Wot I think: Cuphead

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Cuphead[official site] first appeared way back at E3 2014, where it wowed everyone with its gorgeous 1930s style cartoon aesthetic and promise of tough as nails platforming action. It finally came out last Friday and boy, does it deliver on that promise.

Cuphead [official site] is like a bullet hell shooter where the bullets are more likely to be sentient balloon animals. The story is slight but delightful: after gambling away their souls, Cuphead (and Mugman, if you’re playing coop) take on the devil’s dirty work and set about collecting soul contracts across Inkwell Isle. Boss battles form the bulk of the game, with some occasional side scrolling platforming thrown in for variety. Those bosses are the star of the show however, beautifully brought to life by the unique hand-animated art style.

I’ve faced a telekinetic carrot, a pair of boxing frogs that eat other to turn into a slot machine, and a unicycling plane lady who can transform into a bull shaped cloud, two dancing cloud women and the moon. I’ll avoid spoiling any more bosses, because discovering each one (and the different stages of each fight) is the main joy of Cuphead. Gaining mastery over the challenge is satisfying, sure, but that’s nothing new – you can get that from your Super Meat Boys and your N Plus Plusses. Each of Cuphead’s bosses has more personality than can be found in the entirety of those games though. It sounds great too, with an original jazz score that perfectly accompanies the old timey visuals.

It never runs out of ways to surprise, with the bosses getting even more inventive as the game goes on. It’s also made me chuckle out loud a few times, such as when I landed the final blow on a boss and the two birds that were carrying him on a stretcher swapped out their medicine pills for salt and pepper shakers. Every animation oozes charm, from the dancing hourglass that appears on loading screens to the way Cuphead pulls up his trousers at the start of each fight.

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If you want to actually see those bosses though, you’re going to have to Git Gud. Each level can be played on ‘simple’ or ‘regular’ difficulty, but you only get to fight the last bosses once you’ve beaten the rest on regular. Simple mode slashes the bosses health pools and takes away entire stages from the fight, which it would be a shame to miss out on. It’s still a great inclusion as a sort of ‘tourist’ mode, however, and will allow a lot of people to appreciate a game they otherwise wouldn’t, while still rewarding those who persevere on regular difficulty.

In both modes, you can only take three hits before having to start over. That can be changed by placing a certain item in your charm slot, which can be bought using coins that you earn from the side-scrolling “run ‘n gun” levels I mentioned earlier. However, that charm also reduces the damage you do – and more importantly it would mean you couldn’t take a different charm that makes you invincible whenever you do the dash move. That one allows you to zip right through enemies, and I couldn’t imagine playing the game without it.

You can also perform parry slaps by pressing A just before you collide with a red object or red enemy. It’s a neat risk/reward mechanic, with a successful slap earning you a card towards the super meter. That super meter also fills up by just dealing damage, and can be partially drained to use an enhanced version of a normal attack, or by saving up all of it for a more devastating super move.

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While you start with just the one gun, more can be bought, and it can be fun to experiment with their different normal and enhanced attacks. You can take two into each level: sometimes I managed to defeat a boss by picking a smart combination of weapons rather than relying purely on twitch skill. There’s a gun that auto-aims but does less damage, which I initially thought would only be a good option for when a certain stage needs you to focus on dodging. I’d forgotten to take into account that doing slightly less damage per hit doesn’t matter when there’s no need to ever stop firing. Pairing that up with the charge-up gun that doesn’t have an autofire and calls for precision shots meant I could do as much damage as possible in every situation.

Cuphead isn’t just about reaction times and pattern-learning. I learned to sit back and rethink my approach to a level on occasion. Is that part of the screen as dangerous as I thought it was? Are those pink jelly beans easier for me to farm super meter cards from than I first thought? What if I try saving my super for that stage, or use enhanced attacks to get through that tricky section faster? It rarely feels unfair, although it sometimes took me dozens of attempts to work out how to beat the latter stages of a fight. You don’t get another chance to figure out how to beat those stages until you’ve gotten through the earlier ones again, which can be grueling when you know you’re only going to fail once more. The final bosses are particularly cruel in that regard, although I guess that’s to be expected in a game that places such a large emphasis on difficulty.

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I ran into that old thing where failing multiple times at a level can make you frustrated and cause you to mess up earlier sections that you thought you’d already mastered, which leads to more frustration and more mistakes and ARRRGH. At several points I slammed my controller down and walked out of my room, only to slink back in again after a minute or two. “This time I’ll do it,” I’d say to myself, “this time will be the one.” It rarely was.

As frustrating as that can be, it was why I found myself punching the air in jubilation after difficult bosses. And they’re all bloody difficult – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If that sounds enticing rather than off-putting to you, then I can unreservedly recommend Cuphead. If not, then simple mode might still make the game worth visiting for those who just want to enjoy the delightful aesthetic, though it’s far from the full experience.

Cuphead is available now for Windows, and is available via the Windows 10 Store, GOG and Steam for £14.99.

112 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Ghostbird says:

    …allow a lot of people to appreciate a game they otherwise wouldn’t, while still rewarding those who persevere on regular difficulty.

    I started thinking about this and now I’m wondering why people need to be rewarded for playing on a higher level of difficulty. Shouldn’t playing the game be its own reward?

    • Soyweiser says:

      The curse of ‘gitgud’ strikes again. While I like hardmodes myself, I’m against this new wave of ‘lets make games nintendo hard again’. It keeps people out of gaming, drives people away etc. Gaming is already hard enough.

      Please developers, don’t gate parts of the main game behind ‘hardmodes’, have some respect for your customers and their time.

      Remember the nintendo era? where you finally beat a game and then it says ‘for the real ending beat it at hard mode’ that felt like a betrayal. Like they make the game frustrating for a reason. Don’t get why devs suddenly think this is a good idea to implement again. (even roguelikes are drifting away from the ‘punish the player for things he couldn’t know’ gameplay model).

      • Viral Frog says:

        This mindset really doesn’t make sense to me. There are a ridiculous number of games being released right now. Very few of them actually go with “let’s make games Nintendo hard again” approaches. The number of releases that are incredibly difficult are designed for a specific audience and anyone not in that audience has a number of other releases to play. This isn’t keeping anyone out of gaming. It’s just that some people are designing games for niche gamers. If anyone doesn’t like this particular type of difficult game, they have thousands of other options.

        • Ragnar says:

          I’m not sure what your argument is.

          We’re not against making challenging games, we’re against games that gate content behind that challenge.

          If you want a challenge, play the game on hard, Ironman, or “regular” in this case. I hope you’re always able to find games that challenge you the way you want to be challenged.

          But why can’t I play the same exact game on normal, or easy, or “simple” in this case? It doesn’t take away from your challenge or accomplishment. I just want more health, less enemy damage, more lives, etc. I don’t want fewer fights, or different fights, or a crappy ending.

          I want us both to be able to enjoy the full game on whatever difficulty best suits us.

          • twiggles64 says:

            I find this argument a little ridiculous because you’re fundamentally adjusting what “the full game” is when you’re changing the difficulty. I could tangent off your argument by saying that every game should have fighting game mechanics–if you don’t want the fighting game mechanics, don’t use them, but why can’t I play the exact same game but with fighting mechanics introduced?

            For sure there are certain games where the experience for each person is preferenced, and so they can have a sliding difficulty scale that can be adjusted, but slapping that onto every game takes away from what the developer is trying to accomplish with it. It robs a sense of “work” needed to accomplish (and thus experience) the game, which I think many games do effectively implement both into their mechanics and even the story of the game.

