Vice Versus: Cuphead Diary (Day 1)

In Vice Versus, I’ll be returning to games I never previously beat. I will play them one hour at most a day until I’ve reached my goal. For Cuphead, that goal is to get the contracts for all the bosses, then defeat King Dice and The Devil. I’m keeping a daily diary of this project. The following is done out of the Indie Gamer Chick character.

I don’t know what exactly I’ve gotten myself into here. My friends and family thought I lost my mind when I told them about my idea for this project. Yet here I am, at 4:08AM, typing up my report on my first day of Vice Versus: Cuphead. My family kept asking me what I expect to get out of this. Validation? I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe. Cuphead isn’t a game I like, and I don’t expect my opinion to change. But yea, I want to shut up the people who say my reviews don’t count because I didn’t beat the game. Even though I made it further than the vast majority of players, including some people who were pissed at me and defended the game. It’s weird that it doesn’t work both ways. In theory, shouldn’t a person who defends a game against a critic who was unable to beat the game despite a good faith effort themselves have beaten the game? Or at least made it further? But it’s gaming. What can you do?

I’m nervous. This is a big commitment to a game I can’t stand, and one that I’m not particularly good at. In preparation for this, I watched a LOT of Cuphead videos on YouTube. I watched the best players in the world and as many complete Hard and Expert mode videos that showed ever boss fight as I could. I’d be stoked to do half as good as they did, but some key strategies became apparent, stuff that hopefully I’ll remember during the actual play time. When I played Cuphead the first two times, I often just straight-up forgot to use things like the smoke dash. You essentially start the game with three coins so, before playing any bosses or run & gun stages, I purchased it from the shop and will try to get used to using it.

I’m going to try to practice up at the parry move as much as I can in the early days of the project. I need to get better at it. I could never quite get the timing down pat and it’s absolutely essentially to successful play, especially since it fills your attack meter up faster. I’m also going to try to do everything without the hair tie around holding down the trigger. I can handle one hour a day of this. It shouldn’t be necessary.

Most of the videos I went to show Botanic Panic! as the first stage, and I get why. There’s three phases that feel like a tutorial to the type of attacks you’ll be expected to dodge. With my goal for the early days to be focused on getting the timing of the parry down, I went for broke and tried to get a parry on every pink object within reach. And right away, I had timing issues. The window for getting the parry down is weird and almost seems inconsistent.

Getting past the first phase, Moe Tato, was easy. But then I shit the bed and died on the easiest (and shortest) phase, Weepy. He cries like a sprinkler, which has deadly tears rain down on you. I didn’t position myself right, and not only did I die but I realized it’d be too hard to predict when to get the melees down. I also forgot that there’s no point in building up all my attack energy when I haven’t even gotten my first super attack yet, and I died for the first time. On my second attempt, I cleared Moe and Weepy, then made it fairly deep into the final phase against Psycarrot and died. Fun fact about Psycarrot: he’s the only final phase of any boss you see in Simple Mode.

Thankfully, I had a major break-through on my third attempt. I successfully parried all three pink dirt balls Moe Tato spit at me, and took no damage for the remainder of the fight. With Psycarrot appeared, I did struggle a bit to line up my shot on him (I’ll have to practice on accuracy) but I did manage to blast him five straight times with my charged shot and avoided all his attacks for the knockout. When it tallied my results, I had a perfect score. Couldn’t believe it. Nice start to the project.

Actually, I started with the second chronological run & gun stage. There was a method to my madness: I struggled greatly to get the parries for this stage down the first couple times I played Cuphead. I need to get better at them to make any progress later in the game, especially against King Dice. This was the logical “jump in the deep end” stage. And I really exposed myself to how bad I am at the parry in doing so. Early in the stage there’s a section where you need to parry off a pink pillbug to get a coin. I could NOT get this down and had to constantly restart the stage.

In fact, getting through Treetop Trouble with all five coins proved to be such a hassle that I burned over half my Day 1 hour on it. I just couldn’t make progress. I was sloppy and reckless. It’s made me rethink whether or not an hour each day is going to be enough to make enough progress to not have Vice Versus go into 2020. Or, if I’m going to try to score the pacifist achievement during this project. The run & gun stages are just pure annoyance. I actually enjoyed them more than most of the bosses before, as I noted in my reviews. But with the clock ticking and me feeling no closer to getting the parry timing down, I really started to question whether I chose the correct stage first. It took me over thirty minutes just to get to the end for the first time, only to get killed by the Dragonfly. But, I deserved to lose, because like a complete moron I forgot to use my special attacks. Bravo, Cathy.

Thankfully I was finally able to have a successful run, grabbing all five coins. I only had one successful parry the entire time, and it was the one I needed to grab the first coin. So my plan to use this stage to get my timing for it down was a complete failure. I’m genuinely worried at this point about my ability to get the timing into muscle memory.

Mausoleum I

You might think a mini-game based around the parry would be the best way to practice it. But the truth is, it feels easier to score a parry in these stages than it does in the boss fights or run & gun stages. I don’t know if there’s a wider collision-box for the ghosts or what. But in my first play-through of Cuphead, I actually cleared both the first two Mausoleums on my first attempt and the third one in just two attempts. I don’t find these helpful at practicing the parry at all, but at least I now have my first super attack. I also followed this up by buying the Seeker gun from the store.

The first time I played Cuphead, this was the first boss I bought. It seems like it should be the first boss, but apparently the Root Pack is meant to be fought first even though its way below everything else on the map. The main thing I struggled with here was his bounce-off-the-walls timing, and also the timing of the Seeker, which I wanted to get a feel for. It does below-average damage, but basically never misses no matter which direction you’re facing. I reset in the middle of the first attempt even though I’m not going for perfect scores. My second attempt saw me take two damage during the first phase of the battle only to run the table on the rest of the bout. I even parried the question marks on my first attempt. The Seeker paid off big time in the second and third stages, where I spent most of the fight running away. Phase three with the gravestone especially worked well. It makes me wonder if a strategy or relying on the Seeker and just focusing on dodging attacks will work later in the game. Probably not.

The timer ran out on day one right as I entered the level, but the rules I made up for myself say that I can finish the current life I’m on or the stage I’m on. So I had one attempt to beat this run & gun stage, and the Seeker allowed me to do just that. I did take a bit of damage and, in fact, was down to my last health. This time, I did remember the super attack and used it to clear myself past the acorn maker. I honestly never expected to beat any aspect of Cuphead in one attempt. I don’t want to say it feels good, because I honestly didn’t really have any fun playing any of it, but I have to admit it was satisfying to have that one moment of glorious victory, even if I was bleeding out and on my last hit point.

I finished the first day of Vice Versus having completed 18% of Cuphead. Of course, all I did was knock out the four easiest parts of Inkwell I, but hey, it’s done, and I did play well. I have to keep practicing the parry. I have a couple bosses coming up that are not so ideal for it. I just bought the Spread gun so I should be able to get more damage on bosses during lulls, but I want to also see if my concept for relying on the Seeker is viable. But I’m happy with the progress of day one. Despite the fact that I don’t really like Cuphead at all, this feels like something worth doing. Maybe I’ll even walk away from it having learned something about myself as a gamer. Or maybe the next few entries in my Cuphead diary will be me typing the word “fuck” over and over again.

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