Written By: Russell Collom
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC and Xbox One
Ever since its initial reveal back in 2014, Cuphead has constantly been an eye-catching game due to its truly unique art-style and presentation. Due to this attention the original vision was altered from simply being boss battles to also include additional content such as platforming levels to make it more expansive. Thankfully with extremely challenging and precise game-play to boot I’m pleased to say this is a game compelling as it is stylish.
Right away this game sets itself apart due to the stunning visuals on display. Inspired by classic 1930’s American cartoons from the likes of Disney or Warner Bros Merrie Melodies, every animation is free flowing and without a focus on realistic movement. Each drawing of a character and background is a joy to behold and developer StudioMDHR Entertainment should be applauded for perfectly recreating this vision.
The story to compliment these visuals is equally unique as it isn’t the simple defeat the big bad guy to save the world. Rather Cuphead and his brother Mugman have a bit of a gambling problem and end up owing their souls to the Devil which forces them to act as debt collectors for other due souls in order to free themselves. Although this is merely an excuse to setup the idea of having to defeat different bosses, the light-hearted appearance of the game combined with the plots sinister overtones help draw you into this universe.
One of the most daunting parts of Cuphead is the gameplay itself, with ultra-precise run-and-gun shooting. The controls are simplistic in their approach with one button for shooting, another to quickly dash through obstacles and of course a button to jump as well as parry off exclusively pink objects or enemies when in the air. Parrying quickly fills a super meter represented by cards which can be used to activated a special attack by sacrificing one of them or all five when full for an extra strong ability.
Thankfully these buttons can be remapped and I found myself changing the defaults to fit a more ideal format. Being comfortable with how Cuphead controls is essential in conquering the challenges that are present in this game. This comes in three main styles, plus the general ability to explore around the map and discover a couple hidden secrets.
The most compelling gameplay style comes in the form of platform bosses in which you must beat several different phases before they admit defeat. This must be done in one run with the provided three unrecoverable lives. All the bosses feature some truly outstanding design and challenges between their phases leading to often very surprising changes in a battle.
Since the bosses are so difficult though you will get to see them multiple times as you learn their move set and the abilities they can perform. For some bosses there is a product of randomness to what attacks will be done adding a sense of individuality to every repeat fight. I found myself enjoying seeing the different attacks bosses had to offer on repeat occurrences but did find that some forms were easier than others, often making the easier victories feel a little less satisfying after accomplishment.
It is possible to defeat the bosses and all other levels in a local co-op mode, in which a friend can play as Cuphead’s brother Mugman. This can feel very chaotic at times and the levels scale up in difficulty, but it gives the ability to parry a fallen comrades rising spirit on death to give a potentially endless amount of life. In general, I would say it is more challenging them simply winning the game as Cuphead but it is still enjoyable and offers a different experience overall.
Other than the platforming bosses there is the side-scrolling shoot’em up fights. These encounters add the ability to shrink to a smaller size so often these levels feature a lot more obstacles to dodge requiring more agility from the player. They don’t occur too often but add a nice change of pace from the regular platform bosses.
Finally, there is the run’n’gun levels which borrow different mechanics from old platforming games and applies Cuphead’s excellent visuals over the top. They are the weakest element of the game overall, but I did find them mostly enjoyable if not quite as polished as the rest of the game. Sometimes enemies seem to just relentless appear for no logical reason, but the visuals and often surprising end points made them worthwhile.
The platforming levels also feature coins which other than the occasion one hanging around the world map is the only way to get this limited commodity. These coins can be used to purchase a variety of useful upgrades at Porkrind’s shop. Different weapons can be purchased and equipped that offer new functionality as well as some upgrades that grant Cuphead certain abilities such as extra hearts at the cost of damage dealt.
There is a fixed number of coins in this game so careful consideration needs to be given to the abilities that are purchased at a given time. Unfortunately, I found that there was no real way of telling how useful a weapon might be due to a lack of tangible details or ability to test it. This was further exasperated by the fact that bosses have no visible health meter and only their phases really give you any idea of the damage you are doing which further hides a weapons usefulness.
Complementing the stressful yet satisfying gameplay is a suite of swing and jazz based music for every single level. This soundtrack blends perfectly with the 1930’s aesthetic and creates some truly stand out tracks to match its stellar visuals. Like the fantastic bosses that I won’t forget, the accompanying music will stay associated to each defeat and eventual victory when looking back on this game.
If bosses are too challenging it is possible to beat them on a simpler difficulty but it prevents you from progressing to future sections so you are better off just beating them on normal. Upon completion of the game an ultra-hard expert difficulty is unlocked for those seeking an extra challenge. With co-op, secret mission ranks and display filters to be unlocked there is plenty of additional content for those seeking it.
With Cuphead, StudioMDHR Entertainment has managed to achieve a triumphant video game bringing to life a classic cartoon art style perfectly that is truly unique to this game. Being accompanied by such an excellent soundtrack and challenging yet gratifying gameplay, Cuphead easily becomes a standout platforming title that won’t easily be forgotten. Although you may need to make a deal with a devil to win it, the surprising bosses and euphoric victories makes it more than worth it.
9 out of 10 “Amazing”