          • gwathdring says:

            But what’s the point of the gating procedure? It would be one thing if the game had no Simple mode.

            This game has a Simple mode but then decides that you don’t get to play the full game in that mode. What is the point of this? How do players benefit from this beyond silly moralism?

          • Sir_Deimos says:

            Putting special content behind a “hard mode” is exactly the extra reward gamers want for playing on a higher difficulty. Yes it was frustrating to beat an old game on Normal and only be told to play it again on Hard, but it’s even MORE frustrating to beat a game on hard with no added benefit (see The Completionist youtube for many examples). I’m all for exposing the “full” game to all players, regardless of skill level, but if a developer doesn’t put anything in for the most loyal fans it seems like a spit in the face.

            I’m sure it’s become increasingly difficult to decide what that content should be. In the NES days you could throw up a different end credit screen and call it a day, but with everything posted to the internet its a lot easier to just play the game on “normal” and then find out what you missed.

          • gwathdring says:

            I guess I’m confused. If you play difficult games because you like a challenge, why do you need the game to reward you by giving you entire sections of gameplay that no-one else got? The game can reward you in all kinds of ways–and many games simply acknowledge your success.

            There are ways to do reward gating that make sense to me. In Super Hexagon, beating Hexagon leads to a harder version of Hexagon. Beating Hegaoner leads to a harder version of Hexagoner. To do the next thing, you finish the easier version of the same thing. Your scores are tracked on leader boards and by achievements on certain platforms. You get bragging rights and can continue to try for better and better times. It all makes sense within the context of what the game tries to do.

          • Sir_Deimos says:

            But you’re basing that on the assumption that the ONLY reason people play hard games is because of the enjoyment for the difficulty. When there’s no in game reward for playing on harder difficulties, players are forced into this mentality as there’s no other option. For something very arcade-y like Hexagon where the entire premise of enjoying the game comes from the game mechanics it makes sense to put more “rewarding” experiences behind a win condition. Super Mario 3D World was an extremely difficult game at times, and the secret stages at the end were some of the best levels, yet people didn’t call for Nintendo to make an easy mode so everyone could see them.

            For clarity – I don’t have a problem with easy modes in games. I do have an issue with developers spending time on something they didn’t want in their game for “accessibility” when most of the people calling for it weren’t going to buy it either way. Paradox don’t take layers of management out of HoI because 99% of people will vomit after looking at a screenshot – so why should any other game have to make that sacrifice.

          • gwathdring says:

            There are people who play games for every reason under the sun. Saying “some people only do it for the reward” or what-have-you doesn’t make it any more of an odd proposition to me.

            You’re missing some really key points here. By talking about how making an easy mode takes time away from the rest of game development, you’re acting like Cuphead doesn’t already have an easier difficulty setting. One that, for that matter, is more complicated than simple numerical buffs but rather cuts out entire stages of fights and locks away entire levels. They already made a relatively complicated easy mode. My question is why they made it the way they did.

          • Schubydoo says:

            Taking out phases in boss fights for simpler game modes allows them to add new phases in boss fights for harder game modes. This gives the player incentive to go back and play the levels on Expert difficulty, because you get to experience a new variant of the boss fight. If the change in difficulty was purely health and damage based I would have 0 interest in playing it at a harder difficulty.

      • Archonsod says:

        Cuphead is a Nintendo era game effectively, just with better graphics than the old NES could manage :P
        I can see why they did it the way they did. When you think about it the issue with this style of design is the gameplay is pretty simple – learn how a boss attacks, counter it. There’s no branching story arcs or the like, and for the most part it’s reliant on trial and error to learn the attacks. Reflexes factor in to it, but ultimately since they use the same patterns you could probably brute force through on muscle memory if you chose.

      • Ragnar says:

        I completely agree. I don’t understand the rationale for gating content behind a difficulty setting.

        You want to make a “Nintendo-hard” game, fine. But why not let me play the same game on an easy difficulty?

        Don’t give me a cut down game on “Simple” difficulty (what an insulting name for Easy). The last thing gaming needs is more skill-shaming.

        • Fade2Gray says:

          I hadn’t thought of about it that way, but now I can’t see “simple” as any other than a derogatory insult…

          Oh? You can’t hang on the regular difficulty? You must be simple.

          • DigitalParadox says:

            Or maybe it just means that the game is simpler than on the regular difficulty…

        • DingDongDaddio says:

          Lmfao, “skill shaming.” What a concept. If you’re insulted by the use of the word “simple” for something that is literally more simple than normal, that’s your own problem.

          Wolfenstein gave your character a bib and pacifier if you played on the easiest difficulty. Those were the days!

          • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

            But you got to see the whole damn game, all the bosses and endings and everything, the only diminishment was the bib and pacifier.

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            Ghostbird says:

            Why were those the days, though? Did you think playing well was important for some reason?

      • LacSlyer says:

        You’d have a point if gamers weren’t currently practically overrun by the amount of games available to them, and with that varying degrees of difficulty in games to where no one has a right to really bitch about difficulty at all. Claiming that we need less games like this when basically every triple-A game that comes out caters to the casual masses, which I have no problem with, is absolutely ridiculous.

        In other words, you have your less challenging games if you want them. Don’t complain ’cause another difficult game comes out that you yourself can’t stand playing when it’s not designed for you. There’s plenty of gamers, and more games like this isn’t going to get rid of them.

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          FhnuZoag says:

          Are you arguing that games that look like Cuphead are a dime a dozen?

          • LW says:

            At risk of sounding like the Git Gud dudes, if the art is all you want, why not just watch a Let’s Play? If you just want to kind of breeze through the game without having to improve your platforming skills, that does seem the easier option.

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            FhnuZoag says:

            Watching someone else bash their heads against a brick wall is just as much a waste of my time as doing it myself.

          • jonahcutter says:

            Then watch somebody better than yourself.

          • ThePuzzler says:

            I probably will just watch a “Let’s Play”.

            I’m not sure why the people who made the game would think this was a good thing.

        • fuggles says:

          But this is also ridiculous. Options mean everyone can enjoy it. My success on an easy mode takes nothing away from you and it may be relatively the same challenge level, based on ability.

          I don’t understand how anyone can ever complain about options. Just let everyone play the single player game how they want. We are all playing for our own entertainment, you don’t get anything else from it.

      • bee says:

        I agree 100%. This was the first game I’ve ever had to refund on Steam because it was too difficult for me, and I’ve played MANY games (Dark Souls included). If they made the entire game accessible behind the easy difficulty then I wouldn’t have refunded it.

        • Themadcow says:

          Out of interest, how long did you put into the game before decidint it was too hard and getting a refund?

        • fish99 says:

          Couldn’t you just have persevered? Chances are if you beat Dark Souls you could have beaten Cuphead too.

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            MajorLag says:

            Sure, but the important question is if they even wanted to. If the game didn’t make the experience of facing the challenge engaging, then why do it?

      • Ulminati says:

        People complain the game is too hard.
        Developers make an easy mode, that removes some of the hard content.
        People complain the hard sections aren’t present in easy mode.

        Pleasing modern gamers is the hardest challenge mode of all.

    • Ragnar says:

      My thinking exactly. Overcoming the challenge is its own reward, and should be all the reward that’s needed.

      If you really want to give players something beyond self-satisfaction, that’s where achievements come in.

    • KnowNothingJackWohl says:

      Had to create an account to get in on this action about “gating content behind difficulty”…

      Do we want games to aspire to be art? Or are they merely consumer products?

      There are many movies with director’s cuts. I have a fave movie Dark City. Sci fi joint. That ruins all its mysteries in a particular cut because there is an exposition narrative put in the beginning that makes the plot more accessible but gives the hook away. Studios interfered with the artists vision.

