Cuphead, after years of development and additions from Studio MDHR is finally out. The game is billed as a challenging shoot-em-up with the look of a ’30s cartoon. While Cuphead may not wow as much in the gameplay department, the overall package is amazing.
First off, let me just gush a little about the animation and music of Cuphead. The hand drawn style and big band soundtrack are one of my favorites this year. The story follows Cuphead and his brother Mughead who find themselves indebted to the Devil. In exchange for their souls, they must hunt down all the people who have signed deals with him. What follows is a beautifully looking run through a 1930’s cartoon.
Gameplay in Cuphead is shoot-em-up style, and fans of Gunstar Heroes or Metal Slug should be right at home. Besides avoiding damage, you can use a dash to clear gaps and get away from enemies. Cuphead’s unique defense comes in the form of being able to parry anything that is colored pink.
You’ll unlock up to 8 different shots (2 can be equipped and swapped at will) along with super moves and charms. You will need everything at your disposal to take on Cuphead’s diverse boss fights.
The meat of Cuphead’s gameplay come in the form of the boss fights. Each boss is 100% unique and will test all your abilities at the game. How it works is that every boss is made up of multiple phases. Within each phase the boss will use random attacks to take you out. Winning will require you to figure out each phase and know how to avoid what the boss will throw at you.
This is a great example of boss rush-centric design and how each boss is a massive spectacle. I can’t think of any two fights that even felt remotely similar.
For people who really want to show off, the game comes with a grading system that rates your performance. Getting the best rank will require a flawless play.
Cuphead is as much a treat to watch as it is to play, but there are a few rough spots to talk about.
Cuphead is one of those games that doesn’t let up from the word “go.” Every level, encounter, and enemy was meticulously designed. Because of that, the game is on the short side. If you know what you’re doing, you can finish it within about one hour.
The game was built with a focus on player skill, but there were a lot of accommodations made to smooth out the difficulty rather than rewarding expertise. You can buy a shot that grants homing attacks along with a charm that increases your health by two. While these penalize you by doing less damage, it allows you to play a lot safer and trivialize some of the battles.
One charm grants you invincibility frames that I never took off. The charm is so powerful that it’s almost game breaking. I actually felt that your basic dodge should have granted I-Frames to give a reason to use the other charms.
It’s very hard to figure out just what level of expertise the developers were expecting people to reach to beat the game. Many of the mechanics and options in-game were designed for lesser players, with very few as a reward for mastery.
Outside of the parry slap, I can’t think of any advanced play when it comes to Cuphead. The different shots are all unique and provide various pros and cons, but once you’ve found two you like, you’ll rarely switch out of them.
I think the issue has to do with the difficulty wall of the game for new players. Similar to a game like Dark Souls, Cuphead expects a lot out of you from the moment you start. However, once you’ve gotten over its quirks, there really isn’t all that in terms of mechanic growth.
When it comes to the aesthetics of Cuphead, they are amazing, but they do have one downside. Outside of the pink attacks, it’s very easy to lose sight of Cuphead or projectiles when things get hectic.
Cuphead is a very interesting game. I would say it’s one of my favorite games while it lasted, but I don’t think I’ll be returning for a second showing. If you’re looking for something as beautiful as it is brutal, definitely pick this up.
If you want to see my complete play of the game, you can find it on the Game-Wisdom YouTube channel.