In video games, boss fights usually come at the end of levels, acts, chapters, etc. You work your way through a series of smaller challenges, baddies or puzzles to earn the right to face off against a boss and, should you emerge victorious, move on to the next section of the game. That was the custom established decades ago, and it’s largely stuck ever since.
Not so in Cuphead, StudioMDHR’s debut old-time cartoons-inspired shooter. Cuphead has an overworld that you can wander around in and select where to go next, but your what you’re selecting from are boss fights, not levels. Yesterday at E3 XBLA Fans went hands-on with one of those boss fights — and died. Repeatedly. But damn if doing so wasn’t fun.
After selecting what looked like a rocking little music hall on the overworld, I was thrown into a boss fight with a pair of giant frogs with another random player at my side. Hurting the frogs was easy enough: keep holding down the shooting button and take aim at the one frog or the other. The overgrown amphibians soak up tons of fire coming from your characters’ index finger and thumb as they form the shape of a gun and spew forth a barrage of pew, pew, pews.
The bosses, of course, don’t just take this abuse laying down. One shoots ice balls at differing heights, requiring you to alternate between leaping over them and going prone to duck them, while the other spits out flaming bees that you can shoot out of the air. Once you inflict enough damage during this stage of the fight, one of the frogs rolls toward you before going into a new pattern.
The next wave of attacks sees one frog blowing you towards the other with a whirlwind attack. Why would he want to do that? Because the other frog begins spitting glowing, bouncing balls at you. This leaves you with little choice but to fire frantically in the direction of either frog as you continuously push back against the wind and leap out of the way of the incoming projectiles.
Sadly, my co-op partner repeatedly died before this stretch was over, making victory essentially impossible. I was often able to reach the next stage of the fight, in which the frogs transform into a giant slot machine for some reason or another that I’m sure/not sure somehow makes sense. This causes the goal to switch from constantly shooting and dodging to dodging incoming coins while attempting to get the timing just right on a double jump attack on a boxing glove jutting out from the slot machine.
StudioMDHR explained that anything pink in the world can be interacted with via the double jump maneuver, so this is presumably what passes for weak points that must be hit for massive damage in Cuphead. It’s less of a traditional double jump and more of a jump followed by a flip attack that must be activated at precisely the right point in your jump’s arc, though, and pulling off the timing proved too difficult. I’m certain it would have been easier had my co-op partner survived longer and thus been around to support these efforts, but I never got the chance to prove this theory, as we saw the game over screen repeatedly without ever conquering the boss.
Other players took on a giant bird while flying in small planes and a boss so incredibly reminiscent of Popeye‘s Bluto that he blew right past nod to the past and landed somewhere closer to a Family Guy-ish literal reference. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, and Cuphead absolutely has a visual style that’s all its own in the realm of gaming.
One thing I’d like to see in the game are health bars of some sort for the bosses. Certainly plenty of games have eschewed them over the years, but when your entire game is shooting bullet sponge bosses, it seems logical to give the player some sort of visualization as to whether or not they’re doing the right thing and what sort of progress they’re making. Whether I was or not, though — and I certainly was not when I tried to take down the slot machine by shooting it until the devs directed my attention toward the boxing glove — I wanted to keep doing it. And now I want to do it some more, but I’ll have to wait until 2016 for an extended go at it.