After 2+ years of waiting for this game, I downloaded it when it released last Friday and, although my SNES Classic stole my attention here and there, I couldn’t put Cuphead down until I finished it last night. I absolutely loved it – it completely lived up to all of the hype, in my opinion. It expertly walked the line of demanding skill, patience and concentration while not causing me to walk away in complete frustration (well, not TOO many times, anyway). I couldn’t wait to write about it, so that’s what I aim to do here. I know it hasn’t even been out a week yet, so if you are looking to not have any of the brilliant boss designs spoiled for you, I would encourage you to read this later (which is hard to suggest, because I’m so happy you’re reading it at all!). It’s a lovely, brilliant, amazing spectacle, and if you have any inclination to experience it without any outside influence, you definitely should – but please come back and comment, because I want to talk about it!
Still here? Cool! One of the fascinating things I have noticed about Cuphead (of which there are many, and not just the obvious gorgeous artistic style and bombastic soundtrack) is that at first glance, many players rank the difficulty they had with each boss wildly different from one another. I’ve already demonstrated a penchant for ranking bosses, so naturally, I couldn’t resist doing the same here after finishing my soul collecting adventure around Inkwell Isle. If you’ve played the game, I’d love to hear where you weigh in on these, and what your experience was like!
The following is mostly how I ranked the bosses, from easiest to hardest, but I also weighed in on who I adored the most from an aesthetic point of view. I’m sure these opinions are all over the board, as well!
1. The Root Pack
…and, having said that in my introduction, I’m sure we’d be hard pressed to find lists that didn’t start with a few obvious ones. This trio of potato/onion/carrot introduces us to the “phases” the bosses will be using, as well as the constantly shifting attack patterns. The fairly predictable projectile patterns, clearly telegraphed attacks and slower speeds serve as a toe dipped into the Cuphead waters, before a blind shove into the deep end comes a few bosses later. Regardless, it’s a fun entry into the game and serves as a great appetizer, making you immediately crave more.
2. Goopy Le Grande
For what is essentially just the second boss in the game, Goopy puts up a decent fight. Especially in hindsight after you’ve fought through many of the other bosses, he’s fairly simplistic, and there were a couple times throughout the game that I backtracked to him, thinking I had developed my skills enough that I could land a perfect run on him with ease… only to take a hit or two every time. His bounces are fairly easy to avoid, but the temptation to follow him and hammer him with the short ranged power upgrade can land you within range of an inescapable punch that occupies half the screen. A somewhat lack of creativity is made up for in his final phase, when his tombstone rises from the ground and frantically follows you, attempting to flatten you. Goopy is definitely at home within Isle I, but also reminding players not to get overconfident.
3. Sally Stageplay
Even games as amazing as Cuphead are bound to have some low points, and Sally Stageplay was just that for me. Seriously out of place for a World 3 boss, I beat her after a handful of tries. Her projectiles and attacks are fairly short ranged and she’s fairly generous with the amount of time she spends stationary, taking on damage. Her second phase might be the toughest, due to the amount of items falling around the screen – other than that, timing a perfectly-placed parry on a suspended star to clear a huge obstacle was by far the biggest headache for me. The theater aesthetic and frantic husband in the background was a silly and fun touch, but this battle didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
4. Werner Werman
It didn’t take me long to take down this manic rat, but man, he was one of my favorites. Fighting him within his mousehole as he navigates a killer Campbell’s soup can had me smiling the whole way through. It’s classic cartoon antics from beginning to end – as he takes on damage, his attacks become more and more agitated and frantic, paralleling his Wile E. Coyote-style burns and injuries. Midway through, a cat can be seen peeking into the hole, offering you a subtle clue as to what the final phase will entail.
Logistically though, I didn’t find this one too challenging. For a try or two, I thought the lobbed bombs were “SO F%^#ING UNFAIR” … until I took a minute to try and learn how to avoid them, and then they became very easy. I couldn’t say which phase I found the easiest, they were all a breeze – but damn, I loved this boss.
