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Cuphead is a brutal game. Even those who have conquered Doom Eternal on Nightmare difficulty or platinumed Bloodborne will find their test in Studio MDHR’s platforming boss rush classic. But that sadism is not for everyone, especially for those that want to see the lovely Fleischer-like art and animation but can’t stay alive long enough to absorb it. That’s where n00b.platformer’s Cuphead Assist Mode mod comes in.
This mod appeared back in February and seemed simple enough. It let players take six hits instead of three, raised their damage by 50%, and gave them 40 coins to unlock more perks right from the get-go. Bosses still might kill you a few times, but they won’t cause you to quit the game in a fit of rage. That’s more or less what happened to n00b himself and was one of the factors that inspired his decision to dive into the game’s code.
Inkwell Isle Two’s crushing difficulty almost made him walk away from the experience and coincidentally, he had just started playing Celeste at around the same time. The indie darling platformer is tough as nails as well, but also comes with a multifaceted Assist Mode that lets the player tweak the game’s speed, increase the stamina or number of air dashes, and activate invulnerability; the ultimate option. Turning on that most extreme modifier began to open up n00b.platformer’s eyes to the possibilities with Cuphead.
“While I was playing the game with ‘Invincibility’ turned on, something clicked in my head,” he admitted. “I could totally see what I was doing wrong as there was no fear of failure and I immediately went back and replayed the Chapter and finished the level without any assists. The ‘God mode’ like feature made me look at the game in a totally new perspective and indirectly taught me game mechanics better compared to repeated failures.”
A matter of perspective
The new view on Celeste brought him back to the glory days of infinite money or God Mode cheat codes would truly open up a title and let players play the game on their terms. Anyone who played the PS2-era Grand Theft Auto games is well aware of this unrestrained power fantasy. This in conjunction with watching the Game Maker’s Toolkit video on Celeste’s accessibility and reading the game accessibility guidelines meant that Cuphead surely needed an easier mode.
He had been activating CheatEngine Table to give himself more health yet he yearned for a more permanent answer to this temporary pain-in-the-ass solution. In order to ease the tedium, he began looking for Cuphead mods to address the difficulty, but he found nothing. Instead, he discovered a Reddit thread laying out the possibility of an online mode mod. While unrelated, those tools mentioned in the post showed him that he could take the game apart and probably add some guardrails without causing too much of a ruckus.
This opening let him implement the aforementioned assists. Anything more ambitious, while definitely possible in his eyes, would risk breaking the game if a new patch comes out. And that might be the case whenever Studio MDHR releases the Delicious Last Course DLC it announced way back in June 2018. Boosting player and damage was just something he could do that would make a legitimate impact.
Of course, people are going to hate no matter what. Rummaging up the whole “Should Dark Souls have an easy mode?” debate displayed how many Gamers™ sure don’t want hard games to have optional assists and that has also bubbled up a bit with this mod (as shown in its announcement threads). N00b.platformer even said that he might have been in that camp only a decade ago, but he’s learned that games are more about having a great experience than looking down on others.
Hearing from its users
There are going to be people — like Jacket93 on the Nexus Mods forums — who do want this kind of more guided experience. Jacket93 found the game unforgiving in a way that made it unbearable. The Grim Matchstick boss fight epitomized this, as that cursed three-headed dragon that pushed him past his breaking point and encouraged him to put the game down. He even called it the “one of the most unfair bosses in the game.”
The mod allowed him to not only enjoy Cuphead, but also to enjoy it with his brother. By not having to worry so much about staying alive, they were able to focus on other aspects of the title that can go underappreciated when running on the knife’s edge.
“I didn’t want to put the game down because I could tell how much work and love Cuphead‘s developers put into their game,” he said. “The art and music are fantastic, the overall look of the game is gorgeous. I’m glad I found this mod because I can enjoy the game now.”
Patience can keep some people from playing games while disabilities can hold back others. Nexus Mods user tankexmortis is one of those people. They thanked n00b.platformer for his work in the comments on the mod’s page, citing their illness as a block keeping them from the game.
“Thank you so much!” read the comment. “I’m disabled and my illness makes any genuinely difficult game pretty risky to try to play so even though I followed the development of this game and am a huge fan of vintage animation and the whole aesthetic, I’ve never been able to actually play the damn thing. Now I might be able to get through it without literally making myself sick.”
Alternative approaches and the future of difficulty
These kinds of responses give credence to the notion that most games should have some sort of settings designed to help people get through tougher games. N00b.platformer is no stranger to difficult games — he claimed to have earned Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’s platinum trophy — but, while he’s fine with developers imposing a singular difficulty, he’s hoping that they are also more creative in letting players overcome hardship.
“Soulsborne games offers co-op where other players can offer help to defeat a troublesome boss unblocking the player’s progress,” he said, “I definitely took co-op help to beat Loran Darkbeast in Bloodborne and returned the favor to other players when I replayed the game with 99 Arcane build. Instead of easy mode. The game can grant you additional ways of dealing with a particular roadblock that I appreciate a lot.”
N00b mentioned that he’d possibly add an invulnerability option, but that freedom is only given to him because Cuphead is a single-player experience. While multiplayer games are a different beast, he said it was a “no-brainer” to add to single-player experiences, given proper communication, and dreamed of it being a common practice in the next few years.
Studio MDHR did not respond to multiple requests for comment or an interview so it’s unclear how the team members feel about the mod’s reception and if the developer will consider that going forward. It’s possible that they might think that difficulty is essential to the experience and abstain from an official Assist Mode. After all, Lead Game Designer Jared Moldenhauer said they wanted an intense game and the difficulty was just a byproduct of that desired intensity.
Such intensity does make the game satisfying to complete, but not everyone has the capacity or ability to persist and reach that mountaintop. It’s something Celeste’s developers weighed before prioritizing supporting players and implementing the game’s Assist Mode, which was actually inspired by the discussion surrounding Cuphead in 2017. This back-and-forth inspiration hasn’t resulted in Studio MDHR patching in an official Assist Mode, but, thankfully, someone out there is willing to assist them in doing just that.