      Cuphead clearly has a strong art direction and put a lot of effort into it. Difficulty level was probably not an accident. They probably wanted it to be hard for a reason. This was not a big studio that said make it hard cuz “Souls-Like” sells.

      Dark Souls is great because it’s difficult and inscrutable. Dying is a mechanic. Repetition is a mechanic. You’re in an alien, ancient, post apocalyptic land. The lore is meant to be hard to decipher.

      IMO I get that y’all want to experience this game. There are let’s plays if you can’t Git Gud. You wanna experience the art as intended then deal with the difficulty.

      Of course, if you don’t care for the artist’s intention, and view it merely as a consumer product (which being an interactive medium you could argue it is) than by all means ruin the experience of achievement and discovery and ask for easy mode.

      Some books are hard to read but worth it in the end. Some movies can be offensive but provocative. Video Games may be difficult for similar artistic reasons.

      But hey, maybe George Lucas was right and his collaborator Gary Kurtz was wrong: the more mature, more nuanced Empire Strikes back wasn’t what the people wanted. The Teddy Bear treehouse party of Return was ultimately more accessible to audiences right

      ;0

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        FhnuZoag says:

        My extended family in a foreign country want to watch Empire Strikes back. Unfortunately, they can’t speak English. So what should they do? Should they Git Gud and learn English just to watch this movie? Or should they ignore all this nonsense you said about art and look for a dubbed – or at least subtitled version?

        Come on now, criticizing ‘intentional’ decisions by an artist is no bar to an artistic medium. I’d kinda argue that allowing this criticism and this conversation is actually part of what makes things an art, and not, well, a cult?

        The devs here may have intended some level of difficulty in the game. But one person’s easy is another person’s hard or impossible. Maybe it was their intent that for 30% of people the difficulty feels perfect, and for 70% of people it feels like a total fuck-you because those people have poorer reflexes or having ground their way up to this level of experience. But I somehow doubt it.

      • gwathdring says:

        They themselves decided to include a Simple mode. Their vision for the game was that you be able to play a lot of it–but not all of it–on an easier difficulty.

        This seems strange. If the difficulty is necessary to experiencing the game properly, why include this mode at all? Similarly, why does playing certain levels in Simple mode require beating others in Regular mode?

        • KnowNothingJackWohl says:

          I said it at the outset but let me elaborate again: This isn’t about accessibility. It’s about the outrage over “gating content”.

          Subtitles for diff languages = accessibility. Add a colorblind mode = accessibility. Removing challenge from an interactive medium is to alter an artists vision.

          No mentlegen, we make shit accessible by adding subtitles, not altering content. We translate Captain America, we don’t change the content to Captain China.

          Easy mode. Hey that’s great. But as an artistic medium video games require interaction and designers want us to interact in certain ways. “Skipping the boss battle” is skipping an interaction.

          I wouldn’t expect somebody in another country to “Git Gud” and learn another language when subtitles were to suffice. I do expect however, that even in another language, they don’t dumb the thing down.

          “I didn’t like that ambiguous ending,or plot point i had to infer. I want a movie that spells everything out for me and whose twists I can see coming. ”

          That’s how I’d characterize the outrage of “gating content”. BUt maybe these are just consumer products and the devs are not auteurs.

          • gwathdring says:

            I’m sorry but this post isn’t terribly clear or coherent. I’m not sure how it is intended as a response to my post.

    • Daymare says:

      My personal rewards for playing games on higher difficulties:

      #1: Deeper understanding and appreciation of its systems. E.g. in FPS it means having to use more of the tools at my disposal and appreciating the resulting gameplay more.

      #2: Often a more ‘realistic’ or visceral feeling.

      #3: Overcoming its challenges is more rewarding.

      #4: More time to spend in its world (if story-driven).

      To you, Ghostbird, a direct question:
      “I’m wondering why people need to be rewarded for playing on a higher level of difficulty. Shouldn’t playing the game be its own reward?”

      Is there a way to 100% divorce a game from its difficulty?

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        Ghostbird says:

        That’s kind of tangential to my point but its an interesting question in its own right. A game is defined by its systems and difficulty is a term we use to talk about how we engage with those systems, so obviously the answer is no. But on the other hand, there’s no useful objective measure of difficulty because everything about how to play video games has to be learned and we all come to them with different skills and talents. So when we talk about difficulty in as if it were a useful measure of something (in a game review, say) we’re making assumptions about our audience – we’re assuming an “average gamer” for us to measure ourselves and the game against. That’s necessary up to a point – we can’t start every review by explaining what a shooter is or how a controller works – but what interests me is the assumption in Matt’s review here that of course we should reward players for meeting that implicit “average gamer” standard. Or more accurately, that of course people who don’t meet the standard shouldn’t be allowed to play the whole game. Why is that a natural assumption, and what does it imply about “gamers” as an identity?

        • Daymare says:

          I’d say it implies that some games and players see difficulty as a measurement of performance, and that higher performance should be rewarded with exclusivity, among other things. Probably because it’s rooted in real-life assumptions such as: Harder/longer work earns greater rewards; overcoming a challenge should be rewarded; and stuff like people who are really good at sports win prizes.
          It also implies that games (and most/all sports) tend to be pretty elitist whenever they become serious.

          I agree with you that Matt’s assumption’s problematic. But I don’t think there’s a binary answer to the problem of exclusivity. (Certainly many games *do* allow everyone to experience everything, but that’s beside the point.)
          I’d say it depends on things like: the game’s genre, the devs’ vision of their game, work necessary to balance the game on multiple difficulties, and how integral the game’s balance is to its identity.

        • Daymare says:

          *Personally*, I’d rather games didn’t gate actual content — such as endings, abilities or whole levels — behind difficulty settings. And I’d rather people wouldn’t assume this to be the norm, ‘cuz that sounds like a world ruled by elitists.

        • MrUnimport says:

          I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude that elements of challenge in video games exist for the purpose of excluding some people from playing the game. For the most part they serve a totally innocent purpose, which is entertainment. It’s hard to conceive of a challenge which doesn’t exclude at least some tiny fraction of players, while still being reasonably challenging for the bulk of the playerbase.

          I don’t really like the implication that people who enjoy games that challenge them, or are difficult, are actually just trying to stake their identity on elitism.

      • Bury The Hammer says:

        I think this touches on some good points.

        I found Mass Effect 2 to be a bit of a bore on regular difficulty. I could spam the same attacks and didn’t have to think too much. As a consequence I didn’t feel particularly involved. Instead of a arduous hike, it felt like a tedious train ride. The ‘save the universe against all odds’ plot felt pretty farcical given I was barely trying.

        When I replayed it, I enjoyed it vastly more on a harder difficulty. I had to come up with strategies, exploration was rewarding, make hard decisions. If the game had prompted me by default to choose that difficulty, I’d have loved it. Choices and how they’re presented are important! It’s part of the artistic direction.

        It’s interesting how the author of Nudge recently won the Nobel Prize and this conversation is cropping up. I can see a lot of parallels. How do we offer the ability to choose easier difficulties whilst still encouraging people to take the default (rewarding but challenging) path?

        I mean, personally, allowing easy modes to me seems like missing the point of some games. It would be like, instead of reading/watching a Shakespeare play – because it’s too hard to understand – reading the wikipedia article. You know all about it, but you’ve kind of sidestepped the entire experience?

    • Wormerine says:

      I really don’t get that either. I did meet many people with attitudes “I am playing on harder difficulty therefore I should be rewarded more”.

