Off to the Cupboard With You Now Cuphead

I haven’t played Cuphead, but by god I can’t wait to. It looks gorgeous with that classic cartoon look about it, and considering how cute it looks, the challenge sounds ideal for someone like myself who loved Super Meat Boy, can’t complete Spelunky but enjoys it, and has spent countless nights trying to nail all of The Lost’s completed paths in The Binding of Isaac. Challenge is good.

However, a lot of people are crying foul about Cuphead. I’ve seen some on message boards saying it’s so difficult, their money is wasted and they ought to get a refund. Some complaining that ‘simple mode’ is stripping the game of it’s best content. Others argue that we as gamers shouldn’t feel entitled to see the ending of a game simply because we paid for the right to play it. That you have to earn that reveal at the end of the journey.

Nintendo got some flak a few years ago with the Wii U when they introduced the ability to skip ahead in the game if you were dying too much. Gamers argued this was devaluing the challenge of a game that featured the ability to do this, and a game should be left alone as it was developed. At the same time, it did at least allow those who wanted to progress do so, with no punishment in choosing this method.

We had to ‘suffer’ in the 90s with games where if you played on the easy difficulty option, you wouldn’t even get to experience the full game or see its true ending. If I remember correctly, Golden Axe 2 only let you reach the penultimate boss of the game if you played on easy mode, and then congratulated you on it but warned that the narrative battle would only continue on the harder difficulties. You had to earn the right to see the entire game through. I liked it. Learn the ins and outs if you were struggling, man up once you have the system down.

Some games are sold solely on their difficulty. In an era of gaming where it feels like games in general have been dumbed down with regenerating health, 30-second interval checkpoints, and 10 minute tutorials which could be fixed with a diagram in a manual, it’s almost like a genre of gaming in itself; the ball-breaker. And there’s a lot of gamers who want their balls busted big time. Would Super Meat Boy have sold as many copies if fans weren’t all spreading the word about its difficulty? I thought it was excruciating to play at first, but once I figured out the movement of Meat Boy, I was addicted to getting through it to the end. When I did, I felt proud of the achievement.

Take Dark Souls. It’s a very difficult game for people who just can’t get the rhythm right for the battles. I’m one of them, I can’t get far in it whatsoever. However, wouldn’t the narrative of the game be ruined if we all COULD sail through it and complete the game? Suddenly, this game with an epic story where the bosses do feel dangerous because of the difficulty would loses all of that grandeur. It would no longer be sold on the fact that it presents a challenge, but would just get lost in the mess of generic shooters that we’re swamped with these days. I love the sound of Dark Souls and the challenge it presents, but if I’m going to see it through, I need to respect the developers intent and get practicing.

Enjoying any medium of entertainment to its fullest requires a base level of skills. If you want to enjoy complex movies and TV, you need to understand subtle characterization and world-building. If you want to appreciate art, you need to know context and a bit of the artist’s intent. Knowing how to play music allows you to enjoy listening to it on a different level. Video games are no different.

I feel that if you can’t get Cuphead down, it’s simply not for you, and the developers shouldn’t be devaluing their game’s reputation by making it easier for the masses. I enjoy a game which through its difficulty, makes me learn the ropes more and I can not only progress further in it, but it no doubt then improves my ability elsewhere. Leave our games alone. We want ‘I Wanna Be the Guy’, not ‘Everyone Can Be the Guy’.