Cuphead: Progress Log #3

[Click here to start from the first progress log]

I avoided Cuphead yesterday and posted about a different game because I didn’t want to play any more Cuphead. That’s not to say that I hate it, but it’s definitely a Jekyll and Hyde situation where half of the stages are difficult and rewarding in all the right ways, while the other half are so cheap and packed with what I’ll now be referring to only as “GDMFBS”—the “BS” is exactly what you think, and you can work out the rest from there—that getting through them feels more like a Pyrrhic victory than an accomplishment. Of course, the slowdown doesn’t help matters any and makes stages even more difficult because the frame rate alternates between being smooth and stutter-y (oh, and I came with video this time). It’s just meh. The whole thing is meh. I love the graphics and the music is catchy, but the amount of GDMFBS here leaves me wanting to play less and less and eventually just drop it.

I actually like some stages!

The negativity parade will commence shortly, but first it’s important to get a little bit of praise out of the way. Cuphead can be an incredibly entertaining game. Sure, it’s frustrating to get stuck at the last phase of a boss fight and have to play through the same minute and a half of gameplay over and over again to slowly learn the attack pattern of the final phase in order to survive it (seriously, I’d kill for the option to practice on specific phases of a boss just to spare myself the tedium), but learning how to best approach a stage can still be incredibly rewarding when you finally beat it. Not all stages are good like this, but I’m about to take a pretty sharp turn into criticism and feel the need to point out that the game’s issues aren’t universal.

Here’s some phone video of Cuphead’s slowdown

First things first: my phone records at 30 frames per second, so you can’t see how dramatic the drops are, but I apparently don’t own anything that can record at 60 frames per second, and it’s at least visible. The stuttering effect is mostly noticeable when the dragon fires its eye beams because sometimes it’s totally smooth like you’d expect, and other times you can tell the frame rate is tanking. It’s definitely the game, too. I played through a bit of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (which I still have installed), and it was totally smooth. I tried some backwards compatibility games like Fable 3, and it was also perfectly smooth. Only Cuphead has stuttering like this.

I had all kinds of crazy theories for why this might be, most of which haven’t panned out. The first was that the stuttering might be kind of like the freezing issue I encountered while playing through Assassin’s Creed Syndicate on Playstation 4. In that case it was caused by PSN having issues and the game being unable to cope with that for whatever reason, so I put my Xbox One into offline mode and tried again. The problems persisted. Right now I have three possibilities left: the possibility that preloading the game the day before it released somehow stuck me with an earlier version that has issues, the possibility that I need to power cycle my Xbox One, and the possibility that Cuphead just doesn’t run well on original Xbox Ones in general. I don’t want to have to redownload all 11 gigs of the game before I have no other options left, so I’ll try the power cycling next. Hopefully that works, though I don’t see why it would while all my other games run perfectly fine.

Annoying progression issues

The last progress log ended with me being stuck on the third phase of this dragon, and I was indeed stuck there for a long time. The problem was that all of my weapons fired a lot of bullets, but the dragon’s third phase form shoots fireballs that split when hit with bullets. They’re really hard to avoid, and all of my weapons were screwing me over in that regard. The obvious solution was to use the charge shot weapon instead, but that raised a problem: I had no coins left to buy it. Eventually I beat the dragon on the easier difficulty, only for the game to taunt me with a screen explaining that you don’t get a soul contract unless playing on the normal difficulty.

I checked in with the dice guy and he let me go to the third island anyway, though. Not sure if he would have let me in before I beat the dragon at all or if the difficulty mode didn’t matter, but I moved on with the intention of reaching the third area’s run-and-gun stages and getting enough coins to afford the charge shot. Eventually I did so and beat the dragon for real without too much of a problem. Everything leading up to that point was a pretty major problem, though, filled with plenty of GDMFBS.

