Diving into the Switch version of Cuphead, I wondered if my thoughts on the game would differ from those I had playing it on Xbox One nearly two years ago.
Turns out they don’t. Well, mostly, anyway.
What’s most striking about Cuphead is its visual style, which is perfectly maintained on Switch. It looks pretty much the same as it does on Xbox One or PC; just a tiny bit softer looking, that’s all. And it nearly performs just as well, too. You might notice a rare performance hiccup as you make your way through the game’s deluge of bosses, but this Switch port is an absolute triumph. What’s unfortunate, however, is that the game hasn’t been tweaked to make it more accessible at all in the last two years.
Upon its original release, my main complaint with Cuphead was its difficulty. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like difficult games, but not everyone does. And while Cuphead tries to accommodate for less skilled players with a simple option for its boss battles, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Changing attack patterns and cutting out phases of boss battles undoubtedly makes them easier, but it doesn’t really help you to defeat the full-fat versions. Also, preventing you from fully completing the game in simple mode is just bone-headed.
Cuphead‘s bosses have been meticulously created. They are beautifully designed, and when you do finally overcome them by learning their attack patterns you experience a serious feeling of elation. But sometimes, the repetition required to defeat them just makes the experience feel arduous. You might be able to breeze though the first two stages of a boss fight but gravely struggle with the third, and when you die it’s back to the beginning you go, letting you make your way through the first two stages yet again. It can get pretty tedious.
The same goes for the game’s run ‘n’ gun stages, which offer a nice break from the boss killing action but can equally make you want to put your fist through a wall. Expect to try, try and then try again whenever you decide to tackle one of them. The hardest challenges they present you with are usually saved for when you near the finish line, so have fun repeating large sections of them until you overcome the one hurdle that keeps holding you back.
Thankfully there are many weapons and helpful abilities you can unlock by collecting and spending coins. It may not always be obvious, but certain combination of weapons and abilities can make the difference between a boss being a serious pain in the ass and merely a challenge, promoting experimentation. It’s just a case of getting the coins to afford such options.
I just can’t help but feel that Cuphead would be a much better game if it was just a tad bit more lenient. If perhaps instead of the ill-conceived simple mode it instead offered checkpoints between boss phases for those who want lass frustrating experience. Or, simply allow players to practice the separate phases of boss fights via a training mode. As it is, Cuphead is likely to appeal to players of all ages and skill levels due to its visuals, but only a very small percentage of them are actually going to be able to truly enjoy it.
For example, nearly two years after launch, just over 7% of those who have played Cuphead on Xbox One have completed it on normal difficulty. Considering it’s not a long game, it’s not good. It’s not something to be celebrated. Surely it would be better if all players could see Cuphead’s journey through to its end, and experience all the wonderful battles the game has to offer.
Of course, local co-op play is supported, which can make the game easier if both players are good at working together. Being able to revive each other by parrying your ghosts upon death is a great touch, and one that also adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Partner up with someone who isn’t on the ball though, and you might find yourself fighting a powered up boss alone.
There’s one aspect of the Switch version of Cuphead that makes it better than others though. One that really makes it the version to go for if you don’t already own it and are ready for a challenge: portable mode. Cuphead is the type of game that’s great to just put on for 15 minutes or so. Whether you’re on a bus or a train, or even just sat on your couch, you can boot the game up and have a quick go at that boss that’s been giving you nightmares.
Dipping in and out of the challenges that Cuphead throws your way makes it less frustrating. You’ll probably make your through it slower, but it doesn’t matter. Like a fine whiskey, Cuphead is a game best enjoyed in small shots rather than trying to neck the bottle in one. The former will simply make you jolly. The latter will probably leave you a gibbering wreck.
Without a doubt, the Switch version of Cuphead is the best. It’s still not the game I think it could have been, but the ability to play it anywhere and at anytime really does do it wonders. It may be a straight port, but it’s a bloody good one.