      Now there are couple cases in which those mechanics make sense. A score based game (like bullethells) is all about mastering and it makes sense to boost score with each difficulty level. Multiplayer games like Diablo or MMO give you better loot on higher runs so you can show off.

      But for most games difficulty is there to allow you to decide how much you want to interact with game mechanics. It’s your funtime and set it to what suits you best.

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    Godwhacker says:

    Would it be safe to describe this as a Jazz Odyssey? At all? Please?

  3. Halk says:

    Another game where they forgot the normal difficulty. Sigh.

  4. int says:

    For the masochistic and the skilled player it would seem both cups are fully full!

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    FhnuZoag says:

    Yet another game I would buy if only they had a genuine easy mode.

    Just increase the player’s HP, it’s that easy.

    I don’t know why devs keep doing this – making games on the basis of gorgeous graphics, and then lock it behind too high a difficulty. Even if I get past it, the stress and frustration of dodging bullets all the time mean I can’t enjoy the graphics! Hyperlight Drifter (until they patched in an easy mode), Ori and the Blind Forest, Valdis Story… all games I got lured in and ended up abandoning. And now this.

    There hasn’t been a single game I’ve ever played that I disliked for being too easy. Stop doing this, devs!

    • RuySan says:

      I actually like harder games but i agree with you. Games should have non-compromised easier difficulties also to allow people with physical disabilites (or just senior players) to enjoy them.

    • robertlepervers says:

      Well I disliked Outlast for being too easy. Just run and nothing can catch you, that’s really not scary at all this way…

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        FhnuZoag says:

        Well, that’s a valid point of view, but not one I agree with. Like, I don’t think difficulty actually makes for a scary game. The fear of dying to a monster rapidly diminishes if it happens to you multiple times.

      • KenTWOu says:

        My guess is you already got Lunatic achievement without even breaking a sweat.

    • Baines says:

      What determines “easy”, though? No matter how low you set the bare, you’ll likely find someone who still can’t reach it, and will still complain that the game needs an easier difficulty added.

      Cuphead only a month ago showed itself a prime example, with the controversial Dean Takahashi gameplay video. Takahashi has repeatedly faced criticism in the past for his reviews. His Cuphead video was no exception. It started with him struggling to complete the tutorial, and ended with several minutes of him failing to grasp basic gameplay elements such as “Jumping on enemies hurts you, not them.”

    • durrbluh says:

      If a game is too hard and you don’t have the drive or time to “git gud” but you still want to see all of the content, there’s always Cheat Engine.

      Just sayin’.

      • icarussc says:

        Yeah, and that would be great — except that half the time, I can’t make CE work (as a guy who plays with young kids, this has come up a few times). I don’t have unlimited hours to fiddle with solutions. Why don’t devs use the old school solution and just put cheat codes into their game directly instead of my having to mess about with memory addressing?

  6. DingDongDaddio says:

    Finished up World 2 last night and I’m completely enamored. The difficulty is PERFECT so far. Nothing feels unfair so it’s just a matter of learning the attacks and honing the reflexes. Everything has a tell, from sound to wacky animations, so anyone with enough patience should be able to keep up if you just learn it.

    Love it. Can’t wait to see the crazy characters it throws at me later in the game.

  7. The First Door says:

    I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been put off a game harder than by someone using the term ‘Git Gud’ in a review of it. Actually that’s not true: loot boxes put me off even more. Still though, I was genuinely really interested in this, but I’m not sure I can be bothered with games which are hard for hardness’ sake these days, so I might wait until it’s on sale. It does look and sound absolutely lovely though.

    • SigmaCAT says:

      Cuphead is not hard for being hard’s sake.

      Cuphead is mostly very well designed bossfights, and by definition bosses are hard. Wouldn’t that be frustrating if you were just breezing through a game, never having to retry anything?

      Some games may be designed for hardness’s sake but most of them are utter shit. Dark Souls isn’t even that hard, it’s its marketing which only spoke about difficulty and didn’t say a word about a very well crafted world, oozing with emotions.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        There are tons of games designed around boss fights that you are intended to be able to pass first time without retrying. Undertale, Nier Automata, Pyre, Shadow of the Colossus… There’s no such thing as “by definition Bosses are hard”.

      • The First Door says:

        Well, obviously I can’t comment on Cuphead’s difficulty/bosses directly because I’ve not played it, but I appreciate the comment. Obviously it’s been plenty popular, and I’m not saying games of this type shouldn’t be made, just they put me off these days.

        I would argue though that bosses are not hard by definition, and that attitude is what leads to dull boss fights. For me a boss fight should be a revision session, or a test of mastery over the gameplay mechanics. I personally much prefer it when a boss fight asks me to show off what I’ve learnt so far, to show I understand the mechanics of a game or that I can think of creative uses for said mechanics. It shouldn’t just be a harder fight that what went before, because that’s frankly boring. That is basically why I’m not interested in boss rush games usually, because without the non-boss parts there isn’t the ability to play with mechanics and learn them. It’s like an exam without the lessons!

    • Buggery says:

      Yeah, “Git Gud” made me nope right out of this. I’m more into playing games in “normal” mode than easy or hard. It seems this game goes the Dark Souls route of difficulty which is fine for some but really makes me not want to bother. I was hoping this would be a good game to play with a non-gamer but apparently not.

  8. Ragnar says:

    I really dislike gating content behind difficulty settings. Because I don’t have the time and patience to struggle through the game on the “correct” difficulty setting, I don’t get to experience the same fights and bosses as someone that does?

    The original Devil May Cry did this too – where the easy difficulty replaced climatic fights that introduced new enemy types with boring fights against old enemies, took out some enemy types entirely, and even replaced the skill-based melee combo attacks with the game randomly picking attacks for you. It bothered me then, and it bothers me even more now that I have less free time.

    I want to play an easier version of the game, not a cut down version of the game. There’s no need to reward players that play on a harder difficulty – the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge should be all the reward that’s necessary. But if you still want to reward them, do so with achievements that let them show off what gaming gods they are, not with extra game content that us mere time/skill-limited mortals won’t get to see.

  9. punkass says:

    Can I check, are you saying that if you die 3 times, you have to start a particular level again, or start the whole game again, arcade style?

    Because whilst I could understand the former approach, the latter on an already difficult game seems designed just to fuck with people. Surely they haven’t been that perverse?

    • DingDongDaddio says:

      No, you take 3 hits and you die and restart the level from the beginning. There are no lives or anything and you can try as many times as you need.

      A successful run against any boss is under 2 minutes so deaths aren’t very punishing at all.

    • Ragnar says:

      I believe you have three health, and after getting hit three times you die and have to start the level over again. That’s the same for multi-stage boss fights, with no checkpoints in-between the stages.

  10. baqueta says:

    I find the complaints about the difficulty interesting, and especially those around ‘gating’ the content. If the devs hadn’t gated some of the content, I wonder how many reviews we’d see along the lines of “… but it’s a slight experience that will only last a few hours”.

    Maybe they’ll patch in a new difficulty mode in a week or two?

    • nattydee says:

      Yeah it’s actually amazing to me how entitled people seem to feel about ‘content’, as though every game should have a built in god-mode to enable effortlessly experiencing all of the ‘content’, because you paid money for it so, y’know, how dare they make it *challenging* for you to experience it.

      Somehow this feels like the flipside of arguments made around premium currencies and pay-to-win – those are features fundamentally built around enabling people to experience ‘content’ without requiring real engagement with the game. There we often complain about the perverse incentives created for developers to swindle those with cash to burn, or how that mindset unchecked can create gaming experiences that are more like skinner box torture than ‘fun’.

