Cuphead

Release Date: September 29th, 2017

Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Publisher: Studio MDHR

Developers: Studio MDHR

Genre: Action, Run & Gun

ESRB Rating: Everyone

MSRP: $19.99

Cuphead is the largely anticipated run and gun side-scrolling platformer inspired by 1930’s cartoons. Developed by Studio MDHR. The story begins after Cuphead and Mugman lose their souls to the devil. The pair must fight through Inkwell Island’s series of villains in order to retrieve what was taken from them. Prepare for intense battle against sinister flowers, sentient hot dogs, and gangster frogs as you trudge your way through one of the most magical journeys in video game history.

Cuphead’s Gambling Addiction

After a winning streak at the casino, Cuphead and Mugman risk their souls in a bet against The Devil. Unfortunately, they lose. As The Devil takes their souls away, the two beg for a way to get them back. The Devil tells them that if they take the souls of every one of his underlings, he’ll return the two their essence.

Cuphead doesn’t spend much time expanding its story. There’s very little dialogue, and the game says everything it needs to through the visuals and music. Hell, the menu music itself is a synopsis of the story. I adore this design, as our time isn’t wasted on long cutscenes or conversations. Everything you need to know is in the presentation. In relation to this, I can’t help but think that the game begs for its visuals to be properly analyzed.

Satisfying Difficulty

Cuphead has you dodging bullet-hell, constantly swapping abilities, exploring the small overworld, and trying to rush your way to the end of a stage without dying. It’s incredibly tough, but nothing compares to the feeling of finally hearing “KNOCKOUT” after being stuck on a boss for an hour. It’s another one of those brutally hard games, but it’s one that feels fair at all times. Very rarely does the game just screw you over, it’s usually the player that made the mistake.

Additionally, slowly figuring out how a boss functions, and being able to defeat them without getting hit is so satisfying. Especially when you were only able to get 25% through on your previous attempts. This is the main idea of Cuphead. You have to learn everything about who you’re fighting, or it’ll be impossible to proceed.

In general, the game is fluid and easy to pick up. Never have the bindings felt clunky, and never has the game itself felt hard to control. Even if someone doesn’t like the controls, Cuphead allows you to completely remap them, even on the Xbox One.

Porkrind’s Shop

The game has a shop, and each item has helped me in some way. Even though some seem more useful than others, they’re equally practical when it comes to defeating certain bosses. These items can be equipped to your character, and you have four equip slots for the different types. First, there are your two bullets slots, which you can quickly shift between in battle. Then you have your super moves, which can either unleash a devastating beam, summon a powerful minion, or make you invincible for a short time.

You also have charms, which are passive bonuses that can be game changing if used correctly. These go from giving you extra health to being able to dash without taking damage. You have to mix and match a lot of these in order to make your experience less painful. There was a boss which had beaten me countless times and I was on the verge of rage-quitting, but once I changed my charm, I beat him in a few tries.

Astounding Creativity

Cuphead prides itself on creativity, which isn’t only evident in its soundtrack and artwork, but in the game design too. Every enemy looks great, every theme sounds wonderful, and every boss is a mix of threatening and beautifully designed. However, what’s really surprising is how much the game hates repetition. It tries making every encounter as fresh as possible. You have to adapt to each situation, and the game wants you to try and figure out what different abilities work on which areas. Perhaps it’s simply because I am bad, but it typically took me 25 or so tries before I could even start getting used to how a boss works, and that number is a generous underestimate.

If you enter a new stage, you will never see the same assets or enemies that were used in previous stages. This is one of the amazing things about Cuphead, not only does it hate repetition, it despises it. It refuses to recycle what it has already shown to the player, besides from only a couple of things. There are so few, that I can actually name them. There are about three mausoleums throughout the game, and all three of these function in the same way, even if they usually have a new enemy type.

However, as a result of this hatred of repetition, the game length certainly suffers. In terms of content, it’s not a very long game. What makes it so long is how often you’ll get stuck on the bosses, but if you were able to beat every boss and every stage on your first try, you could probably finish Cuphead in an hour. Although this may seem like a bad thing, it’s more of a positive. No repetition means the game never gets old, and it never stops surprising you with its creativity. Even if the game is shorter because of this, it’s a trade I’d happily accept any day.

The Overworld

There’s a tiny overworld which is where you decide where you go next, but there isn’t an emphasis on this mechanic. There are a few secrets and extra coins you can get by looking around and talking to citizens, but besides from that, there’s not much to it. It’s certainly cute, and it’s a relaxing break from the hell you go through fighting bosses, but if it was a more prominent mechanic, it could’ve distracted from the overall pacing of the game.

A Masterful 1930’s Cartoon

Even though Cuphead’s gameplay turned out to be fantastic, what really drew so much attention to it was the visuals. This game does something no other has. It has managed to perfectly replicate what a cartoon in the 1930’s felt like, sounded like, and looked like. It’s even more impressive considering that the animation, music, and effects were made in the same ways they were made in the 1930’s. The bosses you’re fighting might dance to the funky music playing, your character will remove the cup from his head and bring it up for toast, and every frame you’re presented with has been expertly crafted to be magical.

Ridiculous Load Time

On the Xbox One, Cuphead forces you to wait 20-30 seconds in a loading screen. This may not seem like a long time, but it certainly is considering how fast-paced the game is meant to be. What makes it worse is that even the loading symbol lags around. After buying Cuphead on PC, I noticed that the loading screen only takes a few seconds, and the symbol doesn’t lag around either. I’m not sure what happened that has made the Xbox One version load so slowly, but it’s annoying.

Co-Op

I originally played through the game by myself on Xbox One, then I purchased the game on PC to play it with a friend. These two experiences were wildly different. Single player is intense, scary, and frustrating as hell. Multiplayer is simply hilarious, wild, and chaotic. Not many games have done this to me, where I feel like just adding an extra player changes everything. In this sense, choosing how you play is very important. Thankfully, both of my experiences were fantastic, as the dark loneliness of frustration and intensity is on par with the lovely sensation of hilarity and fun. In the end, it’s up to you how you experience it as either way is phenomenal.

Conclusion

Every boss feels like a grand finale, and each encounter is a treacherous mountain the player needs to climb. Cuphead personifies the pure dedication of a new developer to create something no one has seen before, and it’s a wild success. It has personally provided me with one of the most breathtaking journeys I’ve ever been on, and I cannot wait to see what else Studio MDHR has to show us.

THE GOOD
Wonderful Visuals
Enchanting Sountrack
Fast & Fluid Combat
Challenging As Hell
Grand Boss Battles
Hilarious Co-Op
Booming With Creativity
THE BAD
Long Load Times
10
Essential

Review Summary

Every boss feels like a grand finale, and each encounter is a treacherous mountain the player needs to climb. Cuphead turned out to be the perfect little game we all wanted it to be.

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