Cuphead is a 2D, side-scrolling run and gun game for Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. It has a reputation for its beautiful art style and its tough gameplay.
Cuphead is pretty tricky – and in there lies the reward. More often than not when I started playing Cuphead I’d get frustrated because, frankly, I wasn’t very good at the game. However, give it time and it will reward you greatly. It may not be a game you can simply pick up and play, it’s something you’re going to have to practice at and learn. Patience is the name of the game after all.
The main story in the game follows Cuphead, who makes a deal with the devil and loses. The only was to pay back the debt is to go out and collect bounties from bosses dotted around the map. Beat the bosses to save your soul – simple right? Cuphead is a combination of platforming, obstacles and boss fights that will test your patience but ultimately feel very satisfying if you can crack the combinations and patterns with your lightning fast reflexes.
Boss fights are the main attraction in the game and can be split into phases. You’ll jump, twist, turn and dodge bullets being sent your way. As well as the main boss you’ll have to deal with a plethora of smaller enemies at the same time. As boss fights, progress attack patterns change and evolve sending more bullets your way faster. You may not get it the first time, you may not get it the 2nd time but you’ll learn each time you try and all that adds up to a hugely satisfying experience when you do finally beat the boss. On more than one occasion I found myself shouting “Yes! haha” after I beat a boss.
As you progress through Cuphead you unlock new abilities and weapons. You can carry two weapons, a bonus ability, and a special attack. It’s worth considering your loadout before the level begins as this can affect the difficulty. Weapons and other abilities can be bought with the coins you find throughout the small number of platforming levels. These side-scrolling platforming levels aren’t the main attraction though, they’re a mere starter compared to the main course of the boss battles. Cuphead himself holds up well against these often gigantic bosses, with his endless ammo shooting out of his finger. One issue that could be mentioned is Cuphead’s parry system. There are some items in Cuphead you can jump off, but the timing is either super precise or very generous. It didn’t feel consistent throughout the campaign and was the only minor down point.
The game is a beautiful looking one with nods to 1930’s Disney cartoon. Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, with Jake Clark, combined the hand-drawn graphical style with the bullet-hell gameplay. Cuphead’s artist blend hand-drawn characters with a watercolour and hand-drawn feel with surreal and eye-popping enemies. Each screen is almost a work of art in its own right and massive kudos has to go to the artists for creating something like this. The music in the game is equally great with an old fashioned feel to the music, much like the art style. There’s jazz, swing, ragtime, and big-band and the music keeps the tempo to the ever more complex boss battles.
There’s also the two players local co-op mode where your friend Mugman can join in the fun. It sounds as if a second player would be a good idea and help out in the action, however, the reality is a second player makes it even more confusing than before and harder rather than easier.
At first, the game feels punishing, but Cuphead shouldn’t be dismissed as too difficult and simply put back down. Cuphead does a great job of teaching you little by little how to get better and in this way, inching towards victory is one of the most satisfying, if not challenging, gaming experiences. Cuphead is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. At times you’re going to feel the pain, but get through that pain then you’ll emerge a better player and I guarantee with a big smile on your face.
Developer: Studio MDHR
Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 2017 (April 2019 Switch)