game from the get go.


Like the game itself, Cuphead’s achievements are rock hard! Only the amazing need apply. Whether you’re talking A ranks on every boss or completing it on ‘Expert,’ it’s going to challenge you, for sure.

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