*This review is written from the standpoint of someone who rarely plays platformers and played Cuphead on a laptop PC.*
Cuphead is an indie run-and-gun platformer developed by StudioMDHR and was announced in 2013 to be released in January 2014. However, it wound up being delayed until 2016 and then even further to the official release date of September 29, 2017. For the cheap price of only twenty dollars, you take the role of
Cuphead, a small, red mug that made a bet with the Devil on a dice toss and of course, lost. Pleading with the Devil for their souls, Cuphead and Mugman (second character for co-op) were tasked with collecting the souls of the Devil’s “runaway debtors.” Cuphead is given a special potion from Elder Kettle, a wise old kettle who mentors Cuphead throughout his journey, that gives him some sorts of superpowers. As Cuphead, the player battles their way through a cartoon world with wacky enemies as they attempt to reclaim their souls from the Devil.
Cuphead, without a doubt, is one of the most aesthetically pleasing games created to this day. Cuphead has a 1930’s style of cartoon animation complete with static and a constant sound reminiscent of an old-timey projector. This style of animation allows for a more creative and wacky moves, attacks, bosses, and level designs. Cuphead has a truly beautiful design and is an absolute pleasure to look at and offers an aesthetic almost everybody will love. During many boss fights, where I continually had to retry the level, I found myself never getting bored of the animations and overall visuals. However, as I mentioned previously, there will be many retries because this game is unrelenting and more difficult than finding an Apex High school student without social media. This is mostly due to bosses having attacks that are tricky and hard to dodge.
To combat the difficulty of bosses, the player is armed with many different attacks and abilities.
To gain access to new weapons and abilities the player must complete “Run-and-Gun” levels, levels where the player makes their way across the map while shooting enemies and dodging attacks all the while attempting to collect coins (five total). Coins collected from these levels can be used in the shop to purchase new guns such as “chaser” (seen in the picture on the right) which allows players to not have to aim with the cost of doing less damage. The player is able to have two different shots per-fight and can only be changed out on the map.
A way the developers change up the game is with flight levels. These terrible levels are placed on a constantly moving background in a brawl to the death with a flying enemy and with only two available weapons or “shots,” pellets and bombs, one low damage firing quickly, one high damage firing slowly. These levels are very annoying to play as you are limited to a certain type of play style and though they may have stunning visuals, are usually not really that fun to play. With exception of the boss fight Hilda Berg (seen on the left) due to how beautiful the background is and how absolutely crazily animated she is.
The mechanics of the game, outside of flight battles, are spectacular and should be an inspiration to all modern run-and-gun platformers. The only issue players have with the mechanics is how hit registration can be a bit off, and often times the player may find themselves saying “that shouldn’t have hit!” or “I dodged that!” However, those experiences are few and far between and are not a big enough of a problem to stave off interest in the game. One problem that could be enough is how awkward the controls are. As someone who plays commonly with the keyboard keys W, A , S, and D for movement, adjusting to the arrow keys and keys Z-V was quite difficult for most of the first world of three but once adjusted, the game felt better to play. The game has one of my favorite soundtracks for a video game ever. The music is reminiscent of old nineteenth century recordings and often has a sort of jazzy feel to it bound to keep you on your toes and ready to battle. My personal favorite of the fifty-five tracks is “Floral Fury,” a song with catchy trumpet play and a bouncing drum sequence as you battle a giant mutant flower, Cagney Carnation.
The last thing I want to touch on in this game is the infuriating progress bar (seen on the right).
The progress bar is pretty self explanatory; Cuphead is the red figure, and the little poles are boss phases. The worst part is not only seeing how close you were but also having to see the smug, punn-y quotes the bosses have lead to a truly enraging experience, which only makes finally beating the boss even sweeter. At the end screen you are rewarded
with a grade and results (as seen on the left). These results serve no real purpose unless someone wants to replay the game to beat their previous scores.
Two quick tips! Learn to switch shots during a fight as well as which shots to use. If the boss does not move very much, try using lobber; if the boss is difficult to hit, try using chaser. Take a break; playing the same boss over and over will eventually work, but it becomes easier to take a break from the game and come back to the fight later.
Cuphead is one of the best artistically made games in years and brings a sort of, freshness to the gaming community. Cuphead should be a role model in effort and quality for not only upcoming video game developers but experienced ones as well. Cuphead is worth the money, and I definitely recommend picking it up only if you are ready for a challenge.