5. Hilda Berg
Hilda is the first of a few battles you take on within a small airplane. It’s also the first battle that both truly starts to spotlight the amazing animation within the game, as well as start to introduce you to fairly stressful projectile management. The first couple phases are fairly easy, allowing you to pepper Hilda with bullets non-stop while easily navigating birds and her lethal “HA-HA” laughter. It made me (falsely) believe that perhaps these Gradius-themed stages would be the easier ones of the bunch… until phase 3. Hilda transforms into a maniacal crescent moon, hurling missiles for you to dodge along with an unyielding conveyor belt of UFOs. All in all, she’s where she belongs in Isle 1, and serves as a great introduction to the aerial boss fights.
6. Cala Maria
Along with one of my favorites, Werner Warner, I found Cala Maria to be a chance to breathe a little easier on Isle 3. She tosses out a fairly varied amount of stress to deal with in her first phase, but it’s all fairly manageable. Her second stage has her entering a raged-Medusa mode, completely with an army of hydras that surround her in the sea. You can blast these down as you fire away at her, and my strategy of balancing gunfire between all of them had me moving onto the final phase pretty quickly. This area is naturally the toughest, as Cala has been turning you to stone intermittently since phase 2, but now you must traverse a narrow tunnel with obstacles at the same time. Like most videogames where you turn to stone, the only thing that will free you is frantically pounding the buttons. There might be/probably is a way to avoid her stone gaze, but I didn’t figure it out before I beat her – I mostly tried to time when I would get hit by the gaze so that I could still manage the fight. I’ll have to figure it out if I am going to go for Expert mode or S-ranks, but still, this boss is better suited for Isle 1.
7. Djimmi The Great
I didn’t think Djimmi was all that tough. Especially for a boss that has 5 phases, I found most of his attacks to be pretty manageable, and some of the phases to be a little on the weak side. The stack phase, where you must shoot out the smiling block and avoid the buzzsaws, was a cool concept that felt like a “level within a boss”, but ultimately wasn’t all that interesting. Facing a marionette version of yourself, complete with the finger-gun attack, is very cool, and the final phase finds a super pissed Djimmi filling up nearly half the screen. This was naturally the hardest part, and I basically unloaded as much as I could as fast as I could before any real horror could begin, and I ended up passing this Isle 2 boss relatively quickly.
8. Cagney Carnation
Cagney was the first boss that had me thinking, “Jesus Christ, and this is just THE FIRST WORLD.” A somewhat straightforward first phase has you dodging clearly telegraphed attacks. Here, the game continues to shine by giving you hints about what to expect through the breathtaking animation: in one instance, Cagney transforms his face into the barrel of a machine gun, points to the sky and turn his petals as a crank, hinting that bullets are about to rain from the sky. So. Damn. Cool.
Anyway, his second phase has him reaching super-pissed rage mode. Whereas before you could seek refuge either on the mid-level platforms or the ground below, vines cover the floor and you are restricted to platforms. Your dashes need to be timed perfectly over incoming projectiles, all while managing which of the two platforms are about to briefly become thorn-infested traps. Somewhere in this mess, you need to deliver some damage and end this fool, too. I found him tougher than some of the bosses found later, and he rewards you with that first true feeling of accomplishment when you manage to take him down.
9. Ribbey and Croaks
These guys were a blast – basically malevolent, color-inverted versions of my favorite childhood book characters, Frog & Toad. This battle also made me feel like I was fighting a Mega Man boss, especially the phase where one brother turns into a fan, throwing gusts of wind at you and pushing you backwards toward the other brother who is hurling projectiles you must dodge while compensating for the wind force. Stockpiling parries in the first phase is tough… I would always end up bouncing into another blue ball of fire while coming off my initial parry. The first couple phases test your patience, as you will need to manage the fireballs raining down from the ceiling while you’re tempted to just unload on the amphibians instead. In the final phase, things take a truly crazy turn when they transform into a killer slot machine, right down to allowing you to (randomly) choose your own platforming nightmare. Figuring out how to manage all three sequences effectively took me a few attempts, but once you can handle them all, these dudes are goners.
