The One About Cuphead

Or: How I Learned That My Video Game Skills Peaked at age Nine.

If you want to know the truth, if you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is, “Which is smarter? A professional gaming journalist, or a Pigeon?” (‘Smarter’ might be too harsh of an adjective, but it’s a good attention-getter; and that’s what the internet is all about right?  You’ll never believe what happens next!)

The game in question is a new release on Xbox One and Windows 10 platforms from Studio MDHR called Cuphead.  It’s a fully animated, stylized run-n-gun/boss rush/platformer, that, even before it was released this September, had earned a reputation for being ridiculously hard.  Think; Duck Tales, Mega Man 2, Battle Toads, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, hard.  Dark Souls meets Steamboat Willie.  Needless to say, the obvious throwback to early platforming games of my youth had my attention.

The person in the clip (controlling the anthropomorphic cup, not the flying rat in the Skinner box) is a professional journalist who writes reviews for the latest video games.  He gets paid to write about video games, which, in a round about way, means, he gets paid to play video games.  The real clip, without the Skinner box comparison, continues on for another painful 26 minutes of gameplay.  Repeatedly failing attempts over, and over with no change in tactics.  Insanity.  Not to just throw shade though; the game is refreshingly hard.  It’s hard, but fair.  Play smart, learn some patterns, and you’ll be collecting on the Devil’s contracts in no time.

Older games were fairly notorious for not having any sort of tutorial or difficulty selection; and although I miss reading the lore and story introduction that usually came with the included booklets, I appreciate the fact that most games now might hold on to the back of your bike seat for the first few minutes until you are sure that you can do it, all by yourself.  Disney games like “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” were so difficult and unforgiving it seemed as if Disney was punishing you from straying the movies, the true form of Disney entertainment.   There was no regenerating life, recharging shields, or save points.   If a game did happen to have a save system, you better have your cheat sheet notebook handy to write down a 16 character long save code, or a draw out your 3 X 4 grid system, like Mega Man, in order to pick up where you left off.

Cuphead plays much like alot of older games.  Very unforgiving of your simple mistakes.  So those of you with bear claws for hands, git gud.  The mechanics of each boss fight are hectic enough to send you scrambling, and varied enough to keep you guessing, but patterned enough so that you can learn from your many, many mistakes, and expect to see progress on the death screen the next time it pops up; and you will be seeing that death screen many, many times.  Cuphead’s co-op partner is an equally tough, Mugman.  My co-op partner is a 5 1/2 year old, energy-filled little boy, and I’m pretty sure he can get through the tutorial on his own.  In this game, he’s more of a liability than much help, but his laugh is infectious and he loves to see his ghost floating up the screen as I scramble to try and bring him back into the fight.My kids loved battling a giant blueberry, waffles, candy corns, a carrot, and of course, the frogs.

Clip Joint Calamity is probably their favorite level right now, due in no small part to the fact that my son is all about dinosaurs, reptiles, and Godzilla.  Ribby and Croaks, the tag-team foes of this encounter, are like a sick mash-up of Michigan J. Frog and Rash and Pimple of the Battletoads.  Together they throw whirlwind generating “Shoryuken” punches, kamikaze fireflies,  and their final boss shape of a coin-spewing slot machine!  All the while, the frenzied jazz soundtrack (which is amazing in it’s own right) keeps you engrossed in the action.

Back to our B.F. Skinner box, operant behavioral conditioning, and the people who routinely tell us, the consumer, what we should or should not consume.   I don’t get paid to write, about anything, and I normally don’t put alot of stock into reviews.  Movies, games, music; my tastes are my own.  I’m fairly confident in my ability to judge whether or not a specific piece of media may provide some sort of enjoyment or entertainment.  But (I know, real writers shouldn’t start a sentence with a preposition; it’s not a real rule of grammar though, so there…) BUT, when I see people writing, judging, and recommending a form of media that have no business judging and recommending this form of media; well, it’s enough of an irritant to start a blog!

Now, oh reader mine, I have no intentions of becoming your go-to hipster dufus babbling on about the latest video game (although, that’s basically what I’m going to be doing.)  I’ll save the actual game reviews for the real journalists and reviewers who know how to throw in subtle Mark Twain references, and have enough remaining hair on their heads for a respectable man-bun (is there such a thing?)

P.S. Cuphead is a fantastic game by the way.  Don’t bother reading game reviews, it’s great.  You should most definitely purchase this game.  You may want to pick up an extra controller while you’re at it, you’ll need one eventually.

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