Dark Aspects of Gaming – Cuphead

Dark Aspects of Gaming – Cuphead


Chad Moldenhauer: “So this sort of represents the time
where my brother nearly murdered child…”
Welcome back everybody, to my second video
covering Cuphead and another new episode of
my Dark Aspects series, where I take a look
at some of the more “mature” content in
kid-friendly games.
It’s clear Cuphead is stylized after the
look of 1930’s cartoons, but the overall
tone is inspired by the creepy, adult atmosphere
of these old animations specifically.
And it shows as early as the opening act-
this game is about losing to the devil and
collecting runaway debtor’s soul contracts
afterall.
So, keep your hands and feet inside this killer
coaster and sit tight, as I talk about all
the creepiest aspects of Cuphead.
To start things off, for a game featuring
“head” in the title, it sure has a decapitation
fascination.
The first instance of a beheading appeared
in 2015 with this E3 trailer, with the devil
threatening the pleading brothers while the
shadows of their heads are sliced off.
As for the main game, the lyric “The Devil
will take their heads” finishes off the
opening song- which isn’t a figure of speech.
If you die on the second phase of his fight,
the game over screen where the bosses taunt
will host a loving picture of the devil holding
their porcelain crowns.
And during that fight, the devil’s own head
will occasionally come off and transform into
a hideous spider creature.
Rumor Honeybottoms and Cala Maria are two
other bosses that’ll detach for transformations,
but Baroness Von Bon Bon seems to be the most
obsessed with the idea.
For her introductory animation she makes a
slitting motion at her throat, while the head
comically flips up and down from her neck.
During her final phase, she’ll literally
attack with it- pulling off multiple heads
on expert difficulty to then grow new ones
in their place.
Moving from one part of the face to the next,
let’s talk about eyes.
The Baroness’s castle (named Whippet Creampup)
rolls its eyes dementedly when releasing a
new minion, I love how unsettling this looks-
poor thing’s jacked up on sugar.
Blind Specter is a ghost that shoots out a
barrage of eyeballs from his hands, while
Cagey Carnation may be the most nightmare-inducing
of all with a sudden lack of them in his death
animation.
He’s shown to be wilting, head tilted up
in agony with hollowed out sockets.
Cala Maria’s fight is a mix of skull and
spectral shock, as her head separates from
the body when it turns to stone and crumbles
away, while snakes come out of her eye holes
during her petrifying attack.
Even Cuphead and Mugman’s invincibility
conveys this visually, with either brother’s
head enlarging with blacked out eyes and a
menacing laugh.
The most signature glean though comes from
Mister King Dice himself, revealing a slasher
smile inspired by the Coachman from Disney’s
Pinocchio- when he attacks immediately and
without much warning.
Before that, he’ll maliciously loom over
the boys during his match, lunging forward
in transitioning to each miniboss by swallowing
the screen whole.
If you land on the “start over square”
he’ll let out a cackle unheard anywhere
else, and his overall presence throughout
the game makes for arguably more intimidation
than even his master.
Though that’s not to say this demon doesn’t
have leverage- the devil’s fight is quite
the trip too.
For attacks he’ll briefly become other creatures
commonly associated with Satan, like the goat
and serpent.
His eyes will also turn white in chanting
unholy spells- all until he’s beaten enough
to jump out of his own skin, escaping through
the floor while the flames of hell close in.
And since you are in hell, we get a glimpse
of what else lurks in its depths with peering
eyes falling through to the final stage- which,
gets even crazier.
Right before being defeated he starts sobbing
uncontrollably, which is pathetic of course
but works to be pretty disturbing.
He’s the sole boss where Cuphead and Mugman
will start the battle in terror too- probably
because he’s one of two (the other being
Djimmi the Great) to actually threaten murder.
Besides blowing smoke in the shape of an X-eyed
Cuphead, he’ll shoot his own skull at you,
which looks gross in slow motion.
That’s probably the most visually disturbing
thing on here, but others worth mentioning
are Beppi the Clown and his horse’s defeated
pose where their bodies become limp, and the
demonic Domino duo Pip and Dot- with gnarled
teeth opening up between their body.
Now, if that wasn’t enough to keep you awake
at night, let’s get morbid and talk death.
The game is filled with the undead- there’s
Mausoleums, ghastly bosses and deceased NPC’s,
like the passengers of the Phantom Express.
The topic is foreboded from the get-go with
the craps table that Cuphead and Mugman bet
on in the intro being shaped like a coffin!
The (Tit choo ler) titular characters both
become spirits when defeated too, with a beating,
pink heart able to be parried for revival
in multiplayer.
But it’s right before becoming apparitions
I want to point out (since It’s easy to
miss).
For a death animation their body withers away,
as seen in the frame-by-frame here with a
headless skeleton turning to dust.
If you manage to uh… die in the die house
(which is impossible in-game without hacking,
because there’s nothing to kill you here)-
the background music becomes slower in pitch
like it normally would in any other level.
But unlike those tracks King Dice’s theme
has lyrics- so an already menacing song becomes
demonic, with a much slower, sinister sounding
voice.
On the topic of haunting music, there’s
that of the bad ending (achieved by willingly
handing over all your collected soul contracts)
which sees the brothers as eternal pawns to
