Cuphead has been all over social networks recently, gaining popularity through its old-school style with music to match, and its notoriously high difficultly. With the Xbox One struggling with first party games recently, it was a huge relief to see that Microsoft was willing to take some risks with a game like Cuphead.
The main goal of the game is to collect souls for the devil by defeating varying bosses that use extremely creative move sets that will frustrate even the best players. Its appeal comes through the game’s 1930’s cartoon style, which has been nailed perfectly, from the damaged reel and film effects all the way to the rubbery animation. You can tell that the developers really put time and love into the creation of this game. The sound design is full of personality, using lots of fast-paced piano and trumpet music from the time period to really give that nostalgic cartoon feel.
Although the story isn’t this Cuphead’s greatest strength, it’s charming and introduced well enough so the player has some idea of what’s going on. We follow the story of Cuphead and Mugman who, after spending too much time at the craps table, come across the devil. After loosing an outrageous bet with the devil, the Cups are forced to do the devils bidding and collect a whole list of debts or forfeit their souls to him. As light as the story is, I felt more compelled to defeat the devil here than most antagonists in recent games.
Cuphead was initially designed as a boss-rush/bullet-hell style game, however last minute changes in development saw ‘run and gun’ platforming levels added to dissipate the monotony of getting defeated repeatedly in the tough boss fights. If you’re looking for a new type of platform game, however, this isn’t the game for you. Although extra levels were added, they are few and far between in comparison with the sheer number of boss fights to get through.
The game’s mechanics are pure and simple, dodge away from the enemies and shoot to defeat them, easy right? Wrong. The bosses have bullet-hell style attacks that usually spawn other enemies that also fire out streams of bullets or cats or bubblegum or balloons or… you get the picture. Try dodging everything whilst the level around you changes completely, always ramping up the difficulty as you fight through the stages each boss fight has.
To make things a little easier the game has a loadout system that allows you to modify which weapon, charm, and skills you’re bringing to each level. Using different combinations of weapon types, power ups, and charms can be a nice way of finding your groove with this game. I personally find the starting weapon the best to use with the most consistent damage, other weapons sometimes feel a little to awkward to use or do little damage. The other way to gain the upper hand is to run the gauntlet with a friend. The entire game can be played cooperatively, bringing Mugman into the fray, however you’ll soon find that even with a friend by your side the game won’t be a walk in the park.
Cuphead is a brilliantly charming experience that has me smiling widely while simultaneously wanting to throw the controller through the screen. It’s a game that will heavily punish an inexperienced player for any mistakes you make, but you’ll want to smash that retry button every time. It’s also incredibly frustrating and one of the most difficult games I’ve played in a while. However, this is what gives the game its fun factor- its a thumb-blistering, high octane, battle to the finish and I will stop at nothing to achieve an A grade across the board.