10. Wally Warbles
This aerial fight had me completely overwhelmed through my first few attempts, but I was soon able to get it under control. The first phase has Wally spouting eggs at you, which break on the edge of the screen to ricochet backward at you. Battalions of smaller birds also fly directly at you, usually containing a pink bird that tempts you to flirt with danger in order to fill your special meter. Wally’s most stressful attack, however, is when he hits full stress mode and begins molting feathers in every direction – it’s a sequence that demands 100% pure concentration to maneuver effectively. Once you can muster this area, his son attacks you Dr. Wily style, floating around slowly in a small ship with a rotating sphere of damage that expands and rescinds. This phase is fairly easy and really only asks that you don’t get careless. The final phase is probably one of the funniest highlights of the game. Papa comes back, completely banged up and carried in a stretcher by two other birds, but not out of the fight yet. Once you remember you can drop bombs from your plane, remaining at the top of the screen and barraging him with damage gets you to the end quickly. This one is by no means a walk in the park, but didn’t get me to the hair-pulling point, either.
11. Phantom Express
Maybe I was having a good run and feeling confident, but after a few sessions of beating only two bosses, by the time I really sank my teeth into Isle 3, I beat 5 of them in one 2 hour sitting. Phantom Express was at the tail end of that session, so I was in a groove. His first phase is a joke, and while the skeleton slapping your cart in the second phase is initially pretty intimidating, I learned quickly each are you are in, despite the attack that is coming, has a decently sized safe-spot. A quick back-and-forth strategy against phase 3’s ghoul lollipops makes that one go by quickly, especially if you are able to employ the dropping skulls to work for you, moving your cart as you need. The biggest hurdle was finding out just how the hell to attack the head of the train in phase 4, but once you expose the heart, this phase ends quickly. Artistically, this may have been one of my favorites.
12. King Dice
They took an interesting route for the penultimate boss, and one that I thought was ultra-cool. Fitting in with the casino vibe, you are forced to fight a variety of mini-bosses as you march your way toward the battle with King Diamond. It’s an extremely stressful notion to wrap your head around at first – you’re going to have to fight AT LEAST three bosses and maintain your health while doing so just to earn a crack at fighting King Dice himself. It’s not quite as bad as you think, though. You take on this order of foes by marching across a roulette board, stopping a dice on either ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ to determine your route. If you can learn the timing, you can stop the dice right where you want (something I taught myself, then promptly returned to fucking up, through each attempt). Eventually you learn which sub-boss is on which space, and three will randomly be chosen to grant you one piece of health before the fight. Fight all of these sub bosses enough, and you’ll learn how to fight most, if not all of them, without taking any damage. Once you get to this point, you can stockpile your health, land yourself on the intermittent “safe” spaces along the way, CAREFULLY dodge the “Return to Start” space at the very end, and take on the Dice man with extra health. The battle with King Dice himself is actually very straightforward. First, you learn it starts RIGHT AWAY WITHOUT ANY PROMPT so, if you’re like me, he immediately slaps you and all of your progress is lost. After that, you realize his only attack is to send a marching parade of playing cards at you. Perfectly parry-bouncing off the pink ones is your only means of survival, and I’ll be honest – I never figured out the exact timing. I could nail one or two, but each parade managed to hit me at least once. Thankfully, after a few tries, I had enough health to withstand a couple hits, and a charged special along with some relentless firepower took him down.
13. Captain Brineybeard
Aesthetically, this guy was one of my favorites. This whole game brilliantly invokes a nostalgic charm for vintage cartoons, but I absolutely loved his Pegleg Pete/Bluto vibe. After my first try or two, I actually thought he was going to be one of the easiest I faced – I was reaching the final phase with ease. Sure enough, though, I began to overthink my strategies and began to struggle once the boat began to fire cannonballs. Keeping an eye on these as well as triggering the falling treasure chest and managing which sea creature would attack next requires a lot of juggling, for sure. At first, I couldn’t conceive how anyone was supposed to survive the final attack beam in phase 3 – what the hell are they saying, kill him before he has a chance?! (I’m embarrassed to admit it took over 5 tries before I realized IT’S PINK, YOU DINK.) Still, I really liked this fight, and gauged it somewhere in the middle – I would say he’s on the easier side for a boss that appears in Isle 3.
