Mega Man X
Cuphead is one in a long line of 2D platformers/shooters, and it draws a lot of inspiration from games of the past. You can’t get much more influential than Mega Man and Mega Man X, the legendary series that pretty much helped define the 2D shooter genre. Unlike the previous Mega Man games, X took on a more serious grown up approach to its story and world. That doesn’t mean that it’s dark and gritty now, but the storytelling is more involved.
Cuphead fans should feel right at home playing Mega Man X, as its run-and-gun gameplay runs silky smooth. As Mega Man you’ll run, jump, shoot, and dash your way through levels. Mega Man X likes to throw a ton of enemies at you, and of course you can approach the game’s levels, and bosses, in any order you choose. Cuphead may not use the exact same formula as in terms of its setup, but the classic run-and-gun gameplay wouldn’t exist without Mega Man, and Mega Man X is one of the best entries in the entire franchise.
Cave Story +
Cave Story is a 2D adventure game created by the acclaimed indie developers, Nicalis. It also just so happens to be as hard as nails. You take a the role of an amnesiac protagonist who wakes up in a cave, and uncovers a sinister plot by someone known as “The Doctor.”
Cave Story, much like Mega Man and Cuphead, is a run-and-gun adventure that has you navigating through a cave network. The biggest difference here though is that Cave Story features quite a few puzzles, something that Cuphead lacks. Along the way you’ll collect multiple weapons, which can be switched out. Occasionally when you beat enemies you’ll gain experience for your weapons, which can be leveled up to level 3. However, when you take damage you can lose experience and reduce a weapon’s level, which only ups the difficulty of the game even more. Cave Story is definitely more story and exploration oriented than Cuphead, but nevertheless you’re going to find quite a few similarities between the two.
Super Meat Boy
Yes Super Meat Boy isn’t a shooter of any kind, but there’s definitely something similar between it and Cuphead. This comes in part to the ridiculous difficulty attached to each game, as well as the focus on agilely dodging obstacles. Super Meat Boy quickly grew to infamy for its insane difficulty, ramping things up slowly as you make your way through the game. You have to control the titular Meat Boy and navigate him around buzz saws, spike traps, and more obstacles.
The controls are incredibly fluid letting you time jumps perfectly, stick yourself to walls, and more. Although there’s no shooting in Super Meat B0y, if you’re looking for an incredibly difficult platformer look no further.
Spelunky is yet another game renowned for its difficulty, this time casting you as a Spelunker exploring a series of caves. The game was an early example of a roguelike-like, borrowing many ideas from the genre and inspiring other roguelikes down the road. Levels of the game are procedurally generated and grouped into four increasingly difficult areas. Along the way you’ll have to take down enemies like snakes, bats, yeti, and man-eating plants, all while solving a myriad of different puzzles to continue on.
An interesting addition puts a few shopkeepers in the caves, and you can buy or steal their items. However, stealing from them will make them more powerful enemies that you encounter later on. While there may not be any shooting in Spelunky, there’s plenty of tough 2D platforming gameplay.
Although it may not be immediately obvious Cuphead shares a lot in common with bullet hell games, especially in its flying boss battles. The flying battles of Cuphead area all about dodging a wealth of projectiles and enemies that get thrown at you, while trying to slip in your own shots where you can. That’s exactly what bullet hell games like Ikaruga are about, and they just so happen to be incredibly hard too. You play as a pilot named Shinra, who battles an enemy nation with a fighter named Ikaruga that can switch between two polarities, black and white.
This mechanic is what the game revolves around, and enemies are marked with either a black or a white color. During each stage you’ll need to constantly be switching between the two polarities in order to take enemies out, and keep yourself alive. Ikarugao is played from a top down perspective, instead of a side view like Cuphead, but the same idea applies in dodging projectiles and taking down enemies as quickly as possible.
Contra III: The Alien Wars
Just like Mega Man, Contra has been a hugely defining series for the 2D run-and-gun games. You can’t go wrong with most games in the series, but Contra III: The Alien Wars is easily one of the best. This is also the Contra that was recently featured in the SNES Classic, but can also be found on Nintendo’s Virtual Console for Wii, Wii U, and New 3DS. Contra III pits you against an all-out alien invasion, by the same alien race that was defeated in the first two games. The similarities with Cuphead are fairly obvious, as the game is entirely based in run-and-gun action, and there’s three difficulties of Easy, Normal, and Hard.
Instead of just upping the challenge though, upping the difficulty can actual change aspects of the game. For example playing on Hard can give bosses brand new attacks they might use against you. While there’s plenty of shooting, Contra III also introduced some variation, giving you more varied level design that allowed you to grab onto poles or ceiling, and climb on them like monkey bars. There’s also some variation in gameplay with motorcycle chases, riding on missile, and a few others. Contra is another series that contributes to the roots that Cuphead comes from.
The last two here aren’t like Cuphead in that they’re 2D run-and-gun games, but they do hold a lot of similarities in game design. Furi is a hack-and-slash, twin stick shooter game, entirely focused on boss fights. That’s right, just like Cuphead the game is based entirely around boss fights, which ramp up the difficulty along the way. Each fight is a hectic affair requiring you to dodge projectiles in bullet hell like fashion, find opening to attack the boss, and combine melee strikes with shooting to win, with a few quick time events added in too. Also, just like Cuphead, Furi has an absolutely unforgiving difficulty, immediately making things tough for the player and only getting harder from there. You’ll truly need to master the game’s combat and system in order to prevail.
There is a story present in Furi, of course. You play as the Stranger, a mysterious man who’s spent his existence being tortured within a highly advanced prison. At the start of the game the Stranger is released by a strange man with a rabbit mask, given a sword and gun, and told to fight for his freedom. Although Furi is entirely made up of boss battles, you can explore the game’s closed environments to reveal bits of dialogue and story.
Titan Souls, like Furi, isn’t played from the same perspective as Cuphead, instead from a top-down one. Like both games though, Titan Souls is entirely filled with boss battles, although it has a bit of a twist. Sporting a Shadow of the Colossus like aesthetic, you’ll need to explore ancient ruins and bring down giant mysterious beasts. The catch is that you only have one arrow to fire, in total. At the same time each and every boss is killed in one hit, but it’s a matter of avoiding their attacks and finding the opening, or the trick required to take each one down.
Now, the good news is that after you fire your arrow you can run to retrieve it, although you’ll need to dodge attacks while you do so. As you can imagine this significantly ups the difficulty of the game, as each boss almost becomes a puzzle within itself. You’re definitely going to die quite a few times before you can take down each boss. The difficulty and the boss rush structure should appeal to any fan of Cuphead.