Three years ago, a game was announced that made people stop and look. It was a game with a pretty unique art style, soundtrack reminiscent of a time gone by and a protagonist with a cup for a head. The game in question – Cuphead, but at one point or another, it seemed as if Studio MDHR’s exciting looking cartoon shooter would never see the light of day. Well, after a delay or two Cuphead is finally here, and it has been well worth the wait.
Cuphead: Microsoft Windows, Xbox One [Reviewed]
Developer: Studio MDHR
Publisher: Studio MDHR
Release Date: 29 September 2017
Price: £16.74 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
The story focuses around Cuphead and Mugman, two brothers who make a deal with the devil in order to save their souls. After a casino game goes wrong, Cuphead and Mugman lose their souls to the devil, and in order to get them back, must travel round Inkwell Isle collecting contracts from other poor individuals. You can do this alone, or with a friend in local co-op, but sadly there’s no online co-op, which would have made a great game even better. Cuphead‘s story is a typically bizarre one that draws you straight in and makes you want to follow it all the way through to the end, which is definitely easier said than done.
Cuphead‘s gameplay features a mixture of boss fights and side-scrolling levels, with the boss fights taking centre stage and most of your time. These levels and bosses are split across the three Isles of Inkwell, and you must beat each boss in the first Isle before you move onto number two, and then three. Spreading them out like this stops you feeling overwhelmed from the start, and helps you to pace yourself and learn the strategies to beat each boss one by one, which you will need to do. If the game feels too hard, Cuphead has a simple difficulty as opposed to regular, which offers you a bit more of a fighting chance against a boss but without beating each one on regular difficulty, you can’t collect their souls and progress.
Each of Cuphead‘s boss fights are wonderfully designed and devilishly difficult, so playing this game will no doubt result in countless deaths and endless frustration. This is part of the game’s charm but also its downfall. It is so easy to turn off the game in anger when you can’t beat a boss, but finding the perseverance to carry on is definitely worth it. Each boss has a number of different phases, where they will either change form, attack you with a new weapon or change the scene where the fight is based entirely. Each and every one of these boss fights are hard going and will undoubtedly require multiple failed attempts (probably) before you even come close to beating it. Learning their fighting pattern is key to beating them, and when you eventually do put it all together there is nothing better than the absolute euphoria you feel after finally taking down a boss.
You’ll face every kind of creature you could possibly imagine along the way too. From a psychic carrot to a bee that transforms into a plane, and everything in between, including a magic genie, a robot, a theatre lover, a pirate on a ship and a pair of fighting frogs. You can see the level of care that has gone into designing all of these fantastic bosses, and each one is more impressive than the last. If you don’t complete the boss fight, you’ll see a teaser animation of Cuphead showing just how far away you were from beating it. This is helpful in another sense, rather than just taunting how close you were to triumphing, it also shows the gapping between the various phases, which is helpful to know and gives you sort of an idea as to how long you might be fighting it.
In order to help you fight, Cuphead and Mugman can shoot bullets from their fingers. Holding down on the button has you continuous firing a line of bullets, so simply keeping your finger on the shoot button whilst you jump about and avoid things can sometimes get you out of a sticky situation. The basic shooting can be changed though, with a second weapon purchased from a shop in the hub world. These extra weapons, or bullets, can be beneficial as different bosses will be easier to hit with a specific weapon, especially if they move about the level a lot.
For example, having the spray bullet allows you to hit moving targets better, but requires you to be closer to do damage. In order to buy these extra bullets, and other “charms” which include extra hearts, dashing without taking damage and other additions, you must find and collect coins either in levels or in the mini-hub world. Coins are not particularly hard to find, but grabbing them and applying the additional weapons and charms can really help you out in a particularly tough boss fight.
Aside from your normal attack you also have a special attack along with unlockable super arts. The special attack varies depending on your weapon, and you can only use it once you’ve built up your special bar, which can be done by either hitting enemies or parrying. Parrying is performed by jumping and then pressing the jump button again whenever you see a pink item, which can help you to avoid things as well as building up your special meter. Cuphead‘s parrying mechanic did seem a bit hit and miss, and I sometimes found myself jumping into a pink item only to get hit and taking damage rather than actually parrying, which obviously is a big problem when you can only take three hits before you perish.
A big selling point of the game ever since it was originally announced, Cuphead‘s hand-drawn art style is eye-catching. It does not disappoint at all and admiring each of the levels, enemies and bosses is simply a delight. All level designs and characters are inspired by 1930s cartoons, and this is so obvious to see in every corner of the game, from the bouncy movements of the characters to the over the top animations and reactions. It plays almost like you are watching a classic cartoon, albeit a rather frustrating one, with an amazing soundtrack to match too, which is also reminiscent of the old cartoons that inspired it.
Cuphead is not a game for the faint-hearted by any means, but that should not put you off. Yes, you will get frustrated and maybe throw your controller on the floor or at the wall once or twice, but after you’ve done that, you’ll pick it up again, and nothing is better than that feeling of beating a boss you thought you’d never beat. Learning boss patterns is the key to success here, and if you manage to grasp this then you will have an enjoyable experience. The problems with the game are minor, and its runs so smooth and looks so beautiful that you can forgive the little niggles. Simply put, Cuphead is a game you should not miss.
- Impressive animation and soundtrack inspired by old cartoons
- Well designed boss fights that make up most of the game
- Different weapons to help you in different situations
- Different difficulty levels open the game to a wider audience
- Parrying is a bit hit and miss
- Difficulty may be off-putting