Let’s get this out of the way first. Despite it’s unique cartoon-based appearance, Cuphead is an incredibly difficult game. The majority of the title focuses on boss battles and no matter how good you are at such games, you’ll be surprised. For example, bosses switch up the speed at which they fire projectiles so if you get into the habit of jumping at a particular time, you’ll be surprised how you got hit. Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the game and its mechanics. It’s best to mention that from the get-go because many gamers become frustrated with titles like Spelunky and Super Meat Boy which require practice and repetition. If you prefer casual titles and were thinking Cuphead was one of them, then you’ll be disappointed. Cuphead is incredibly rewarding, but only if you put in the time to master it.
For those of you who don’t know, Cuphead is a classic run-and-gun action game focused on rushing bosses. As is evident from its stunning and unprecedented visuals, the game is inspired by cartoons from the 1930s. The developers used the same techniques to create the graphics and sounds as animators did back then. As you can see from any still, a lot of traditional hand-drawn cel animation was used alongside watercolor backgrounds. Studio MDHR even went as far as to create original jazz recordings for their title.
Usually when you play games, the love a team has poured into them doesn’t quite shine through. Many titles are plagued with performance issues or the visuals aren’t on the level you would like. This detracts from the experience and takes away from the enjoyment. Think of it as noise if you will. This noise also limits how reviewers perceive titles because they aren’t able to look at them from the perspective of the developers. While every game is a labor of love in my opinion, it’s still rare that devotion to the craft is this evident. Cuphead is an exception because it’s technically sound and incredibly unique. The effort the team put into the visuals alone deserves the highest praise, but this is a full game for an astonishingly low price.
Throughout the course of the campaign, you play as either Cuphead or Mugman. If you have another controller and friend handy you can also play the game in local co-op mode. The developers said that they’re looking into adding online co-op later so sit tight for that. The title is filled with strange worlds and lots of coins. Your main objective is to defeat the bosses and their minions using a variety of weapons and moves. In the beginning this can be a little difficult given the fact that you don’t have many abilities.
However, if you collect enough coins and find all the secrets, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Despite how many upgrades you acquire, you still have to use your reflexes because all of the levels are challenging. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes so you have to crouch and jump to hit them all. Cuphead is definitely a tense shooter which is unforgiving because if you run out of health, you have to start the level from scratch.
The story is quite simple but effective. It mirrors the look of the visuals because it’s almost a morality tale. Remember cartoons like The Wise Little Hen which tried to teach you a lesson while also trying to entertain? Well, Cuphead and Mugman end up going to a casino and make a deal with the devil. When they lose all their winnings and their souls, they agree to help Satan by becoming his bounty hunters to get out of their contract. The game takes place after that because you have to go from area to area vanquishing bosses. However, it’s not that clear because, throughout the adventure, they try to get out of the contract through other means. Imagine if Ghost Rider was a 1930s cartoon. The story of Cuphead is somewhat similar to that.
The game runs at a smooth 60 FPS and I never encountered any issues during my time with it on Xbox One and Windows 10. Just like Forza Motorsport 7, we tested the game out on an Alienware 17 R3 laptop as well. The controls are precise and it behaves like any other platformer out there in terms of mechanics. You won’t have to spend precious time memorizing a new control scheme because you can just pick up the controller and start blasting enemies. Just like Shovel Knight or similar experiences, Cuphead relies on an overworld. However, it’s much more interactive and filled with odd characters and enemies. There’s a lot going on in Cuphead because the title is filled to the brim with content. The game requires hours and hours to master.
Overall, Cuphead is an absolutely fantastic adventure because it combines tight mechanics with stunning visuals. There’s nothing like it on any platform and if you love challenging titles which require practice, then this is the game for you. However, not everyone will enjoy it because of the steep difficulty. Everything about the title—from the platforming to the boss battles—is a challenge which may frustrate many. As alluded to earlier, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, there’s just nothing that’s more rewarding. Despite all that, the real star of the show here are the visuals because the 1930s animation elevates this game from a standard run-and-gun platformer to an absolutely mesmerizing experience.