Developer: Studio MDHR
Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Modes: Single-player, Local Co-Op (2)
Release: September, 2017
Played on: Xbox One
Cuphead is a fantastic run & gun action game with a stellar presentation that was heavily inspired by 1930s cartoons. It consists primarily of challenging, multi-stage boss battles that will often make you want to tear your hair out in frustration – fortunately, Cuphead nails that utterly addicting and (eventually) very rewarding “one more retry” mentality.
The basic premise is that one day protagonists Cuphead and Mugman wander into the Devil’s Casino and foolishly wager their souls while they’re on a winning streak. They lose, but the Devil gives them a way out – if the brothers collect the souls of his other debtors, he’ll let them walk free.
The debtors are the game’s many bosses and they are not going to give up their souls easily. There are 19 bosses in total (and a few mini-bosses) split across three hub worlds and a final section. In addition, each hub world comes with a set of ‘run & gun’ missions where you can collect coins, as well as a Mausoleum where you can practice your parries and unlock super abilities.
Cuphead and Mugman can shoot, jump, dash and parry certain attacks (if it’s pink, you can parry it), and have a variety of different weapon types and abilities (both passive and active) at their disposal. You unlock different weapons and abilities with coins you get either from the ‘run & gun’ sections or by talking to NPCs.
Certain weapons work better against certain bosses. If there’s a tricky platforming section that has you constantly moving, perhaps you should switch to the Chaser shot, which tracks targets and doesn’t require any aiming. If a boss phase is too tough or annoying, consider switching to a weapon that does more damage or maybe equipping a passive Charm that gives you more health.
The combat system is flexible, intuitive and most of all fun – although there are a few hiccups. The default control scheme for the Xbox controller is awkward and I’d recommend binding the fire button to one of the triggers straight away. It’s also annoying that if you want to change your loadout, you need to exit the level you’re currently on and do it while in the hub world.
Mastering the parry system is not only vital if you want to get those top tier ranks, it will make your life a whole easier in general – it means less projectiles to deal with and it gives you an ability charge to use straight away. You also need it to revive your partner in co-op.
Cuphead’s bosses are tough, mean customers, so expect to die a lot. It takes a while to internalize their phases and attack patterns, which means just about every boss (except possibly some of the earliest ones) will take multiple attempts.
If you do get really stuck, there’s a Simple mode which is a lot more manageable, although that won’t allow you to reach the end of the game – think of it as practice or a way for more casual players to progress further than they otherwise would have.
When you beat the game, you can try out the Expert difficulty setting if you’re feeling truly masochistic.
Cuphead’s presentation is simply outstanding. The traditional hand drawn cell animation, watercolor backgrounds and overall design evoke the look and feel of classic 1930s cartoons perfectly. No two characters look exactly alike and every one of them is incredibly memorable. Plus, to top it off, the original jazzy soundtrack is a treasure trove of delightful, catchy tunes.
It’s one of those of those games that looks and sounds so good that even if you never play it, you owe it to yourself to watch someone else go through it just to experience the level of creativity and talent involved.
The only other drawback is a few technical problems. I’ve had the game freeze a couple of times, making me have to restart which can be pretty frustrating. There’s also a hitbox glitch on the final boss fight – if you stand in a certain spot during a particular attack, you will always get hit even though there’s nothing there. I’ve watched other people play the game and encounter different issues as well.
None of this can’t be ironed out with a patch, but it’s definitely worth pointing out.
Cuphead is a brilliant game, easily one of the best this year. Its undeniably difficult, but far from unbeatable and making it to the end is incredibly satisfying. The presentation alone makes it a worthwhile experience.