Cuphead: Tips and strategies for making it through

Cuphead is one of the most difficult games I have played in the last decade. It’s the rage game of the year. You are going to die, and you are going to die a lot, but die enough and you’ll eventually learn. Learn enough and you’ll eventually win. All you have to do is not give up!

Still, the road to mastery can be frustrating at times. So if you’ve hit a wall and want to give up, check out these tips and tricks. See if they give you the edge to collect one more soul contract.

Best Weapons and Upgrades

The Chaser

The chaser should be the very first weapon you buy from Porkrind’s Emporium. It’s a homing weapon which flies toward the nearest enemy but does low damage. The low damage doesn’t matter when every single shot hits. Use this weapon during difficult platforming sections of boss fights. It has one of the best EX moves in the game, a shield of bullets which kills any enemies that get to close. It also makes Run N’ Gun levels a breeze since you don’t have to focus on aiming at the swarms of enemies. You can beat the entire game by equipping the chaser, holding down the fire button, and focusing on not getting hit. Put this in your primary weapon slot and don’t take it off.

The Roundabout

If you are looking for a weapon that does better damage than the Chaser, try out the Roundabout. It’s essentially a boomerang which travels about a third of the way across the screen forward before curving backward. It does more damage than the standard Peashooter and any shots you miss will curve back around and take out threats behind you. Many attack patterns will force you to jump away from a boss to avoid getting hit, but with the Roundabout that’s fine. Your shots will just curve behind you as you jump, landing in the boss’s face. Using the Chaser/Roundabout combo for most of the game is a good combination. The Chaser whenever you don’t have a clear shot and the Roundabout all other times. You should generally manage to defeat boss phases in just one cycle.

The Spreader

If you are looking for sheer damage output, this is the weapon you want. The Spreader covers a ton of angles and does the most damage of any weapon in the game. The downside is that it travels an abysmally short distance. It is essentially a shot gun. It’s not feasible in all battles, but it’s fantastic for bosses that like to stand still and fire projectiles at you. Just stand in their face and let The Spreader rip.  

Heart

The Heart charm grants you one extra hit-point at the expense of a small reduction in damage. Once again, the drop is not significant enough to warrant not using this charm. You only have three hit-points, so equipping this charm will make you survive about thirty percent longer. In general you will do more than enough damage with that extra hit-point to outweigh the Heart’s damage reduction.

Smoke Bomb

The Smoke Bomb makes your dashes invincible and is probably the best charm in the game behind the Heart. You will find that many attack patterns are unavoidable unless you air-dash. This allows you to dash without worrying about random projectiles getting in your way. Dash after every jump with this charm equipped and you'll find that your survivability skyrockets.

Coffee

If you just so happen to be a super pro that doesn’t need any more survivability, then you should equip the Coffee. Coffee makes your super meter charge no matter what you do, and it stacks with the meter you would already gain. This will let you fire off EX attacks rapidly, pushing your DPS well beyond normal limits. If you are looking to do a Cuphead speedrun then this is the upgrade for you.

General Gameplay Tips

Remap Your Controls

The basic control scheme is horrible and outdated. There’s no way you can jump, dash, and use your special attacks while also holding down a face button to shoot. I recommend you remap shoot to one trigger and aim to another. This way your face buttons can be used primarily for maneuvering or weapon switching.

Search the Map for Coins

Coins are hard to come by in Cuphead. Outside of Run N’ Gun stages there are few opportunities to obtain them. Luckily, each map has hidden coins to find. Some are just scattered around waiting for you to pick them up, while others require you to complete short sidequests. Make sure you talk to everyone and look at everything if you want to have enough cash to eventually buy every upgrade.

Look for the Shortcut

Each map has a “shortcut” that lets you tackle later levels earlier than you should be. Your first goal when entering a new map should be to find this shortcut. It will give you access to Run N’ Gun levels and sidequests that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. This lets you get more coins and buy new equipment before even taking on the first boss, making the entire map much easier to conquer.

Finish Run N’ Gun Levels First

Run N’ Gun levels are the primary way to earn coins and buy upgrades, so before you take on bosses you should clear these first. They are generally easier than bosses and the cash they give you will buy you an advantage in upcoming boss levels.

Parry to Build Super Meter

Remember that any pink object can be parried by pressing the jump button a second time in the air. Parrying bounces you off the object and destroys it. Note that this can destroy objects that otherwise cannot be destroyed by bullet fire. You want to parry about three times per match, just to boost your score, but if you get extra opportunities take them. Parrying builds your super meter very quick allowing you to fire powerful EX moves in rapid succession.

Use EX Moves More Than Supers

Your super meter has five levels of charge. You can spend either one level for an EX move or all five for a super attack. Take my advice, never use your super attack. Even the most powerful super attack in the game doesn’t do nearly as much damage as five EX attacks. Super number 2, a short period of invincibility, has some uses but in general you will get more mileage out of your EX attacks than super attacks.

Almost Always Air-Dash

The air-dash is the most forgotten maneuver in Cuphead. Streamers consistently die to what appears to be impossible jumps or unavoidable bullet patterns because they forget that they can air-dash. Air dashing vastly increases your air-time and most bullets are aimed toward the ground, since that’s where you will be spending most of your time. Try air-dashing after almost every jump. This will keep you in the air and out of harm’s way for longer. You can even air dash in one direction only to turn around immediately if you want to try and stay in place. How will you hit the enemy from this high up? The Chaser! Best weapon in the game.

Resist the Urge to Play on Simple

Cuphead’s simple difficulty is really just a distraction. While bosses are significantly easier on this difficulty, it’s not because they do less damage. They actually have completely different patterns to memorize, meaning you likely won’t learn anything about fighting the boss on normal. Unfortunately you HAVE to defeat the boss on normal to progress beyond the first couple of levels. It’s in your best interest to just ignore this difficulty level all together. It’s not doing anyone any favors. 

Play With a Friend

If you really want to play on “easy mode” play with a friend. Bosses don’t increase in difficulty when you invite a friend along, but you are doing twice the damage and can take over twice the hits. You can revive your friend with one hit-point provided you can land a jumping parry on their ghost. As long as two players have each other’s backs, they can take an infinite amount of hits. As I said in my review, Cuphead is best experienced with a friend, and this is one of the primary reasons why. Just… don’t kill each other when your best bud fails to resurrect you for the tenth straight time.