REVIEW: Cuphead

This week I bought an old-timey video game. It is addictive and difficult, featuring a fun protagonist as he fights against a wide variety of enemies to get to the evil villain holding his fate. Catchy music, a sidekick, all the bells and whistles.

This could describe any number of video game plots: Super Mario… Legend of Zelda… Sonic the Hedgehog… the list goes on. But no, this a completely original character based on some of the earliest animated cartoons from the 1930’s.

I give you… Cuphead.

 

I have only played through the first world (of four), but I already have a good enough grasp of the game to properly give it the highest of praise. Everything about Cuphead has captivated me and it was well worth buying. Coming from a total cheapskate, that should say volumes. Cuphead has been available for under a month and already the support for it has been overflowing. I have yet to come across a poor rating or review, with most falling in the 85 to 100% range, and for good reason because this is a fantastic combination of nostalgia and modern gaming graphics.

The basic premise is that Cuphead gambles away his soul, against the wishes of his partner Mugman (the local co-op second player), and the only way to save his life is to collect the various soul contracts of bosses who Cuphead must defeat. There are a total of thirty bosses he must face, including King Dice the casino owner and the Devil himself!

To help him on his journey, Elder Kettle gives a potion to Cuphead which allows him to shoot a finger gun to kill simple enemies and damage bosses over time, but he can be equipped with special moves that cause extra damage. These powers build up as he shoots enemies in the form of five playing cards (to go along with the gambling theme) and Cuphead gains a full card every time he parries. This is an interesting move that counters certain attacks colored pink and is a determining factor in your final grade upon completion. Other criteria include final HP, coins collected, charged power use, difficulty, and time to complete the level. I bought and equipped a charm that automatically parries, which has been very helpful in getting mostly A’s on World 1.

While this is technically a “Run and Gun” game, I’ve found this to be unique in that most stages are solely boss battles. He can shoot in 8 directions and move freely about the levels, depending on the type of stage it is, but an overall left-to-right side-scrolling format is used on the run and gun levels. Bosses are pretty much stationary (or relatively so with stages in which you operate a vehicle), forcing the player to maneuver the given space to the best of his/her ability. From frogs to plants to witches and blobs of blue gunk (again, just in the first world), the bosses all offer new and unique challenges for Cuphead. They all share the cartoonish ability to shapeshift in ways that make no real sense but fit in perfectly with the Fleischer feel of the game. The whole creative team deserves a cold beer and a slap on the back.

The main character is clearly a variation on an early Mickey Mouse, with the only noticable difference being… well… he has a teacup for a head. He even retains the black, red, and white color scheme (with Mugman opting for blue instead of red). I almost which some of the animation or cutscenes were in black and white to channel even older works like Steamboat Willie, but the coloring is so reminiscent of classic hand-drawn cartoons, I don’t mind it. I cannot emphasize enough how much the game imitates and elevates the style, even incorporating an upbeat jazz soundtrack to match each boss or level’s theme and out-dated terminology like “Wallop!” instead of “Fight!”

Now, in most material I’ve found online, it is commented that this game has an incredible difficulty level. Well, they aren’t wrong, but so far the gameplay is such that it feels impossible at the beginning of each level, but as the player learns the moves of enemies and pitfalls, you learn to overcome it. This game doesn’t rely on muscle memory or pattern recognition, although there is a certain element of that at times. There is a random element of what occurs which keeps the player on his/her toes and just when you think you have it figured out, there is another curveball! Thank God you have unlimited lives or else no one would get past the first level. It’s infuriating and painful and frustrating… but so, so satisfying once you finally beat that boss. That is, until you go to the next one that is harder and more stress inducing than the last. It drove my wife nuts, but I handled it better than she did. Strange thing is, because this game is so good it is worth all the headache. The controls are easy and sensitive, so no blaming lag for your shortcomings. Blame the stupid flying carrot (or fireball or bug or whatever).

I don’t own an XBox One (or PS4), so I can’t really play all the latest and greatest gaming has to offer. I usually opt for free flash games, mobile gaming, or things I find on discount for my older systems, so this being available on PC for only $19.99 was a big plus for me. It has the ease and playability of a simple free game on the web and won’t cost you a fortune. As I said, this has a co-op mode but I have yet to figure it out on PC. I really wanted to play with my wife instead of switching off, but that may only be possible on XBox One. I’ve heard it is very difficult, but then again how is that different from one player? One more note: I haven’t had wifi the past few days, so offline capabilities were a lifesaver for me. Setting that up was a pain and you can’t close the program without resetting the offline configuration, but it was just a tad of inconvenience for a barrel of fun.

This is legitimately a great game. Fully realized. Visually stimulating. Difficult yet entertaining and fun. It’s like taking Cactus McCoy (look that up for another really fun Run and Gun) and making it ten times better. A couple of small nitpicks can’t even touch the incredible job done by Studio MDHR, the indie studio run my brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. This is their first big game debut and if their work stays consistant, this could be the next big thing. Buy this game. Play this game. You’ll thank me later.

When it comes to quality, challenging fun, and nostalgia, Cuphead overfloweth.

4.8 out of 5 Stars.

To check out the game, or purchase it, click HERE!

Or just watch the first 8 minutes of gameplay below, courtesy of IGN!

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