StudioMDHR’s Cuphead is a remarkably well-made 2D shooter, blending the run-and-gun gameplay of classics like Metal Slug and Mega Man with visuals inspired by classic, 1930s animation. Comprising mostly multi-stage boss fights, the game’s trial-and-error gameplay forces you to learn from your past mistakes if you want to make it further into the game, and it’s one of the hardest games we played this generation. But what appears to be an insurmountable task can be made much more manageable if you learn the fundamentals of the game and make use of a few strategies. Our Cuphead guide has the tips and tricks you need to set you on the road to mastering the game.
Take time to master the controls
Cuphead is inspired heavily by classic Mickey Mouse cartoons, which featured slightly more emotive movements than we see in cartoons or video games today. This means that he has more of a light and loopy feel when jumping than you see in the Mario games, and it can take some time to adjust to this when you are fighting an enormous boss or jumping from obstacle to obstacle. Instead, take your time on the first few stages. Learn the rhythm of the bosses, but more importantly, note just how far and high Cuphead can jump, and how his dash can be used to avoid obstacles. Fire his standard weapon, and see how long it takes to defeat a small enemy.
What might be even more important than mastering Cuphead’s attacks and dodges, however, is mastering his parry ability. Not only will parrying projectiles (anything pink) help charge up your “super” abilities, but it will also destroy whatever is parried and cause you to launch into the air. For quickly avoiding larger enemies, this is invaluable, and it’s required for defeating bosses later in the game. If you’re struggling with timing your parries, stay in the tutorial section for a bit and just get the rhythm down — there is a small window in which it works, and committing it to muscle memory will save you a lot of grief in the long run.
Don’t abuse the jump
When spinning fireballs and blades start swirling in your direction, your first instinct is going to be to jump out of their path, but this can often get you into more trouble than it’s worth — especially against later bosses launching several attacks at once. Instead, see if you can avoid the shots by dashing or even just moving slightly to the right or left. This will leave you prepared for the next attack, and you will be able to keep your weapon trained on the enemy the whole time.
The same goes for the parry. In certain enemy attacks, one shot will be highlighted pink, allowing you to destroy it and charge up your super ability more quickly. However note that Cuphead bounces quite high into the air after her parries, which can often cause him to hit a projectile higher up on the screen, so be aware of your surroundings.
Choose the right tools for the job
The platforming stages in Cuphead each contain five gold coins, which are the currency accepted in the game’s item shop. Once you’ve collected them all in the World 1 stage “Forest Follies,” head to the shop and purchase the “spread” weapon. Functioning much like the spread-shot gun from the Contra games, it inflicts serious damage on bosses and can take out a rogue enemy before they have a chance to get to you.
While its range isn’t great and you will need to use your standard weapon in certain instances, the spread weapon was our primary choice for the majority of the game. For a few fights, we also found the “chaser” to be effective. Rather than aiming at targets, the weapon zeroes in on them automatically, leaving you free to dodge. Its damage isn’t very high as a result, but in the most hectic fights, it’s a necessity.
Your extra abilities are just as important as your weapons, if not more so. Early on, you will be able to purchase the “smoke bomb,” which makes you invulnerable to all damage while dashing. When projectiles are coming at you in a small grouping, you will be able to easily avoid them and go back to pummeling enemies.
An extra hit point ability is also available, which allows you to take four hits at the cost of slightly decreased weapon damage. In the game’s final few hours, we found ourselves relying on this one regularly, and in the airplane sections — which don’t allow you to dash at all — it was particularly useful.
Get your super abilities
In addition to the various boss and platforming stages you see scattered throughout Cuphead’s three worlds, you also come across stone structures. These are mausoleums, which contain urns that are under attack by an army of pink ghosts. All you have to do to protect the urns is successfully parry each ghost as it approaches. If you’re able to chain your parries together, you won’t have any problem completing all three mausoleums.
Your reward for defending each urn is a new “super” ability, which can be unleashed after you have damaged enough enemies to build up its meter. The first of these is a massive horizontal beam attack, which you can use to quickly move a boss to its next phase if an earlier one is giving you trouble. However, it’s almost useless in boss stages set on several small platforms, as the ability pushes Cuphead back and will cause him to fall off the edge.
For these bosses, we instead recommend the “invincibility” ability, which is unlocked after completing the second mausoleum. Its effect only lasts a few seconds, but this is enough time to lay down some serious damage with the spread shot and move Cuphead out of harm’s way. Having invincibility in your back pocket in the final seconds of a boss fight can make the crucial difference.
Watch the entire screen
When you’re in one of Cuphead’s “bullet hell” moments, it can be tempting to only focus on his immediate surroundings and the projectiles closing in, but this is a strategy that will leave you frustrated in World 3, as new enemies and attacks will continue to swarm in from different directions. Because of this, you have to keep an eye on the entire screen. Against a scientist and his robot army, electrified walls will appear while you’re dodging his projectile attacks. Against a dragon, small fire imps will shoot up from the ground, and will lead to far more deaths than the dragon himself ever caused.
To minimize the hits you take, you don’t actually have to keep your eyes trained on these hazards at all times, but you do have to learn their movement patterns. See an electrified wall barreling toward the bottom of the screen while you’re dodging other projectiles? Start making your way to the top, but keep your attention on the things actually about to hit you. Situational awareness comes with time and paying attention to the games. Your enemies aren’t perfectly predictable, but they do follow recognizable patterns that you can master.