Cuphead challenges its players, both for the better and the worse. While I encourage players to take a stab at discovering the best ways to beat each boss, the game has a few quirks you can overcome with a little advanced guidance. That’s why I’ve assembled this concise guide.
These are the 10 tips I wish I’d known before I started the game. I hope they help you enjoy your adventure. And please feel free to share your own tips in the comments.
Embrace the suck
If you take one piece of advice from this piece, please let it be this: Embrace failure. When you first try a new stage, assume you will fail. Rather than play to beat the stage, take time to learn how it works. Cuphead grants players unlimited attempts to beat each stage, meaning you have unlimited time to learn the placement of traps, memorize the timing of complex attacks and locate enemy weak points.
When you assume you will fail, each loss is simply part of a bigger learning exercise. This mindset eases stress, encourages risk-taking and elevates success from an assumption to a pleasant surprise, an achievement reached by practice, patience and gradual self-improvement.
Remap the controls
I dug into the junky default controls already. In short, the default controls place jump, shoot, secondary fire, and dash all on the face buttons. This made my hands contort in to something resembling rigor mortis. I don’t recommend it. Here’s the control set I do recommend:
A — Jump
X — Shoot
Right bumper — Lock
Right trigger — Ex Shot
Left bumper — Dash
Left trigger — Switch Weapon
Master the parry
Parrying — jumping into an attack, then bouncing off — is fundamental to success. Not only is it a useful defense maneuver, but each parry also builds Cuphead’s special power meter. The parrying system doesn’t require ultra-precise timing, but it still has its quirks. Take a moment to practice on an early stage you are comfortable with.
Remember that neon pink objects are parryable. It’s easy to forget, as some parryable objects blend in with red or purple projectiles. In later stages, parry as often as possible, diving into swarms of bullets to earn enough energy to deliver the most powerful attack. Make the move reflexive early on.
Move to stay still
Some bosses require you to bounce around the stage to stay safe, but many are easier to defeat if you can find safe spot to hang tight. Think of it like rubbing your tummy while patting your head: The less you have to worry about one thing, the more you focus on another.
Make money, spend money
You can purchase weapons and buffs from a store that unlocks early in the game. Purchases require coins, which you can find hidden throughout the handful of platforming stages marked on the overworld map as little interactive targets. Take the time to find every coin in a platforming stage, so you can purchase a variety of items.
Buy a bit of everything …
Cuphead can carry two weapons: one buff called a “Charm” and one special power called a “Super Art.” Weapons range from high-damage, short-range bullets to low-damage, long-range homing missiles. Buffs can grant extra hearts while lowering damage you deal, or add an attack to successful parries. Some bosses call for a weapon that lobs projectiles downward; others benefit from a buff that autofills your special meter. As I said up top, play a few rounds with different loadouts, seeing what works and knowing the scrimmage is an experiment, not a sincere effort to win.
Quick side note: There are only three Super Arts. Complete the Mausoleum stages planted in each overworld map to unlock them. While supers are flashy, most players will do just fine with the first Super they unlock: a horizontal beam that deals tremendous damage.
… but make smart purchases …
Don’t waste money on the buff that automatically parries the first projectile you hit. You should master parrying for later levels that make the auto-parry frivolous. Use the slot on more helpful buffs. And don’t exclusively grab long-range weapons or short-to-mid-range weapons. Diversify!
… and OK, definitely buy this one thing
The shopkeeper replaces purchased weapons and buffs with new inventory. Early on, one of the additions is a buff that prevents Cuphead from taking damage while dashing. During a stage, this makes it look as if he’s teleporting from one spot to the other. This power is incredibly useful, allowing you to dodge through large enemies and waves of bullets that fill the screen. I can’t imagine completing the game without it.
Parry to reach places
The only way to reach certain hidden coins is to parry off pink projectiles. Parry-jumping is also useful for leaping over tall enemies or lining up shots on high targets. Again, parrying is key. Don’t sleep on it!
Consider the alternative
I began with an essential tip for the game’s intro. This is an essential tip for the outro.
Now we’re getting into the late game stuff. I promise I won’t spoil anything! But when you feel stuck, consider the secondary benefits of each weapon’s special ability. What does the ability do to Cuphead? How does it move? How can you use it beyond its most obvious, violent purpose? Answer those questions and you’ll do just fine.