Vice Versus: Cuphead Diary (Day 2)

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.

My Cuphead journey got off to a pretty decent start. I made a lot more progress on day one than I figured I would. Of course, I pretty much only cleared out the two easiest bosses. The ones that I never struggled all that much with the first time around. Now, all that was left for Inkwell Isle I were bosses that I needed dozens of attempts to get the contracts for during my original Cuphead session. And once I get past these, I move on to Inkwell II, where I’ve not gotten any of the contracts. Ever. Today felt like my last attempt to get “study” in before the test begins. And it didn’t start so good.

I decided to start against Ribby and Croaks because I’d struggled the most with them during my first play-session with Cuphead back in 2017. And last year, while working on my Cuphead re-review, I publicly failed to put them away while streaming my playtime. It seemed like these guys would be ideal to get in practice time. And then I actually started playing, and it was like a splash of ice water to the face. My struggles to get the timing of the parry down are still apparent. Actually, for the first ten minutes my timing wasn’t there at all. I also somehow, in my research, didn’t realize that the fireballs Ribby shoots during phase 1 change the order of which one you can parry on. A complete failure to prepare on my part.

Regardless, clearing the first two phases was no issue for me. The final phase, however, I failed, failed, failed. The frogs merge to form a giant slot machine that has three primary attack patterns. The one that specifically screwed me was the Bison pattern, which features spiked platforms that have fire shooting either above or below it. I could (mostly) get the timing for the Tiger and Snake patterns. For the Bison, I took more damage hitting the sides of the platforms than I did from the fire. This is a world-one boss, and if this is a harbinger for things to come, I’m screwed. Several times in a row I got just seconds away from victory, more than once with more than a single hit-point left, only to squander it. It was genuinely heart-wrenching to see how bad I was croaking.. I mean choking.

And then, something that didn’t affect me at all during my first day started to mess with my game: nerves. Even if I could keep myself calm during the first two phases, inevitably that hot-cold nerve moment hit as soon as the animation of the frogs merging to form the slot machine began. My hands started sweating, which really didn’t help considering that they were already starting to cramp up as well. Mistakes started to pile up over and over. Soon, I was taking damage even during the Snake pattern, which I had previously found to be the most tolerable. Hell, I even took damage from one of the coins being launched at me, which is probably the easiest projectile to dodge in the entire fight.

I was coming so close to winning and coming up short, replay after replay. There was one run specifically that I was so disgusted with myself after dying that I forgot to save the replay. I had made it through phase one in what had to have been close to a world record time, hitting all the parries along the way. Then, during the second phase, I’d somehow timed the damage in such a way where Croaks (the one that becomes a giant fan) was stun-locked while Ribby went into his attack animation. This meant I’d caused enough damage to end phase 2 just a split second after Ribby began his attack. All the damage from here would carry over to the third and final phase: the slot machine. And I had all three hit points. Not only would I be on track to have less attack waves for the final phase but I might set a time actual Cuphead experts would find impressive. I was actually calm too. That was the weird part. Maybe I would have played better if the nerves were flowing, because during the very first attack pattern, which was Snake, my BEST ONE, I got three-quarters of the way through the attack before mistiming a jump and taking damage, then immediately took another hit on the very last platform of the attack. I was so stunned and knocked out of my senses by this that I ended up jumping right into one of the easy to dodge coins the slot machine spits out before you can open it up for attack. Dead again, with a meter showing me that I was probably less than one second work of bullets away from winning. I felt like I was going to throw-up.

What an absolute disaster. I probably should have taken a break, because following that, the next few runs had me making mistakes in phases 1 and 2 far worse than I had been making earlier. Before I knew it, over half the time I allotted for myself for this project (one hour of actual playtime at most per day) was gone. The clock element that I added myself just made things worse. I realized that there’s probably going to be days where I won’t make any progress at all. That’s a thought so sickening that I might change the rules so that I can keep playing after an hour if I haven’t beaten the boss I started on for the day. This was a world one boss and I couldn’t get past it.

OVER FORTY MINUTES LATER I finally made a breakthrough. My nerves were pretty much shot and my hands were now actively starting to hurt. But, on my nineteenth attempt, I beat Clip Joint Calamity, and had a perfect score too.

This whole battle really reinforced to me the problem with Cuphead. The time investment I had to make to get this contract and the anguish I felt playing it wasn’t worth the end result. I kept playing it because I simply HAD to beat this boss in order to get its contract so I can eventually be given access to the final level of the game. If I had switched to “simple mode” I’d won on my first attempt. Yes, I got a sense of relief, but gaming should be more than a sense of relief I think. I do admit, I was a little proud that the round that I finally won on ended with two straight waves of the toughest attack pattern for me and I still finished with a perfect score. But no, I don’t feel better for having beaten it. I feel stupid for having taken so long to do so.

And then this happened. On my very first attempt, I took down Cagney Carnation. Going into Vice Versus, I figured there was a chance I might have one or two “eye of the tiger” moments and get a perfect score on bosses, at least early in the game. I also had planned to beat the Forest Follies stage on my first attempt and knew with the Seeker gun I could do it. But this? It was so unexpected that I literally started screaming in elation. It was 3AM. I woke up the entire house. Fireball and Laika, my dogs, hid under the bed while I jumped around the room. This is not a joke. I was so happy.

Let me make something clear: the joy I felt in taking down Floral Fury without losing a life in no way negates all the suffering I had just been through with Clip Joint Calamity, or all the misery yet to come. But for one shining moment, Cuphead made me feel like a superhero. Even if, according to a couple of Cuphead experts, I can partially thank incredibly lucky RNG from the attack patterns Cagney used. I’m NEVER lucky with RNG, so if that’s the case, I’ll take it. Also, this was hardly a perfect boss fight. I forgot to switch guns more than once, and as a result I wasn’t doing damage when I should have been. I still won the fight, but I should have won it sooner than I did. I need to work on that.

I’m not a shmup person. The only one I’ve ever put significant time into was Ikaruga on the GameCube when I was 13 (surprise, I did beat it). In my post-epilepsy life, it’s the genre that poses the most risk to me. Consequently, it was these stages I struggled the most on, even in simple mode, during my first few Cuphead play-sessions. Even Hilda here took me over an hour to get the contract for the first time. The infamous dragon boss put up less of a fight than these stages did. I had about 15 minutes of playtime left and didn’t expect a victory before time was up. Then, on my first run, I got to phase three. I didn’t expect that.

In both of my first two attempts, I got to phase three only to die due to the UFOs. In my third run, I took damage against a tornado I should have been able to avoid, then botched the timing of using the super bomb while Hilda was in the animation to change into the moon, taking me down to my last health. I figured I was toast and decided I’d use the life to try and get the timing of the UFOs down. It didn’t work out that way, because I ended up getting it right and scoring a knockout using a missile. It took me over an hour to get the contract the first time around. On this day, it took me three attempts. Not bad.

I still had a couple of minutes left but decided to call it quits. I had planned to need three to four days for Inkwell Isle I. Instead, I got all five contracts and all the coins in the run & guns in just two days. Of course, I’d already accomplished everything up to this point before. The real challenge begins now. I’ve not gotten a single contract from any boss in Inkwell II or III. I don’t think I got the practice I needed in, but there’s no turning back now.

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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