I hate bosses that require platforming. Upward platforming is especially gimmicky—in fact, upward platforming is what turned me off of Gunstar Heroes the first time I tried to play it. That’s hardly the only issue with this stage, either: the visuals here are so overwhelming that it’s easy to completely lose track of where you are in the area. That happened to me a bunch of times. I should also mention that I tried rebinding the controls because of a weird bug where Cuphead would use his special attack without me pressing the B button, only to come across several other weird bugs because of it. Rebinding my special attack to the right trigger worked about 50% of the time, while the other 50% of the time nothing happened. And once, I used my special attack when it wasn’t full (which causes a weapon-specific special) and had a bunch of bullets surrounding me, except they didn’t disappear when hitting enemies. Being unable to rely on the right trigger was frustrating, though, so I eventually swapped back to the default control scheme and resigned myself to the fact that sometimes the game will screw me by taking specials out of my hands.

We’re only getting started with this fight’s problems, though. Another problem here that’s an issue at various points throughout the game is that enemies can appear suddenly and damage you in ways it’s impossible to predict or consciously avoid the first time through. Other points in this fight where the boss comes down, the game tells you where she’ll be. When she appears in the middle, though, she launches herself down without any warning whatsoever. Cheapness like this is inexcusable.

Another thing I hate is that you can’t lock yourself in place with the right bumper and jump up while shooting down. I kept instinctively trying to do it, only to drop down onto enemies and take damage. Shouldn’t it be obvious that if I’m shooting down, I don’t intend on dropping through the floor? Why is this possibly designed this way?

Getting the coins isn’t great, either

I finally reached the run-and-gun stage, and while it isn’t quite as horrible as the early run-and-gun stages, obtaining the coins was more of a hassle than it should have been. Basically, two of the coins in the stage above are intentionally obscured so that they’re easy to miss. This coin hidden in the clouds while you’re moving down on a lift is something that took me 4 tries to obtain, even knowing that it was there. If I wanted to find things that have been hidden, I’d play a hidden object game. In Cuphead, it’s nothing more than an irritation. Still, failing to get all the coins on my first try taught me that grabbing coins and finishing the stage causes those coins to disappear on later runs through that level. They still get counted toward your total, too, which could be helpful for anyone trying to improve their end-stage score.

Another thing I noticed in this stage is that the ground’s actual location is kind of nebulous. Sometimes it’s obvious, but other times the art’s attempts to make platforms appear wide render it difficult to tell which part you need to be landing on.

Moments of GDMFBS

I could tolerate the stupidity mentioned up to this point, but the amount of GDMFBS in the following videos isn’t something I’m willing to put up with much more of. If this crap continues, I’m going to stop playing and write a scathing review about why I’d rather remove my eyes with a melon baller than continue playing. Hyperbolic, yes, but the stupidity below isn’t the kind of thing you find in a quality game. Period.

The first two hits I take in the video above are entirely my fault. The third one that kills me, however, isn’t. Not only does the magnet pull you in, screwing up controls that were already kind of floaty at best, but it’s a foreground object that covers up enemies. It’s not the only example of this happening that I have from this fight.

HEY LOOK AT THAT A DISTRACTING FOREGROUND OBJECT THAT BLOCKS AN ENEMY PROJECTILE THAT DAMAGES ME AND THAT I COULDN’T POSSIBLY AVOID BECAUSE I CAN’T ACTUALLY SEE IT ISN’T CUPHEAD DESIGNED IN SUCH A BRILLIANT AND FAIR WAY YAY CUPHEAD RAH RAH

In yet another bit of stupidity, these annoying homing bombs (that explode and remain damaging for weirdly long) spawn from the edges of the screen when the current ones are destroyed. If you don’t destroy them, they speed up their pursuit. Thing is, the new ones respawn weirdly fast sometimes, so what happens here is that two bombs hit each other and explode without me hitting them, only for a new one to respawn right next to me and kill me. Definitely not a high point.

I got through this stage and all the others I put up videos of (and a few that I didn’t post any videos of), but the crappy ones had no enjoyment to them. No thrill. No relief. Just exhaustion and annoyance that anyone thought the gimmicks were a good idea. Annoyance that the homing weapon is attracted to projectiles that it can’t actually damage. Annoyance that some of the enemies in the run-and-gun stages flash like they’re taking damage but seem to be invincible. Annoyance at a million other little things that aren’t designed as well as they could be. The little flashes of brilliance here and there keep me playing for now, but they’re not going to be enough to save the game at this rate. Not while there’s so much GDMFBS.

[Click here to go to Cuphead log #2]
[Click here to go to Cuphead log #4 (END)]

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