When the announcement for Cuphead first came to fruition I can’t say I wasn’t excited. People in my age category, we’ll just call us millennials even though we’ve gotten a bad wrap, met the tail end of a certain cartoon era that we will most likely never see again. This era hit on hard issues and it didn’t have a filter. No one blamed them though, it was an era of pure truth, of how the world was and best of all, it was all hand drawn. I didn’t have this type of appreciation for it at the time. I just wanted to watch Looney Tunes, and looking back some of it was obviously oblivious to the cultural issues that we see today. Regardless of that though, the animation stands as some of the most unique and beautiful we will ever see, and we didn’t even realize it then. Many of my memories of these cartoons are were old even in the 90’s because they were reruns from animation that stems back to the 30’s. Chad Moldenhauer, the director, and artist for this title captures this long forgotten art perfectly and it is a true masterpiece to behold. Watercolor backgrounds and hand-drawn animated foregrounds are appealing in a way no other game can even come close to. Enter Cuphead:
At its core, Cuphead could be considered a run and gun 2D platforming title. It’s so much more than this, however. The on-screen animation is unlike anything we have seen in the gaming universe and in some ways it reminds me of the first time I played a Super Nintendo title. The feeling I got when the background and foreground created a well put together vibe while existing separately. the only other way I can describe it is when you first played a 2D title that launched you into the background, like a Donkey Kong, or a Paper Mario. It’s that “Oh yeah, that plane exists, I forgot” feeling, and it is absolutely wonderful. There is no end to the fluid movement on screen. From the bosses to the backdrop, to Cuphead himself, and his weapons. A perfectly wonky, fun, inviting, and controlled chaos experience await the player at every turn.
The gameplay involves the main character, Cuphead, who has infinite lives and progresses through a series of seemingly endless boss battles. His powers include a quick dash and some major weapon and ammunition stocks that he builds up between deaths. There is also some coin collecting involved which is used to increase the player’s weapons purchases and “charms” along the way. Charms allow the player to make special moves or increase stamina during a life.
I have make something else clear. Other titles have tried to accomplish the endless boss battle theme with not so much success. The reason Cuphead stands alone in being fantastic is that each bosses mechanics are totally unique. The player must adjust to a new way of defeating each one and it never seems repetitive or boring. Difficult, yes, but I’ll get to that. There is the rare occurrence of random happenstance that seems to make it impossible for the player to have beaten certain bosses. For example, there may be only two floating platforms for Cuphead to land on and the boss may fire at both of them at the same time. This leaves the player with no choice but to get hit, and this may mean a death. Typically this would be insanely frustrating (and it still is) but because of the way this game is set up, there was always a point where your skill should have outweighed the bosses abilities. This rare defeat seems realistic and fair in the grand scheme of things.
Adding even more appeal to an already amazing title, the developers included multiplayer co-op, where your friends can join in the fun as Mugman. The game is also accessed through an overhead map with secret areas to explore, much like Super Nintendo throwback titles.
The music in this title sticks with the same era as the art style and animation. 30’s jazz tunes keep things funky and fresh. Impending boss themes echo the times as well. Some voice acting is involved but is limited which I’m sure was done on purpose. Most of these old style cartoons told a story without much voice acting because this was a difficult thing to accomplish for the day. The game includes quick one-liners and the occasional grunt, or disappointing moan associated with the characters overall feel.
Pulling away from the amazing style of the game I will say that this isn’t a title for the faint of heart. I’m calling out to the hardcore gamers. Cuphead is ruthless in its never-ending quest to destroy you. This explains why the developers graced you with endless lives, believe me, you’ll need them. You may recall wanting to throw your controller through the television as a kid. That feeling is going to come flooding back to you. If there was ever a time to throw on a wrist strap, you should fashion one now, because you’re going to be pulling your hair out by the time it’s all said and done. You’ll be hairless and without a controller, but you will love every minute of it. There is no way to regain health, there are endless amounts of ways to die and no checkpoints. If you want to experience this title, you had better have some skill to get through the madness.
None of the previously written elements would matter if it wasn’t for the controls being on point. They are pure perfection. With so much going on screen it would be unacceptable to have anything less than responsive, quick, and simple, which is exactly what Cuphead provides. Failing in this title isn’t something you can just pawn off as being the games fault. That’s a good thing, because did I mention you will die, a lot.
I had so much fun with Cuphead it’s hard to portray in a single article. This isn’t a game for everyone but that makes it even better. It’s certainly in a category all it’s own. I haven’t been really excited or astonished by a game like this is quite a long time. It’s a fresh feel, an insanely wonderful vibe. It’s a throwback and a step forward all at once. For those of you that consider yourself experts, I highly recommend purchasing Cuphead. Get ready to put your boxing gloves on, make sure you aren’t just buying the game because of the beautiful art style, this is going to be the most annoyingly insane fun you’ve ever had in your life.
5 Out of 5
+Art style and animation are beautifully rendered
+Music and sound are on point
+Controls are precise and responsive
-Difficulty may be too high for some players
-Rare instance in which the player has no alternative but to die