14. Baroness Von Bon Bon
This was the first boss that began to stoke my frustration. I don’t want to say I hit a wall, but I had a few moments wondering just how the hell I was going to do it. The initial stage as you fighting a random assortment of confectioneries – a frantic gumball machine, an exploding waffle, a menacing jawbreaker, pissed off candy corn and a masochistic cupcake all fit the bill here. Taking a few down pits allows you to fight the rest at a heightened pace, along with a steady stream of jellybeans storming out of the Baroness’ grumpy looking pink castle cake (as a quick aside, I’m enjoying this post if nothing more than how fun it is to use so many different words you would never think would go together and still make sense!). Once you clear out this parade sugary miscreants, the Baroness mounts her castle in a rage and begins pursuit. You find yourself riding a platform as the screen scrolls to the left, the castle maliciously following you. It took me awhile to learn why this battle was holding me up so hard, and leads me to one of my only minor complaints with the game – the design and animation is so gorgeous and brilliant, and can be a bit much to manage, and you need to exercise some trial-and-error about what you can survive, and what you can’t. I was deathly afraid of getting too close to the castle and its slapping feet, so dodging the Baroness’ floating heads, the peppermints rolling out of the castle, and attempting to stay at least close to the platform was extremely tough. Not the case, though – the castle’s feet can’t hurt you. Once I knew I had more space to work with, I managed to take her down. Still, I found this one to be tough, albeit obviously really, really cool.
15. Grim Matchstick
Ah, this son of a bitch. This battle was a weird experience for me… after my first initial tries, I thought, this one won’t take me too long. I already feel like I get it. And I did… at first. I literally and figuratively flew to the final phase on my first handful of tries, only to make a ton of backward progress. First, the three headed dragon in the final phase kept nailing me with the super beam attack. I couldn’t find out the rhyme or reason of where it would appear (spoiler alert: just the middle. Everytime. I’m a moron). But worse than that, the dragon expels many fireballs, and at first, you’re relieved to discover that as you pepper the beast with bullets, you can hit the fireballs, too. Not so fast, though – do that, and they turn into FOUR smaller fireballs, heading in various directions. These are a fucking NIGHTMARE to avoid. Now you find out you can’t even blindly shoot the boss and hope it will all be over soon, in some form of a war of attrition – doing so will only maximize the number of projectiles you need to avoid. I tried swapping out to all of my different upgrades, but nothing helped (I didn’t have the charged shot at this point, and later learned it does wonders here. D’oh). After THAT started stonewalling me, I then began to screw up on the second phase, when the literal parade of fireballs somersault and flip towards you in wild arcs. Unrelenting frustration had me walk away for a bit from this one, and when I came back, I was more focused and put him down. This one stands out as a true test of will, and a fight that really encourages you to experiment with everything you have in your arsenal.
16. Beppi the Clown
Beppi the Clown is NO JOKE. If I remember right, this may have been my first wall, where I needed to take a break and come back with fresher reflexes. This is one of those fights that the first few times you get into it, feels like an absolute nightmare that only a professional could effectively undertake. There are four distinct phases, tons of projectiles and little room for error. You’ll be memorizing attack patterns, trying to shoot down vicious raining dog balloons, timing jumps over a lethal roller coaster and somewhere in there, attempting to whittle down a killer clown boss. Finally clearing one phase of the attack with a meager one health left propels you into another phase where you are left terrified of what is to come. Taking the fight one step at a time was the key for me, making sure I had a strategy for each wave change and taking the boss down incrementally. Putting an end to this sucker came as a HUGE relief. Although found in Isle 2, I found him harder than several bosses in Isle 3, and wonder if the developers wanted to spread out the pain a bit, rather than discourage players with a relentless Isle 3. I’m a bit of a broken record at this point, but this battle also showcased more of the truly unique animation within the game, and was one of the highlights for me.
17. Rumor Honeybottoms
This queen bee themed boss was one of my least favorites, and not so coincidentally, also what I felt was one of the toughest encounters. The stage scrolls upward with a very generous amount of platforms to bounce from (well, to begin with). Phase one is a fat, slow moving police-bee who drops bombs amdist workerbees on their way into another soulless day in the office. All of these are easy to avoid, and after a few attempts, the cop can be taken down fairly quickly and easily. He provides a few attempts to stockpile parries from the bomb shrapnel, but they come at odd angles, and can be tough to chase down. The second phase pits you against the queen bee herself. She’ll peek down from a random area, occupying roughly one third of the screen and providing a pretty generous hitbox, and launch large projectiles that follow you around the screen. You’ll often have to dash to avoid these, but platforms randomly become a bit scarcer and it starts to feel like you are relying on luck a little more than you should be. Her final phase transforms her into an infuriated fighter plane. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen much of this phase – I often died as soon as she turned into it, and learned quickly that if I unloaded enough attacks on her in her second phase, she would be nearly dead by the time it ended. When I finally beat her, I never gave her a chance to transform at all. Pretty much all of the Cuphead bosses gave me a very gratifying sense of satisfaction when they croaked, but not this one – I was happy to be done with it.