the devil.
An alternate, sad track now plays during the
credits, in addition to the main theme being
played in reverse when opening the game back
up.
How evil.
But the cherry on top is another way the theme
song is used- to scare off anyone pirating
the game.
An illegal copy of Cuphead will play an even
more twisted variant on startup with a lower
pitch (mixed with King Dice’s laugh) hosting
a hidden image of the devil contained within
the song file when viewed as a spectrograph,
appropriately numbered “666”.
The developers then, have a somewhat warped
sense of humor- and that’s not the only
example.
As of the 1.2 update, or “cupdate” 3 existing
bosses have new routes after performing secret
actions- for example, refusing to attack Ollie
Bulb when he starts to bawl will result in
a ravaging radish taking his place in battle.
Sally Stageplay’s fight can be changed dramatically
in comparison though, so let me explain.
Her battle is all based around her dedication
as an actress, with each phase being a part
of the performance.
Normally, the “story” depicts her getting
married, followed by a home life with children
(with just as much murderous intent as their
mother apparently), and a final act showcasing
Sally in heaven.
It becomes a fight against her goddess form
(a giant cardboard cutout), with her return
in the angel costume to receive a standing
ovation with the rest of the cast.
This story can veer in an opposite direction
if (in the first act) the player stands on
and lowers these chereb props supporting part
of the ceiling.
After becoming lopsided it’ll fall and crush
the husband to death- Sally will mourn at
his loss and the 2nd act will instead take
setting at a nunnery, with ruler-tossing sisters
replacing the children she would’ve had.
The husband joins her side once more in a
God-like form, but upon defeat will not be
present for the role-call- perhaps hinting
that you actually killed not just his character,
but the actor in a stage accident.
The implication is crazy, as they’re shown
to be real lovers outside the play with the
game’s good ending screen.
While on the topic, it’s theorized the bosses
not depicted in this still were also truly
killed following their battle- It makes sense
since the absent bosses include one that perished
and became a gravestone in their fight, another
implied to have been eaten by his comrades,
and a giant robot that seriously fell apart
in battle.
Another example of some more adult humor in
Sally Stageplay’s fight is the theater backdrop
reading “Asbestos Safety Curtain”, which
is an Oxymoron.
It’s now public knowledge that asbestos
is toxic to humans- though it was a common
material in the 20th century, used in manufacturing
these curtains for its extreme fire-resistant
properties.
One last very morbid idea that didn’t make
it into the game is this unused beet boss.
As an attack, she first looks around worriedly,
before crying and throwing her own babies
at you as a last resort.
With one lovely thought to another then, let’s
now ask ourselves a question I’m sure every
fan’s proposed at one point: “what’s
that liquid in the main characters heads supposed
to be anyway?”
Though mugs and cups with handles like this
are typically filled with hot drinks, the
straws kind of contradict that point.
There’s enough evidence, in my opinion to
suggest that it’s milk then- there’s the
obvious color, and the boys even spawn from
it in the Nintendo Switch reveal.
The 2015 E3 trailer I spoke about earlier
does show Cuphead filling up with something
labeled triple XXX, suggesting its moonshine
or something alcoholic, but I think it could’ve
been an early version of the potion granting
them their rapid fingergun ability.
Creators Chad and Jared try and provide an
answer by claiming, “it’s the essence
of their soul”.
Followed by the statement “that doesn’t
necessarily mean their souls are made of milk”,
which is further support for it being the
liquid in question.
I don’t think we’ll ever get an actual
answer, so it’s ultimately left to fan interpretation.
Just keep in mind that whatever it is, Mugman
drinks it…
Anyway, the Murine Corps level is a reference
to propaganda cartoons- Werner Werman himself
is based on a German or Prussian soldier,
so (while speaking of theories) as this is
the 1930’s he could be a veteran of World
War I.
The british flag hanging in the background
could either be a trophy of war or suggest
he’s a traitor, and these ghost rat prisoners
(if not projections from the cat, since it’s
mechanical) might be the spirits of Wermen’s
captured enemies.
Which leads in to my last point today- Inkwell
Hell’s casino and the foes bound within
its walls.
It’s a place of death, sin, and home to
plenty of unnerving scenery.
The Tipsy Troop’s level features tables
in back occupied with all sorts of demons.
Chips Bettigan’s brawl is played on a poker
table used by larger-than-life skeletons,
while Pirouletta’s stage shows hovering,
disembodied hands overhead.
Hopus Pocus grimly attacks with skulls of
his own species, but worst (or best of all)
there’s Mangosteen- a billiards boss that
melts and vomits himself upon death.
And please look at this horrifying concept
art.
If you’re to remember one thing from this
video, let this image burn into your brain.
And that just about wraps up everything I
wanted to talk about- was there something
that scared you personally I didn’t get
to, or any aspect of Cuphead you want to bring
to my attention?
Let me know in the comments!
I won’t give any details yet, but the next
episode of Dark Aspects is going to switch
the format up a bit.
I’ll see you for the next one, and remember
you can stay up to date by reading my newly
updated schedule on the channel banner, or
by following me on social media.
Thanks for watching!

