Cuphead is a work of art. Hand-painted graphics, frame-by-frame hand-drawn backdrops, with music from the 1930’s, and some of the most imaginative boss battles I’ve ever seen in a videogame.
Cuphead was announced all the way back in 2014, it has garnered a fanbase around it’s unique art style, which is an homage to the cartoons of the mid 20th century, cartoons like Steamboat Willie and other Disney classics even taking some inspiration from a propaganda cartoon from 1936. The developers meshed this and classic run-n-gun gameplay from platformers like Mega Man and Contra. The end result is something so exquisite and so unique that I can’t help but smile as I write this.
I can’t really help it but once again, I have to write about the artwork; it’s simply breathtaking throughout the entire course of the game. Studio MDHR hand-drawn every background, every effect, every sound in tribute to those classic cartoons from mid 20th-century America. That animation of that era was so unique, breathtaking, and sometimes creepy and Studio MDHR took this to another level, basing everything you see in the game based around this.
In Cuphead, you can either play as Cuphead or Mugman provided if you have friend, who have unfortunately lost their souls to the Devil. While gambling one day, the pair managed to lose their souls on a bet to the Devil, but fortunately instead of killing them, the Devil puts them to work. Cuphead and Mugman become the repo men for the Devil throughout the course of the game, travelling around the local area to face against various bosses who owe their souls. The game is comprised of three worlds sporting different themes. The first world takes place in the countryside, while the second is an amusement park, with different attractions including a carousal.
The bosses you’ll face are thematic to each world, and each boss is unique and extremely wacky. A princess with a severed head, riding a birthday cake, trying to assault you with jelly beans, candy corn, and cupcakes. A lady zeppelin riding a bike, who happens to transform into a bull, then into a giant room, trying to attack you with projectiles. Lastly, A roller coaster battle with a clown that transforms into a big, giant, balloon.
This is peak weirdness, they are absurd designs that will amuse as much as they are creepy, owing to that 1930’s aesthetic. However, the score isn’t weird which features music from the 1930s, which features 56 tracks of jazz and big band songs which was performed by live musicians. The authenticity to the era elevates the game and the experience itself to another level, the attention to detail is incredible.
Cuphead revives the classic side-scrolling gameplay that was prevalent in the late 20th century, evoking those memories of games like Contra for those who played it with it’s gunplay and different phases that includes boss battles. At first, back when it was revealed, Cuphead was originally a boss rushing game, but after Microsoft stepped in, the game expanded into what we see today.
The game also supports 2 player local co-op, this is how I beat it the game. Cuphead places two players in an overworld which is hand-painted and a world that’s absolutely beautiful. As you move onto the next boss, the game opens up with new areas and new activities to do.
You can play each level on an “easy” mode that dumbs down the fights and takes away some of the mechanics and allows you to progress. But if you want to complete the game then you best git gud scrub and stick it out via the regular difficulty, this is the only way to gain each soul of the bosses you face.
Each boss battle comes with multiple phrases that must be learned via trial and error. If you survive the battle, then you’ll get a contract which grades you on how well you fought, and also get the soul. Majority of the time, you’ll die and half of them are contributed to trial and error and other times, cheap deaths. Sometimes it’s not clear what killed you or what projectile decided to end you and that is kinda frustrating also what’s frustrating as well is that there is elements of randomness to each battle which is fine but they have RNG stars that can trap you into unwinnable situations.
The game gives you options to limit the impact of chance. There’s a store in each world that gives you upgrades and additional weapons which includes giving you the option to switch to shotgun-like bullet spread. This option gives you the ability to speedrun through boss battles, reducing the risk of something going terribly wrong.
There are other upgrades and weapons to choose from, which all can be purchasable via coins you get that are discovered throughout the world. There are challenges that gives you access to a powerful super ability, such as invincibility for a limited time and a large beam. These super abilities charge up over time, represented with a playing card at the bottom of the hud. When you build them up then they do some serious damage, you have to know when to use them.
That said, randomness will still gets you killed but Cuphead never feels unfair. Even if you die a million times, most bosses are designed for you to use different tactics and abilities which keeps you on the edge of your seat and eliminates the sense of boredom and frustration. If you do get frustrated, take a break and coming back with a fresh mind often does the trick for beating the boss. I know that tactic helped me alot, it’s such a satisfying feeling when you defeat the boss and get the Knockout! screen.
Cuphead is an absolute masterpiece of a game. I came out of it feeling great and made me feel accomplished than any other game I’ve played in 2017. I emerged from all the frustration feeling accomplished that I completed my first platformer, I realize that platformers needs alot of patience to get through them. Cuphead is an incredible game, and not just for the way it looks either.
Fantastic job, Studio MDHR. Can’t wait to see what you do next.