Intense boss fights, limited health and one hell of a difficulty curve combined with a 1930’s art style makes Cuphead one of the best games of 2017 which you can simultaneously hate at the exact same time.
Cuphead is developed by Studio MDHR and is essentially a run and gun style of game that focuses itself around continuous boss battles with a very unique art style that is heavily inspired by the works of 1930s cartoonists Max Fleischer. The game begins with Cuphead and his brother Mugman who are two fun loving kids that accidently wander into the Devils Casino run by King Dice. The brothers are having one hell of a winning streak until the Devil steps in and raises the stakes. Rather than cashing out their chips, Cuphead accidently rolls and pulls up a pair of snake eyes, losing to the Devil. Now, their souls belong to the Devil and the only way to get them back and clear their debt is by collecting the contracts of the other inhabitants on Inkwell Isle. It’s here that your story begins and you set off on your adventure.
Cuphead eases you into the adventure with a very nice instruction manual style of tutorial in which you act out the instructions on screen, from running to jumping, shooting and dashing, it’s all here and is extremely well laid out. I felt the controls were relatively basic and I was ready to explore. As I travelled and began my adventure on Inkwell Isle in search of contracts to collect, I stumbled upon my first boss fight the Root Pack which is essentially 3 enemies merged into one; a giant Potato, Onion and a Carrot. It was here that I died several times and immediately discovered Cuphead’s difficulty that has been foretold. After several attempts and memorisation of patterns, victory was mine.
Cuphead is extremely difficult and that must be something I need to address immediately. However, it is incredibly rewarding though when you do complete a boss fight and live to tell the tale with your friends. What makes Cuphead so incredibly difficult apart from the level design and multiple enemies on screen and projectiles to manage is the lack of checkpoints. Unfortunately you are not blessed with checkpoints that allow you to continue mid fight. It’s all or nothing, and even makes Ghouls and Ghosts seem somewhat easy. In fact, I died more here in Cuphead than I did with Dark Souls and that’s quite interesting indeed. Further punishment comes in the way of no health restoration. So don’t expect to collect heart containers that rejuvenate your health bar, what you have is all you get and that can be a pickle to deal with.
Initially when you begin you can visit the local store to spend some of your earnt coins on various items. I initially chose the extra heart or health upgrade. There was also P.Sugar which is an automatic parry move; there was also other fire techniques for your bullets such as Lobber which provides medium range and good damage, but slower fire and then there was the Scatter option as well. Depending on which you choose can help you with a particular situation. More bullets or more health? It really depends but the point remains that it’s worth trying different things. Once you’ve made your selection you will need to equip your purchases for them to be active. As you progress you can equip more items.
As I continued to progress, some levels just felt near impossible to beat. In fact, memorising patterns doe work at times, however those patterns do get randomly shifted as well, just to add salt to the wounds. All toll, some boss fights could take an entire evening before victory is made. There is an option to play the level in easy mode (although it’s still not easy) which may help you. However you don’t actually collect any souls for doing so, therefore it’s kind of a waste of time, but it at least allows you to try and develop a strategy for victory. One thought that came into my mind was to try and add a second player as you can revive your team mate if you die. However it felt almost harder to try and save your team mate without getting killed in the process.
Interestingly though, Cuphead’s strategy seems equally as evil with its taunting play style. When you fail a boss fight, you’re shown a progress bar with what seems like potential checkpoint lines. These progress bars essentially taunt you with just how close you were to victory. What looks like 5% away feels like 10minutes on the battlefield, it can be very frustrating indeed. The games controls are also relatively simple to master. You press X to shoot and A allows you to jump. You move your character with the left thumbstick and the B button will control your special attack. There is some conjecture around the controls with many people advising its best to remap the controls in the settings menu especially given its easier to map the shot button to the left or right trigger, that way you can still keep firing bullets whilst jumping or dashing.
Aside from the boss fights in Cuphead there are other levels that mix it up a little. Those are the run-n-gun type levels that are essentially left-to-right platforming which also can be difficult but don’t seem to be as hard as the boss battles. There are 6 of these run-n-gun levels and it’s here that you can collect 5 coins within each level to spend at the local shop on various upgrades.
Graphics & Sound
Cuphead’s initial draw card for me some two years ago was its unique 1930s animation style. Each of the backgrounds are hand paint and coloured along with the hand drawn characters. It looks and feels amazing right down to the blemishes on the film thanks to the old Super 8 style projectors. The visuals give Cuphead that truly retro feeling and also help make it unique amongst the games of today which is great and helps Cuphead to stand out amongst the rest. Cuphead also ran flawlessly on both the Xbox One S and Windows 10 PC thanks to cross play as well.
In terms of the games sound, who doesn’t like the blaring sounds of trumpets and jazz? The music feels fresh out of the 1930’s and is a welcomed change to the regular music of today. The music fits the time period of the art style perfectly and also much like Fallout 4, reminds us of an era once past.
Cuphead drew me in with its unique art style and then crushed me faster than any game before it. However the true reward comes with perseverance and determination as you memorise battles and keep pushing forward inch by inch. Cuphead rewards those who persevere and punishes those who don’t. It’s great to see a game once in a while that’s not scared to shake up the standard formula of checkpoints, assists and difficulty options. Just be sure that you understand this difficulty before you invest. It’s all or nothing with Cuphead and I love it!