You died. You died. You died again. You died. Why do you keep dying?
For a game with such visual charm and flair, Cuphead is an absolute tyrant in its gameplay. It has a minimal tutorial section to teach you the basics of what each button does and then throws you to the wolves. And the mad carrots, and the peeved potatoes, and the birds carrying houses on their backs. Cuphead is basically a collection of really intense, exasperatingly difficult boss fights. There's usually some oversized caricature in the right or center of the screen, and there's you trying frantically to not die. You will fail many times over.
Bosses spout and spew colorful volleys of deaths your way, and only the deftest and quickest of hands will be enough to overcome their barrages. In my time with the game, I quickly began to question my intelligence along with my sanity as I repeatedly faceplanted against the "YOU DIED" screen. The former because, come on, the game's so simple that anyone can play it: you just shoot things and avoid things shooting at you. The latter because I didn't quit and walk off to play something easier. There's something profoundly addictive about repeated failure punctuated by little moments of success.
Victories in this game are hard earned, which makes them so much more satisfying
I guess Cuphead's insane difficulty is in keeping with the exaggerated, frozen smile on its main character. This game is drenched in madness, and its (flimsy) narrative premise is that the player has lost a bet with the devil and is having to repay it by doing battle with a collection of angry enemies that are roughly 10 times larger and nowhere near as cute.
The one disappointment I feel about this game is that it's going to put off many of the people that it should be attracting to gaming. It has a beautiful, outlandish aesthetic that draws in non-gamers. It piques interest and curiosity among people who'd be utterly unenthused about the latest installment= in the Call of Duty series. You don't need to be a Star Wars geek or a fan of dragon-slaying fantasies to get the appeal of Cuphead, you pretty much just need eyes. But to enjoy this game in its present form, you also need a steely disposition and probably a friend to help you through it.
Cuphead has a two-player mode and it feels like it was designed to be played primarily that way. Even if your ally isn't terribly skilled at button mashing, his or her presence on the screen will at least absorb some of the flak coming in from enemies and keep you alive that little bit longer. Long enough to deliver that winning blow, perhaps.
Look out for Cuphead on the Xbox One and Windows 10 at some point in 2016.