Editor’s Note: This article was first published on March 1, 2018. We’re bumping it today for the release on the Nintendo Switch.
StudioMDHR’s indie blockbuster sensation, Cuphead, is, if anything, an amazing execution of the idea of a “boss rush” as a game in its own right.
Taking into account the difficulty, presentation, and fun that I had during my very first play-through of Cuphead, I’ve compiled a list, for your consideration, of five bosses I had the grandest time walloping.
(Please note that this ranking is based on “Regular” and above difficulty options of each boss stage).
4. The Devil – One Hell of a Time!
The big bad-man of the game, evil incarnate himself, definitely puts up a memorable fight. However, unlike the gauntlet run right before it with the King Dice boss stage, which aims to test all that dexterity you have hopefully honed in on at this point, the fight is a bit of a cakewalk.
The Devil conjures up attacks that are really obviously telegraphed and there isn’t much to battling him other than the simple dodge and shoot. But, it’s a testament to how well the game has taught you its own mechanics by the point you get to The Devil. Maybe it’s not that it’s a fairly easy fight, but that everything falls right into place if you’ve been paying attention on your way to the end.
The most important reason “One Hell of A Time!” makes the list, however, is that the atmosphere of this level is everything I would expect (and want) from a Hellish world based on early-era cartoon animation shorts.
It all serves as a good ending point for the game, and a great starting point for this list.
3. King Dice – All Bets Are Off!
It’s almost cheating to include this boss fight here but taking a page from King Dice’s book, I’ll take that chance.
“All Bets Are Off!” is a stretched-out endurance boss rush gauntlet that’s like a micro version of Cuphead within itself. A game of chance, the bosses you fight within fit the theme of a seedy, evil casino, and when playing through this stage for the first time, not knowing what lies behind each number is a treat that changes up things for the better.
Boss rush stages before the final boss are a time-honored tradition in old side-scrolling shooters and beat-em-ups, but more than often, those include revamped or harder versions of bosses from before, like famously in Mega Man. Here, the inclusion of all-together new bosses is a great spin on that tradition (and possibly, also, a way for the developers to use boss ideas that wouldn’t have worked on their own otherwise).
The end of the whole thing, fighting King Dice himself, isn’t all that great as it amounts to something a lot less satisfying than all the bosses before it but hey, the journey on the way is a uniquely challenging thrill.
If I had to pick two favorite bosses from this stage (hey, more cheating! ) the early-maniacal-days-Bugs Bunny-inspired Hopus Pocus and the cigar demon mascot Mr. Wheezy are perhaps the shining stars, especially with the latter’s sleazy cigarette, flame, smoke and ash Hellscape boss arena.
2. Dr. Kahl’s Robot – Junkyard Jive!
I’m sure many would agree with me that Dr. Kahl and his Iron Giant-wannabe of a robot (both billed as just “Dr. Kahl’s Robot”) make up probably the most difficult boss battle in the entire game.
This fight, more than any other boss before it, really wants you to pay attention to the telegraphs and movements of everything on the screen, and there is a lot going on all over the screen.
While visually, there isn’t much of an emphasis on an overall atmosphere in this level, both in the designs of the characters and the background, this is most likely an active decision to help the player focus on the bosses’ attacks.
Plus, the character design for Dr. Kahl (the man, not the robot) is fun; an amalgamation of the Mad Doctor, meeting video-game classic mad scientists like Dr. Wiley from Mega Man and Dr. Robotnik (a.k.a Eggman) from Sonic the Hedgehog. Especially the latter, what with the pseudo-Chaos Emerald and the hover-vehicle Dr. Kahl flies around during the last phase of the battle.
For first-timers, it’s perhaps one of the most demanding parts of Cuphead, and executed really well. Easily the most positively challenging time I had with the game.
1. Werner Werman – Murine Corps
While far from the most challenging boss fight, “Murine Corps” is the best accumulation of things learned throughout Cuphead, climaxing in the most ideal way in this boss fight.
Stylistically, it’s perhaps the most realized stage, with every nook and cranny of Werner Werman’s house (I’m assuming it’s his house) and his Campbell Soup can machine simply oozing with character.
Most importantly, on a personal level, the things that this boss stage references are very near and dear to me, and its a perfect execution of these inspirations is what makes this, for me, one of the highest points in Cuphead.
The whole template of this fight is a giant homage to a fairly obscure game I previously thought only I had grown up loving, The Adventures of Batman & Robin for the Sega Genesis (I even wrote a short piece about it), and experiencing that on my first playthrough was a bit mind-blowing. I had to look up and confirm if I wasn’t going crazy or if this was intentional (safe bet: according to this blog post, it is).
These personal callbacks combined with just how perfectly satisfying this boss fight is, well, seals the deal for me and makes it my overall number one. As far as I’m considered, this boss stage was made just for me.
What were some of your favorite boss stages? Let me know in the comments!