      For cuphead, difficulty seems to be *Part of the Appeal*. It’s fundamentally part of the experience the devs intended… so I really don’t understand their arguments :|

      • Ragnar says:

        And I don’t understand your hostility to people playing their single-player games the way they want to. No one here is asking to cheat their way through this game, but even if they are, who cares?

        If someone else wants to play with god-mode on, or save-scum, or whatever, why does that bother you? Why can’t you just enjoy your game and let them enjoy theirs?

        We’re not against difficulty, we’re for more options. What’s challenging for you may be impossible for someone else.

        What we are against is having a subset of gamers being treated as second class citizens. And when you make a cut down version of the game under a “Simple” difficulty setting, that’s more insulting than not having an easy difficulty at all. It’s saying that anyone without the skill/time/patience/ability to play the “regular” version doesn’t get to play the full game, only the “simple” version.

        Btw, as a kid I played Doom with god-mode on, and I had a blast. It instilled in me a life-long love of games, and FPS games in particular. Accessibility is a wonderful thing that only serves to introduce more people to gaming and bring more people into our hobby.

        • LacSlyer says:

          The hostility comes from people like yourself who want games designed specifically for how they choose to play. You’re martyring yourself as though you don’t have enough less difficult games in this world to play at a point where gamers are literally overwhelmed with the amount of good games available.

          Accessibility is great, but not necessary in every god damn game that comes out. Get over the fact that not every game is going to be catered to how you choose to play.

        • RichUncleSkeleton says:

          Accommodating various play styles and skill levels is all fine and well, but it’s not like there’s some clear threshold where a game becomes unreasonably difficult. There are people who would struggle to play even mainstream, focus group-tested AAA games. Or people who are good at one kind of game but not others. I wouldn’t know what to do with Madden or 4X or a MOBA. Are their developers obligated to work around my marginal abilities at sports and strategy games so that I can experience them anyway? How far should including “more options” so as not to treat anyone as a “second class citizen” go?

          • Premium User Badge

            FhnuZoag says:

            Sure, you can find extreme cases, but extreme cases make bad rules. I’m sure you can find a person out there who thinks Cuphead is too easy.

            The point is that getting a diverse set of people to playtest your game is a good idea. Don’t disparage so-called ‘focus group’ testing.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        Yes, the difficulty is part of the appeal, but the 30’s cartoon aesthetic is also part of the appeal. If you like difficult games, then you can enjoy both parts. If you don’t get on with difficult games but you like the 30’s art style, you get to enjoy some of the latter but not all of it because of the former.

        In other words, you want to see this game from start to finish because you love the sense of design but you won’t get to, because it’s inflexible in its difficulty. You could watch a playthrough but who wins then? The developer misses out on a sale and you only get to enjoy the game second hand.

        Does that make more sense?

        • Sunjammer says:

          This.

        • Sunjammer says:

          Edit: Whoa sorry about the double comment, the first one just timed out on me repeatedly, guess it made it through still.

          This. It’s not even about a game being difficult, as if that’s a linear gradient. It’s about a _kind_ of difficulty as well. Truly hard games that feel good are few and far between, and designing a gameplay loop that is both masochistic yet rewarding is among the tightest of tight ropes to walk. IMO Cuphead doesn’t walk it, and as a result it rests on its stellar presentation, a presentation gated behind barbed wire. It’s a shame for the developers who have gone out of their way to express how much this game has potentially bankrupted them and need every sale they can get, and it’s a shame for players who adore the aesthetic but bounce off the play.

          A good point of comparison is Metal Slug. Gorgeous pixel art museums you can credit-spam your way through to experience and adore the art while still appreciating the difficulty. You will never buy your way into the leaderboards with Metal Slug, if you want recognition you have to actually master it. Cuphead could have done well with a similar approach.

        • ToXXicG4mer says:

          No, not really. The fact that both things are packaged together is incidental. I loved True Romance and hated the soundtrack. I felt it didn’t fit the tone of the film at all. No one was obliged to make an edited version of that movie for me. There will continue to be games for niche markets, and they may be a concatenation of elements you like and elements you don’t. Challenge and difficulty are as much a part of the artistic whole of a game as the audiovisual elements, and I don’t see any reason to try to redact the game element as if it’s somehow illegitimate. If a dev feels that the process of overcoming obstacles is integral to the work, then they should be allowed to curate what difficulty options are available.

      • gwathdring says:

        To be clear hear, the issue people have isn’t that the game is linear or that you have to beat X many bosses to get to the final bosses. The issue people have is that the game teases players with a more accessible and easier mode that requires they beat portions of the game on the less accessible more difficult mode in order to … play the rest of the game on the easier mode.

        Do you see why this is an odd design choice? Your arguments might work where people complain that there isn’t a cheat code to let them skip this or that, but I don’t see much of that. Pointing out that there are lots of other games is a very strange reaction to people questioning this design decision.

        Lots of games do this another way–to play THESE levels you have to beat all of THOSE levels first. If you master the more straightforward levels on a particular difficulty, you’re deemed ready for the tougher once on that difficulty. It’s partially a reward/progression mechanism and partially a sort of very light tutorializing of the game’s systems. Often the gated levels are more complex or use ideas that were introduced in several different places across the earlier levels.

        But requiring someone beat level one on Hard more to play level 2 on Easy mode doesn’t make sense. What design goal do you see being served by that decision? What does the player gain from that?

    • Baines says:

      I’m pretty certain that, if content hadn’t been gated behind difficulty, people would have complained about the lack of length. Further, it would have been enough of an issue that it would have been seen as negatively affected sales.

      There have been plenty of similar incidents in the past. It has been an issue faced by the shmup genre for decades, at least when it comes to appealing beyond its niche audience. Release a shmup with limited continues, or just with “restart the level” continues, and people will complain that the game is too hard. Release the same game with infinite “continue where you die” continues, and many of the same people will complain that the game is too short.

      It happens with other gated content as well. That is why so many fighting games have you unlock other characters, costumes, and similar. When your release lacks such items, it suffers in reviews and public opinion. At the same time, simply adding unlocks will extend the life even of an otherwise mediocre title.

      • gwathdring says:

        You seem to be making a lot of assumptions without evidence, in addition to presenting a weird structure.

        Let’s say you’re right for a second and set that aside, though. I’d argue that the complaints you allude to that said games are too short would be either be a) unjustified or b) still true even if the game artificially lengthened itself by making you repeat more stuff. I don’t see how some people making unreasonable complaints should serve as evidence that other unrelated complaints are unreasonable.

        What’s the point here, exactly? People are critical of more than one kind of game feature, and critics can be found of games that make all decisions and we can pretend that all of those critics are literally the same people in all cases just to make our argument superficially better therefore all criticisms are invalid? I hope you see why that sounds really silly.

  11. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    The “run n gun” (read: traditional sidescrolling platformer) levels are excellent. It’s a genuine shame there’s only six of them in the entire game. I don’t want to grind out boss fight after boss fight to unlock the tiny sliver of truly compelling content. I’m also disappointed at the lame storyboard-style cutscenes between each world. Fully animated cartoon shorts would have almost made it worth dealing with all the frustration and repetitiveness. I really couldn’t recommend Cuphead to anyone who doesn’t eat NES Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden romhacks for breakfast.

  12. Kirudub says:

    I bought this game solely to support the art direction,knowing full well that I’d probably not finish it.

    This question of extreme difficulty vs. game beauty reminds me of Ori and the Blind Forest.