8 thoughts on “Dark Aspects of Gaming – Cuphead

  • June 18, 2019 at 11:01 pm
    Permalink

    Hey Thane.

    Reply
  • June 18, 2019 at 11:04 pm
    Permalink

    There’s a few “adult” jokes from Cuphead that didn’t fit the tone of this video, so here they are:

    1. Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy – the psychedelic Yoshi’s Island level is referenced in Cuphead’s patch notes: “Touch fuzzy, get a little dizzy”.

    2. Cala Maria spits out ghostly… sea men for an attack.

    3. The Tipsy Troop is a drunken Martini glass, a rum shot, and a whisky bottle referencing hiccuping alcoholics in cartoons “Go sleep hic it off… you look a little hic rough!”

    4. “Ryan’s Kester” is a charm found in the game’s code, said to “block any attacks from any boss. It’s also been around”. Ryan Moldenhauer is a Studio MDHR staff member related to creators Chad and Jared, so it was definitely an in-house joke!

    Reply
  • June 18, 2019 at 11:05 pm
    Permalink

    I also wanted to talk about the bosses theorized to have actually been killed after their battles (mentioned at 8:45 ). According to the Cuphead wiki this was disproved by animator Jake Clark, saying they’re still alive somehow- but I tried looking and couldn’t verify the claim. If you happen to know where he said it, link it to me below!

    Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 1:21 am
    Permalink

    Oooh, good video <3 and as a deaf person, thanks so much for captioning! Another idea you can consider for Cuphead is, perhaps you can find dark parallels in old timey cartoons (which there’s a lot of)? Good amount of them are pretty morbid (think there’s a lot of actual murders too??) and riddled with adult ‘jokes’ too. Probably a bit pointless to do now, but would be an interesting analysis just the same 🙂

    Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 6:30 am
    Permalink

    Thane, quick question, but what is your favorite Cuphead boss? (unused ones count)

    Reply
  • June 19, 2019 at 8:56 am
    Permalink

    You know wich franchise has an eye obsession?
    Kirby

    Reply
  • June 20, 2019 at 3:36 pm
    Permalink

    This was the most frustrating game, really enjoying playing it.

    Reply
  • October 7, 2019 at 7:18 am
    Permalink

    This doesn't actually scare me but when Cuphead/Mugman die you hear a familiar sound but I never really got what that sound/instrument is supposed to be, care to explain?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *