Cuphead Gameplay Basics Guide

Before diving head first into this rather difficult indie game, I thought we could take some time to get to know the basic, core, gameplay mechanics. Cuphead features very few mechanics, but what is in the game is very important to master. Learn the Cuphead gameplay basics and you will have success in facing off against some of the harder bosses in the game.

Cuphead Core Mechanics

Image showing Cuphead and Elder Kettle in Cuphead.
Cuphead and Elder Kettle.

The most important part of Cuphead is the game’s mechanics. When you start your Cuphead adventure, you have the option of running through the tutorial. The tutorial is triggered by interacting with the blank canvas/notepad on Elder Kettle’s table. I highly recommend taking the couple minutes to familiarize yourself with the game’s mechanics as it will help you a ton down the road. I’m gonna drop the various controls below:

CrouchHold ↓.
JumpTap A = Short Jump.
Hold A = High Jump.
ShootX = Shoot.
X+RB = Stationary aiming mode.
Parry SlapDouble jump on Pink projectiles.
EX MoveB when special is built up.


The majority of Cuphead revolves around combat. As Cuphead is side scrolling shooter, you can expect to do a ton of shooting. Combat comes in many shapes and forms, but follows a familiar framework. Shoot enemies before they shoot you and utilize your dodge/defense as much as possible. When you get hit, you lose one point of HP. Losing all HP results in death which starts the level over from the beginning.

Image showing a shop in Cuphead.
A shop in Cuphead.

You start off Cuphead with very limited items and weapons at your disposal. However, once you collect enough coins, you can shop for new items which range from passive abilities to new ‘guns’. These items change how you can approach combat situations.

The Overworld

Cuphead utilizes an overworld system that is reminiscent of games like Super Mario World. In the overworld of Cuphead, you are able to walk around and talk to NPCs; shop, or access the different levels of Cuphead‘s worlds.

Image showing a Run and Gun level in Cuphead.
This is the first Run and Gun level you will come across in Cuphead.

The first type of level is called the ‘Run and Gun‘. In these levels, your goal is to get from point A to point B without dying (if you die you start the level over). Along the way you can collect coins (usually 5 per level), which can be used at the shop. You will know when there is a Run and Gun mission in the world, by the red dot that signifies that type of level.

Image showing a boss level on the overworld in Cuphead.
This tree is not like the others… It also contains a boss level.

The other type of level you will face is the ‘Boss Level‘. These levels have one sole purpose: for you to fight a boss. Boss levels are typically denoted by the various ‘scenery’ you will see throughout the overworld. One way of knowing it is a boss level is that the item (say a tree or an observatory) will shake ever so slightly. Walk up to the item to interact with it to access the boss level.

Beating levels clears new paths in the overworld and allows you to reach places you normally couldn’t. Overall there are 3 Worlds and a Finale for you to explore in the base game.


Image showing one of the Cuphead hidden coins on the overworld.
A hidden coin on the overworld map.

Another aspect of the overworld you should keep your eyes open for is secrets. There are a number of hidden secrets you can find in the overworld that are hidden. A major one is hidden coins you can find scattered across the overworld. Our hidden coin guide shows you where to find them all.

Seeing Pink (ie Parry Ability)

Image showing The Root Pack boss.
Pink = Parry.

A major mechanic in Cuphead is the game’s Parry mechanic. This mechanic can be used on things that are pink like projectiles or things in the environment. As you play more, you will begin to realize that bosses shoot off various types of pink projectiles. These projectiles can be parried. When you parry successfully you avoid damage and you fill up your special meter. This special meter allows you to us EX or special abilities.


Image showing Cuphead shooting his EX ability.
This is an example of a shot’s Ex ability.

When you fill up one card in your special meter either by simply attacking with X or parrying, you will be able to use your shots EX. This is basically a harder hitting variant on the shot type you are using. New shot types are purchased using coins from the shop. Different shots have different EX attacks.


Image showing a Cuphead Super attack.
This is one of 3 Super abilities in Cuphead.

In World 1: Inkwell Isle I, you will complete a stage that is called Mausoleum challenge. This unlocks the Super ability. A Super is a special ability that either does tremendous damage, or helps aid in survivability. To use a Super ability, fill up your special meter (5 cards) and then press B.

This concludes our look at the basics of Cuphead. From here we will head into the actual game itself. Arm yourself with the knowledge on this page and you will find Cuphead is much easier then people are making it out to be. Be sure to check out our full Cuphead guide and walkthrough for more guides, otherwise head onto Inkwell Isle I.

Thoughts on our Cuphead gameplay basics guide? Let us know in The Pit below.


Enricofairme is the pioneering founder and chief author of, a premier platform for discussing and analyzing video games. His illustrious career spans six years, during which he has consistently produced high-quality content in the video gaming niche. To stay updated with his latest works and musings, kindly follow Eli on Twitter via the handle @enricofairme.

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