    I LOVED the art direction, but gave up playing after being unable to make it through the “water eruption” level after numerous tries, so I never got to see any of the work that went into the game past that point. My deaths also always felt cheap, so that soured things a bit as well.

    I just don’t have the time (or desire, to be frank) to punish myself over and over just to make it to another level, since I just KNOW that there will be more of the same down the line.

    I’m also one of the few gamers that hates boss fights, so that limits my selection right there (I clearly recall my starting to really hate boss fights back with Sinistar in the arcade… which I guess is just one long boss fight, lol).

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      Yeah Ori is especially awful because it lies to you and gives you an “easy difficulty” (for players that just want to see the plot, supposedly) that adjusts *none* of the insta-kill spike festooned no-checkpoint time-limited jumping sections that make it bullshit-hard later on.

    • RuySan says:

      I feel like decades of easy games have numbed most gamers reactions. I was never a good player, and during the Spectrum and Amiga years I hardly finished any game. I rarely went to the arcades because it was a terrible investment. I wouldn’t last a minute in most games.

      Yet, I finished Ori, Dark Souls and Hyper Light Drifter wondering why the hype about their difficulty. They’re challenging, but not that difficult imo.

  13. Unsheep says:

    Never enjoyed games like this, and Cuphead won’t change my mind, as the gameplay is still the same as others in the genre. However, I appreciate the art style, it’s good when developers try something unique.

  14. Rnr says:

    Well, I loved it. Then again, I usually like games that are explicitly challenging. Hotline Miami, Super Meatboy, Ikaruga… I think that their difficulty is integral to my enjoyment of them. Without it, they would just be quick, flat experiences. Having something to overcome, a challenge to work through, adds a thrill to victories that would be gone otherwise. The satisfaction I get from beating them is in direct proportion to the frustration I felt when I failed.

    Cuphead was immensely satisfying for me. I died a lot, but that only made my victories all the sweeter. I loved every second of the 7 or so hours I spent playing it.

    Somewhere up above someone mentioned difficulty in horror games, and I think they make a decent comparison. A horror game that’s too easy lacks stakes and is no longer scary. Too hard and you get exposed to the same section over and over again while you fail, and routine kills the fear. Finding that sweet spot is so important, and so difficult.

    Cuphead hit the analogous difficulty sweet spot for me – not so hard as to be unachievable, but not so easy to be trivial. I think it achieves this by respecting your time – no lives or continues, less than a second to restart on death.

    Call it effort justification, but shit man, I really like this game. I hope some of you will too.

  15. Splyce says:

    A lot of people on this thread are complaining about the “gating”of content by difficulty, which is really a shame.

    Games are gated by a lot of things. Sometimes, it’s the price, or the technical requirements. If I can’t play the latest game because I lack the video card or processor, because I’m a poor student, should I be mad that they made the cool new graphics for the game, and demand they make a scaled down version that runs on my dated rig?

    And what if $60 is too much for me, let alone DLC/season passes? There are skins I will never wear if I don’t have disposable income to waste on virtual goods. I play The Division regularly lately, and several game modes, and several missions are only accessible with DLC expansions.

    Not to mention that things like ‘heroic raids’ in World of Warcraft, even when made totally accessible and able to be matchmade to run with PUGs required certain gear scores to qualify…the so called ‘git gud’ marker for that game and that genre. Don’t have good enough gear? Too bad, you can’t run that raid or fight that boss that has the cool mechanics we reserve for the extra cool difficulty mode. You can watch it on YouTube, though, if you want.

    This doesn’t even get into things like VR games, which you can’t play without a sweet rig and expensive peripherals…do people generally clamor that they should have regular R versions of the same game because they have gated their game behind technology?

    And at what point does the designer/developer have a stake in the way in which their experience is created? If a painting is shown in a gallery you can’t attend, or positioned in such a way that you can’t best experience, that is part of your personal relationship to that installation. It might be uncomfortable, it might be a reason to strive to understand it better, or it might make you hate art and turn away forever. But that doesn’t invalidate the way in which the creation is mean to be experienced.

    You can choose difficulty levels in many games, but often there are going to be differences in the experience. Several times, there are recommendations on the way in which the developer means for the game to be experienced, but there is no guarantee you’re receiving the ‘full available content’ by playing on Easy mode or tourist difficulty. If you play Fallout 4 on Survival difficulty, more Legendary monsters spawn, which gives you more access to legendary equipment, things you might never get a hold of in the Easy version of the title, and your reward is lessened. You can still uncover all of the quests and click all the dialogues, but what if the very point of certain stretches are supposed to imbue you with an emotional connections to the proceedings that is totally missed without the dramatic tension or jubilation of difficulty and success? Did you not just receive less of the experience?

    When I played the Witcher 3 for the first time, I read a review that was (if i recall) “Play this game on the hardest difficulty,” which is something I never do. I rarely succeed on Normal in many titles, and only very, very seldom wish for MORE challenge as a way of satisfying my gaming urges. But in this case, I took the advice, and enjoyed my experience immensely. It was hard and I died a lot. Probably like I do a lot in Cuphead. I got better, and had a lot of fun, and I attribute this somewhat to the difficulty. It’s fun to be challenged at times, I guess, and certain games strive to do that more than others, and the reviewer themself explains how this results in frustration and jubilation.

    The argument that “I don’t have time and want to get everything everyone else gets to experience” rings hollow to me; very few hobbies are equally rewarding to those that spend wildly different amounts of time participating. If you’re into model building, cosplay, fiction writing, dancing, painting, whatever, if you don’t have time to be good or get good, or to fail regularly and find enjoyment in the task itself, there is very little that will change that. Here is an example of a singular title, and representative of a minute fraction of games in general that change drastically based on difficulty, because the designers wanted the game to be that way. That many people want their cake and to eat it, too, seems to be an unfortunate gripe with an otherwise totally charming, and definitely frustrating and thrilling in turns, title.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Hey I really liked this comment and wanted to say as much.

    • Aldehyde says:

      Well said.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      There’s merit to both arguments: It doesn’t hurt to have an Easy mode that gives access to as much of the game as possible… but I also agree with what you’re saying.

      A higher difficulty does not just mean more dying and frustration. It creates a fundamentally different experience and given most players tend towards the path of least resistance they may end up giving themselves a worse experience by choosing a lesser difficulty.

      I played Mass Effect 1-3 on Normal and found the combat to be serviceable (improving over the series). It wasn’t until a second singleplayer playthrough on the “Insanity” difficulty that I came to really appreciate the nuances of the combat (esp in 2 and 3) and actually started using my squad tactically, thinking about positioning and using their abilities at just the right moments. Without that challenge I would’ve just breezed through it again and enjoyed revisiting the story but not much else… but *with* the extra difficulty (though I did die a lot) the tension in the combat *matched the emotional stakes* and my second playthrough was a much more intense and satisfying experience.

      Similarly the Witcher 3, as many have said, is much more compelling when the stakes are high and even a simple drowner can fuck you up if you get careless. If you choose to play on Easy you might see all the “content” but you’re also missing out on much of the intended experience. Hobbies, and getting out of them what you put in, are indeed a good analogy.

      I think a complete-as-can-be Easy mode should exist, but it’s also worth pointing out that may never really be the complete experience.

    • gwathdring says:

      I guess my response to this is simple. If the game is less of an experience on an easier difficulty, the designers don’t need to include it.

      If they do include it–for reasons of business or reasons of design–they’ve decided that it is worth their time to create a game experience that isn’t dependent on the tension of that higher difficulty setting. At that point, I think it’s entirely reasonable to question why certain parts of the game experience need to be locked behind this or that difficulty to improve the experience of the game.

      A lot of people talk about feeling judged of slighted by the game. If there isn’t enough of a reward for playing Hardmode, the game is spitting on the player! If the game gives you too cheap an experience in the easier mode, the game is spitting on the player! I don’t really look at it that way. Though certainly plenty of designers and players will, in their capacity as individuals, show disdain for players who engage with the game in a particular way, it takes a pretty notable effort for the game to convince me that’s part of the game’s text.

      What I do see is an internal inconsistency that perhaps makes the experience weaker (it certainly has for me in other games). When a game is straightforwardly difficult, I’ll play as long as I feel I’m both challenged and interested–or at worst challenged and compelled. Once I’ve mastered it’s systems I might stop short of the endgame if system mastery was the main enjoyment I got out of the game or I might plug along for the story or aesthetics or the roller-coaster ride of play well executed. When a game presents me with the opportunity to adjust how difficult a game is to play, there are ways of doing so that make play unnecessarily frustrating.

      For example, if a game forces me to start all the way back at the beginning to raise or lower the difficulty setting in a game (the longer and more linear, the more frustrating). If the game simply said “this is how things are” I’d accept that. But when a game makes the effort to say “this can go several ways, pick your favorite” I’m left in the awkward position of having to do some really tedious calculation: is the amount of time I have to waste to get my progress back worth the benefit of raising or lowering the difficulty now that I’ve decided I’m unsatisfied with the choice I made earlier? See, this isn’t a matter of meeting the game on its own terms or getting good; the game’s terms are both flexible and unclear. I don’t know how much more difficult Easy is than Normal until I try them out. The more the game does to obfuscate that (such as not allowing toggling of difficulty later in the game) the more frustrating it is to try and figure out if a game is worth more of your time or if it is time to go do something else.

      Decisions like these (or like asking players to beat certain levels on Hard Mode to unlock other levels on Easy Mode) can make a game’s progression systems feel less natural, less rewarding, less transparent, and more frustrating. At which point I as a player get left wondering: what’s the point of this option? Why not just keep things simple by just keeping them difficult and leaving it there? Why get involved in the messy player psychology of difficulty levels if your intent is that the only proper or complete experience of the game be on a particular difficulty setting?

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        Yeah, this is why it’s best when difficulty can be adjusted mid-game because it’s impossible to tell beforehand what will be the optimal closest-to-intended experience for you (though it helps if Normal works for most).

      • Dewal says:

        I answer to you because I like your point.

        And I’d like to add something about “designing” the difficulty.
        First, I have a question : how would someone make Super Meat Boy easier ? Would you put less spikes in the level ? Lower the speed of the moving traps ? Have more HP so that you can take more damages during a screen ?
        Each of these answers is bad and would denature the game. Because SMB what designed from the start to be a hard die & retry game. And I don’t like these kind of games either but that doesn’t mean it would be better if it was easier. If you could just breeze through the game, it would be a boring slideshow.

        And comparisons to Ori were unfair, because Ori is more a metroidvania than a 2D side scroller and you get pleasure from the exploration and the “puzzle” solving, and when suddenly you are facing the “escape” phases which are really hard, repetitive and not in sync with the game, you can feel frustrated because you’re blocked from the game because of something that shouldn’t really be there. (I did get past it and finished the game but didn’t like these sequences and know some people that dropped the game there too)

        So yeah, we need to admit that some games are developed around different concept, such as exploration, puzzling, story… And if you have some challenges in it, you can tweak it pretty easily because it’s not the purpose of the game. In COD, you don’t have to spend 10 minutes on the asshole with the MG42, you just want awesome WWII movie action. And you could spent as much hours in the Witcher 3 just exploring and following the quests without having to try 15 times to kill that very hard monster. And yeah, maybe Enter the Gungeon could be a little less hard without losing most of its appeal.

        But if Cuphead is designed to be a game with very short challenging level, then asking for it to be easy is going against the purpose of the game. And from what I see/hear, there really isn’t much more than that in the game.
        Sure it’s pretty too but it’s not an exploration game, having it in your hands won’t show you anything more than if you watched it on youtube. You won’t feel smart for solving puzzle on your own, you won’t be happy to find a secret place. It seems to be all about beating the challenge and removing it could make the game dim and boring.

        And on a final note, I’m pretty sure that all the people complaining here are only doing it because of the game unique look. If it was another hard pixelart game, they would just say “Pff, not my cup of tea” and move on. But here they saw pictures & videos of a pretty cake for a few months, but once the cake is baked they understand it’s chocolate and not vanilla. And they don’t like chocolate but damn the cake is pretty, so now they complain.

        • gwathdring says:

          I want to be very clear that I’m not suggesting games have any obligation, taken individually, to be a specific degree of “difficult.”

          My points are mostly about what happens once it is already decided that a game will have varying user-selectable difficulties. This is not the only reasonable way to approach game design, but once you’ve taken this approach, I feel my arguments and concerns apply.

          As an industry, we have an obligation to ensure that games are not an arbitrarily exclusive medium. That we design games that are interesting to an accessible to a broad range of people. Consider this not just a matter of being “nice” as a pseudo-community but also as a matter of survival and promoting innovation. But that’s very different from suggesting that games which doggedly pursue specific kinds of mechanical challenge shouldn’t be left to do so. It’s more that we need room for games that don’t do that and further games that clearly already don’t do that (such as a lot of spectacle shooters or the Assassin’s Creed series or the Mass Effect series) could stand to throw in a few more concessions more often than they currently do. Part of that, likewise, often isn’t a matter of being “nice” or making every game for everyone but a matter of clarity of design; games don’t need to give primacy to challenge and stereotypical ideas about what constitutes gameplay when the strengths of the game lead in a different direction.

          But again, all of that is included here more in light of recent talk here on RPS and the approach you took in your post; none of that last paragraph is what I was on about in my post. My contention isn’t that Cuphead needs to be easier. But Simple modes seems most useful as a way of practicing the boss battles. I don’t see any reason for the game not to let you engage with this simpler practice mode with less gating–especially since the non-boss stages aren’t actually different.

          Cuphead is by no means the most annoying example of this kind of thing I’ve encountered! But it’s very common, even in games where difficulty is by no means the primary draw of the game’s systems.

  16. Arkteryx says:

    Just wanted to put in the semi-regular reminder of how I appreciate that you don’t feel the need to tack on a number at the end of your reviews. More thoughts, less formula. Now I just need to wade through my backlog to play the game.

  17. sgt trees says:

    The art drew me in… but I gotta say that I did not like it. It felt like tedious trial-and-error just to learn boss patterns. And that “beating” a level just meant doing the choreographed dance that the level told you to do. It also felt like I was holding down shoot the whole time. Just my opinion, curious if anyone else felt the same.

    • Kirudub says:

      Yeah, That’s what I was trying to get at in my earlier post. Great art, but Christ if the game bored me to tears due solely to it’s very nature… which is to learn the patterns of the game and replicate moves to move to the next level.

      In reference to another post, playing the Witcher 3 on “hard” seems like a VERY different proposition than playing this game. In Cuphead, essentially all I’m doing is learning the patterns that boss is following, or the perils of the run/gun levels, repeating that process until I pass the level. The Witcher series had (obviously) deeper gameplay mechanics that made it much more enjoyable to fail and try again, since it wasn’t the same damn process over and over… you could try different potions, sword strikes, angles of attack, etc.

      Like I said, I bought Cuphead to support devs that try different art styles, but at 46, my patience for repeating hopping moves and dodging projectiles just ain’t my … cuppa.

      • cornelius_ says:

        Nevermind that the comparison to Witcher 3 would be ludicrous (you said it yourself) but Cuphead also has items to customize your style and make it an easier ride. You can get an extra hit point and have your dash make you invincible. If you get the coins, this really make it less frustrating.

  18. Cantisque says:

    20 bosses at ~2 minutes a pop. If it were easy, people would be complaining about the length. That said, I think they should still allow the same progress to be made from playing the “Simple” mode, but also appreciate that it should just be there as a practice option.

  19. PanFaceSpoonFeet says:

    I feel complaining about a game’s difficulty being tied to the access of certain content is akin to parents complaining that awards are given out on school sports day. Stop complaining y’all – you’ll drive us towards bland, generic reeled gaming where everyone sees everything regardless of how they play… There are plenty of walking simulators out there if you don’t like a challenge.

  20. Risingson says:

    OMG. Looks like people here were not present when Monkey 2 presented itself with different levels of difficulty.

    • Risingson says:

      Having said that, and agreeing with the toxic brosculinity in games and that all, there is something you should all know.

      Not
      All
      Games
      Are
      For
      Everyone
      And that’s ok.

      I have never been good at RTS. Never. I collected a lot of them trying to see if any of them clicked. They never did. Yesterday I was able to pass the third level of the first Command and Conquer. Yesterday. After more than 20 years of attempts. And it was hard. And I had to copy the youtube videos. And I thought that it does not matter: let people that enjoy RTS enjoy this, as there are plenty of games.

      Same with Cuphead.

  21. Hans says:

    Isn’t it cute how these people pretend they’re “fighting” for everyone with these arguments? EVERYONE should be able to play and enjoy EVERY game in existence (why is that anyway? No one can ever seem to tell me why they think this is some kind of inalienable human right)!

    EVERYONE except people who like harder games, fuck them they don’t count. (I’m sure you’re out there rallying for them when games don’t offer harder difficulties though…right?)

    EVERYONE except the developers of the game who knowingly chose to make THEIR game a certain way, but who cares about those guys right?

    EVERONE except reasonable people who just say “this doesn’t sound like it’s for me. Guess I WONT BUY IT!”, clearly they have been oppressed into that belief and need you to speak for them.

    No, this is all about you. You can’t have something (and oh no there are literally only 999999 somethings left for you to have now) and you’re throwing a tantrum over it. You are not entitled in any way to be able to play every game in existence.

    Here let me prove it. Name a genre of game that you don’t like, like say sports games for hypothetical example. Where are you on all the sports games articles arguing for them to be simplified for people who don’t understand the rules or maybe have guns added in so people who like more action can enjoy them? Nowhere, because that doesn’t affect you and you’re full of shit.

    • gwathdring says:

      For my part, I like banging my head against difficult games. But difficulty is a bit unknowable; sometimes it’s not properly linear. Anyone who likes these kinds of games can tell you that the boss that’s supposed to be hardest by design isn’t always the hardest.

      The designer is under no fundamental obligation to make a game I like, but I’m under no fundamental obligation to be nice about every game design concept or trend I don’t like either. As someone who can’t perfect every game they touch but does quite enjoy bashing their head and fingers against a brutal contest, I can say that very challenging level-based games need to really provide a lot of added value in the way they are structured for me to prefer a linear path through the game to a more open selection process.

      Consider the classic Mega-Man boss selection process. Even if some bosses are very likely more difficult than others, unless the game really sells me on the linearity of the experience, I’d really rather be able to engage with the meat of the challenges in my own way and to try other levels when I get stuck on one part of a particular one. Maybe there’s one boss attack pattern I just can’t get down without another couple hours of repetition and I’d just rather try the next boss.

      Most games like this don’t really present a compelling reason, for me, that I shouldn’t be able to do this.

    • gwathdring says:

      P.S. Another common issue is unit practice. A lot of games like this are matters of (enjoyable) grind. It’s not a matter of being smarter or better but just doing the wrong thing over and over until you can do do the right thing. In games with clear stages or segments, it can be very tedious and unpleasant to go through the entire level (or in some cses an entire sequence of levels) start to finish just to practice the final segment.

      I say practice for a reason here. I’m not suggesting every game like this needs checkpoints that let you “officially” beat the level in these smaller sections. But when I practice a piece of music, I don’t always play it straight through. I try to play it straight through and then I play it in bits and pieces until I get the little harder bits down and then I go back to trying to go through the whole thing without mistakes.

      This is, for me, a much more efficient and crucially enjoyable way to approach a difficult piece. Just so with a difficult video game level. Very few games let me do anything even remotely like this. Generally, either checkpointing is generous or it is always the final, straight-through performance with no option to practice bits. While I don’t think every game should do this, it seems odd that such a natural aspect of the way humans practice difficult performances hasn’t been adopted by video games. I really wish more of these games let me properly practice them; I waste a lot of time in difficult games playing the easy bits I’ve already figured out how to do just to get to the more interesting bits I haven’t sorted out yet. It’s just not always worthwhile even when the underlying challenge and mechanics are worthwhile. I think more of these games should take cues from how people practice performance arts.

  22. klops says:

    Ha! By the early trailers the gameplay looked boring. Good to hear it didn’t turn out like that!

  23. grrrz says:

    well, this is the kind of game I will enjoy watch other people play.

  24. milligna says:

    Whoever did the art direction and character designs should just be given a budget to make cartoons. The game part isn’t nearly as fun.

  25. TheAngriestHobo says:

    FFS everyone, just watch a Let’s Play of it. 90% of us only care about the art anyways.

  26. cornelius_ says:

    To be honest I considered the idea of the “Simple” mode to be a practice mode where you realized the bosses quirks and patterns and then went on to beat it for real, because it really is weird that they’d put a difficulty setting that doesn’t actually let you finish the game. This isn’t like some sidequest or a bonus or something like that, it’s the full-fledged experience of the game. That’s weird for sure.
    Yeah, the game is difficult (I’ve died 87 times according to the fountain thingie in the second world) but its strenghts really surpass that weakness and the items you buy along the way really help make it easier. Also, the difficulty is weird sometimes. The run ‘n’ gun stage where you’re inside a hollow tree took me about 20 tries to get right, but the candy boss took me… 2 tries. It’s funny like that. I still love it and I don’t think its difficulty is “unfair” the same way that I wouldn’t consider the Megaman games difficulty to be unfair or the fact that some RPGs ask more grinding of you than others unfair (Let’s not even get into games like Xenonauts or the old X-COM games)
    There are games like Convoy or Bedlam where I really think the difficulty was punishing and unfair because it had a randomize element that made things go from smooth to “you’re dead” in a matter of minutes. Maybe in Convoy it was meant to be, but I’ve played FTL (the game that Convoy takes the most inspiration from) and the difficulty is nowhere near as bad.
    The game is great. If you think is too difficult, do try to get the items that increase your health and make your dash turn you invulnerable, maybe you’ll get into it that way. And yeah, if they included another difficulty setting, it should be just that. It shouldn’t limit your game experience beyond making it a tad easier.

  27. mantori says:

    As Ringinson said up there, this is not a game for everyone. I, for one, am pleased it is this difficult. Boss fights are always golden. That challenging, skill-demanding and –– yes, entertaining –– nostalgia from the old school games are finally returning after a few years of mind numbing same old mechanics and easy to pass levels that dominates most of the AAA and the Mobile games.

    Cuphead, together with games like Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV and other small indies like Hollow Knight, Dead Cells and Necrosphere are bringing back the joy that skill-based games once required.

    I’m actually happy I’m dying a lot.

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