If you're looking at Cuphead on the Switch with a mix of excitement and terror — its difficult reputation precedes it — don't worry too much. Hours and hours spent playing this cult classic on the PC have given me the wisdom I need to guide you from repeated deaths to a few wins, and possibly even a win to get Cuphead's soul back.
On your way, though, you need to learn some things. Below, I've got tips on how to maximize the controller layout, when to run and when to fight, and even the one-button combo that made bosses a bit easier to beat.
Pink means parry
If you run right past the the record player at the start of the game — or even if you hit A in front of it — you might not realize that any item that's glowing pink is meant to be parried. For those wondering what "parrying" is — it's when you jump into an item and hit jump again as you make contact, which will make you bounce into the air.
Why would you do this? Well, it fills your Super bar — the row of up to five playing cards — by a whole card. And once you get a full bar, you get a full Super move (which you collect in the mausoleum challenges); this does more damage than the EX moves you can perform with a single face-up card in the Super menu.
Sometimes, it's better to run than to fight
I've been a completist in video games, needing to wipe out every baddie and collect every coin, and that habit seriously hurt me in my early days with Cuphead. For the side-scrolling levels, there's so much going on that it can often be better to clear a path and advance than to blast everything in sight.
That might sound like traditional gaming advice, but in Cuphead, you've got much less room for error. By default, you get only 3 HP points per run, so if you spend time trying to collect hard-to-reach coins, you might get knocked down to 2 points or 1 point. And you really want to have at least 2 HP left before going into the final part of a level, where the boss or baddies get even harder to beat.
Dash, dash, my darling
When swarms of beautifully drawn baddies are in your way, it's easy to get lost in patterns of shooting and jumping, which may not be enough on their own. When dealing with big, bad bosses, I've found Dash (press X) to be an incredibly valuable move, as the bosses can be too fast to deal with merely by running.
The best evasion trick I've found in Cuphead is a jumping dash, performed by hitting B and then X, which boosts the momentum and gets you even farther, faster.
Go Pro: Joy-Cons may not be your best option
Cuphead's maddening difficulty — at least in my experience — pushed me away from Nintendo's small Joy-Con controllers and toward the Switch Pro Controller. Specifically, I found that I needed bigger buttons that were easier to spam and hold, so I could keep shooting all of the laser blasts. Your use may vary, but definitely try this game with more than just Nintendo's pack-in controllers.
Don't be afraid to remap your buttons
But if you're stuck with the Switch's standard-issue Joy-Cons, Tom's Guide Managing Editor Mike Andronico gave me a tip that's crucial for you. The default controls got in his way, and he had to switch the buttons up for maximum efficiency.
Specifically, Mike mapped the Shoot button to ZR and the aim-while-standing-still button to ZL so that those moves become easier to perform in tandem with the jump button. This is important for the Joy-Cons because those small X, Y, B and A buttons are so close to one another.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.