18. Dr. Kahl’s Robot
I gave this battle my first couple tries at the tail end of a session, knowing I didn’t have the time to learn a new boss but wanted a taste. My first impression was that he was a LOT of fun, and I juggled the three hitpoints and multitude of projectiles pretty easily, getting to phase 2 each time (and dying soon after). It was before I sat down again that I started to peruse boss ranking lists, and saw a lot of players ranking Dr. Kahl close to “most difficult”, if not overall. This detail subconsciously made itself home in my mind, and the next time I sat down to play, I went through pure hell trying just to REACH phase 2 again. After main grisly tries, I learned phase 2 is mostly a gentle transition to the hellish phase 3. Luckily, when I reached phase 3 during a throw-away playthrough where I was at one remaining health for basically the entire battle, I found myself in that elusive 100% videogame concentration zone. Do you know what I’m talking about? When you’re in the middle of an intensely difficult battle, but you’re nailing it very easily and somehow KNOW you’re going to finish it? And I’m not bragging here – this happens VERY rarely to me (I’m a surefire choke artist). Nevertheless, I navigated through the endless shrapnel of phase 3, firing away to victory. I have to admit- I loved what felt like a clear nod to Dr. Wily, when Dr. Khal himself was revealed. In the end, this boss is tough – REAL tough, and he demands perfection.
19. The Devil
I really wanted to make this a little interesting, and not rank the Devil as the hardest. It was a close call between him and Dr. Kahl – I found them both to be really demanding, but in different ways. I might still technically say Dr, Kalh owns the hardest phase in the game, but it’s only a piece of his battle, and the Devil demands perfection from nearly beginning to end.
It’s only fitting the final battle of the game is literal and figurative Hellscape. The first phase has the Devil throwing many varied attacks at you, and some have varying forms of their own. Dodging stretching limbs, marching minions, floating orbs, tentacled heads and a stalking snake form that owns nearly the entire screen demand that you learn the specific timing and safe zones of all these attacks, and are able to swap to each respective strategy on a whim. It took me the better part of an hour to get them all down, and from here, the Devil beckons you to a lower level of Hell where you must contend with his enormous, furious head. Jumping from platform to platform is your only means of safety from here on out, but luckily a hitbox in the form of the Devil’s massive eyes give you a generous landing spot for your firepower. Finding a means to consistently deal punishment to him gets you to phase 3 quickly, where the screen tightens even more. A couple foes now line either side of the screen, restricting you to just 3 platforms while you dodge attacks from either side, falling fiery poker chips and ghosts raining from above. This may be the hardest part – the phase doesn’t last long if you are constantly attacking, so your best defense is to end it, ASAP. The final phase is a sweet victory lap – the devil bursts into tears as you continue to fire upon his swollen eyes. The raining teardrops can hurt you, but they are easy to avoid and it’s a quick wave. Releasing your super attacks ends the troublesome second and third waves fairly quickly, so I ended up beating the Devil with an ‘A’ rating. He was a fitting end, a true challenge, and although I’m extremely relived he wasn’t more difficult… I’ll hesitantly say I’m surprised he wasn’t just a little harder.
That just about wraps up my thoughts! If you’re still here, I’m very flattered – I know that was a lot of text! In essence – I loved this game. I do appreciate extremely challenging games, if they are done right, and this was exactly that for me. I died and retried a lot – somewhere around 300 times. But none of them (even if I claimed otherwise in the moment) felt cheap or unfair – they were my fault. I always wanted to jump back in for more, and I can’t wait to see if I can hold my own in expert mode. If you’ve played this game and feel the same – I would love to hear from you! Who was your favorite boss? Who did you hate? Who did you take down easily, that I complained about here?