This article contains spoilers for the secret puzzle in Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course.
Guide writing is an odd profession in my industry.
While other writers may present thoughtful critiques, entertaining content, or insightful reporting, my job is to essentially teach people how to play a specific video game. I am tasked with breaking down mechanics, locating hidden collectibles, defeating the game’s toughest challenges, and explaining it all to players in an easily digestible article. Normally, this isn’t an issue as most of the titles I cover aren’t terribly difficult due to the conveniences of modern game design.
But Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course doesn’t give a damn about any of that. It’s a tough expansion to an already difficult experience, and it was my job to master it. So instead of a traditional review, I thought I would give you a peek behind the curtain as to what really goes on when you’re guiding a challenging video game.
For the unfamiliar, The Delicious Last Course sees Cuphead and Mugman journey to a new island in hopes of rescuing Ms. Chalice from the astral plane. They beat the hell out of the locals until they attain the magical ingredients necessary for the cheerful Chef Saltbaker to make a dish so good that it brings her back. Essentially, this means there are several new bosses for you to wallop — each of which has its own unique mechanics, phases, and stages.
It’s my first challenge as a guides writer, as I cannot just beat these foes once and call it a day. I am writing individual guides for these bosses, so just scraping by after dozens of attempts won’t cut it. After beating each of these foes once, I dive back in to study their attack patterns, how they move around the stage, and what is the best method to avoid being hit. The Delicious Last Course also introduces Ms. Chalice as a playable character, and she comes with her own unique abilities such as an invincible dodge roll. This means I need to test beating these bosses on both Cuphead and Ms. Chalice, as both characters have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Did I mention there are also new attacks and charms, all of which need to be used to see what provides optimal damage to any specific boss? Enter Crackshot, a new attack that fires a moderately-damaging projectile that splits and ricochets to other targets. It’s the one thing that eased the monumental task of guiding The Delicious Last Course. See, Crackshot tracks targets when it ricochets, meaning you don’t need to always aim at the enemy for it to hit. This allows me to focus on dodging all the ludicrous attacks each boss has without needing to always position myself right in front of the big bad.
Crackshot isn’t the most damaging move available, but my job is to find the simplest and easiest solution for players. When fighting a giant gangster spider who constantly calls for backup, players aren’t worried about whether they are doing the most damage possible; they just want to survive to see the next phase.
As a guides writer, I have to identify the best way for a player to beat a boss while under the assumption that their skill level is average. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but most people don’t have hours upon hours to get slapped around by a flying wizard with a big fish just to get good. A lot of players simply want to beat the game and move on to whatever’s next.
This is why exploiting a difficult section in a game is always so popular. Over my years of experience, I’ve learned people ultimately don’t give a damn about making a fight fair or playing it as intended. When guiding this DLC, I have to account for this. While you cannot outright glitch any bosses, the combination of Ms. Chalice’s invincibility roll and Crackshot makes The Delicious Last Course surprisingly user-friendly.
A Grave Problem
A non-puzzle-focused game rarely gives me so much trouble. While many developers include puzzles in their titles, they are rarely that difficult and I can usually unravel them after a few minutes. But The Delicious Last Course’s graveyard puzzle? It took me longer to solve than I’d care to admit. It’s tied to a charm called the Broken Relic, but this item doesn’t do a damn thing when you equip it — at least, that’s what you are led to believe when you purchase it from shopkeeper Porkrind. Unsurprisingly, the Broken Relic is actually the first step in a larger sidequest tied to The Delicious Last Course‘s new island.
Upon speaking with a local ghost, you’ll learn that the relic, a nearby graveyard, and a contest of skill are all connected. You can also interact with the nine tombstones to summon a ghost, but after the third, they will disappear. “Oh, you have to interact with the correct tombstones in a specific order,” you smugly declare. The problem is there are quite literally hundreds of combinations available, and I am not about to brute force the solution. I go back to what the ghost said about a contest of skill and begin examining the area around me.
There’s a new activity called King’s Leap, which has parry-focused challenges. Maybe I have to wear the relic while beating these challenges! After all, this is knight-themed and contains a series of increasingly difficult encounters. There is an easy argument to make that this is the “Contest of Skill” the ghost was referring to. I test this theory, and when my test yields no results, I begin examining the unique area you travel to for these challenges. I look for clues, but ultimately my search bears no fruit. Back to square one.
I wonder if something will happen if I defeat one of the new bosses with the relic equipped. Nope! I move on to my next best guess: maybe this is actually tied to the main game or an NPC hanging around here. I spend the next hour wandering across the three main isles, talking to every local with the relic equipped, and still get nothing.
It’s not like I can look up the answer online because no one has the game yet. So, as I am about to call it quits for the night, I return to The Delicious Last Course‘s island and talk to these weirdos.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Did I overthink the entire puzzle?! There’s no way that these three just gave me the answer in their dialogue boxes. Yep. It turns out that the solution is tied to the directions they give in their dialogue, and the order is determined by which one came in first, second, and third place. Well, that was simple enough. I guess that’s what happens when you assume the answer will be a lot more cryptic and involved than it is.
Now to claim my prize from this glowing tombstone and…
Oh, come on! At this point, haven’t I suffered enough? Why does there have to be a secret boss waiting for me?
After an hour of bashing my head against a wall fighting this boss, I finally emerge victorious. The side quest is complete. My Broken Relic has transformed into the mighty Cursed Relic, which starts me off at 1 HP and randomly cycles my weapons regardless of what I’m doing. There were a lot of things I hoped this reward would be, but giving me a way to make the game even crueler was not one of them. But that’s Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course in a nutshell: a short but ultimately difficult journey in which the main reward is the feeling of overcoming its many challenges.
Now, that doesn’t make guiding this type of game any easier. It’s still overwhelmingly difficult at times — especially since I haven’t touched the main title since it was released in 2017. But that also means I won’t be the only person struggling with the menagerie of colorful, cartoonish bosses. Everyone needs help with a game, even if they don’t want to admit it. I’m not here to judge you because even after doing this process for myriad games, I can find myself stumped at times — covering a game like Cuphead reminds me of that. My job is to lend a hand to players, and knowing readers trust me enough to do so makes getting killed by a boss dozens of times absolutely worth it.