Studio MDHR (studio)
09 October 2017 (released)
10 October 2017
After seven long years in development and three years since the first trailer back at E3 in 2014, it’s finally here. It seems like the small team of developers themselves might’ve actually sold their souls to the devil to get this game out. Well Microsoft in any case. Jokes aside, I’m delighted Cuphead is finally out and I know you’re thinking it and I’ll answer it. Was Cuphead worth the wait and is it really that great to be considered a masterpiece?
What I can say about Cuphead is pretty much written into stone by every other critic in the world who’s played this game. This game looks wonderful. Better than that, it looks absolutely stunning. Words actually can’t describe the extent of beauty this game showcases and it goes beyond anything gamers would’ve seen in the media. The visuals are an absolute delight to gaze upon and it’s not just the “rubber” animation inspired art style that’ll have your eyes melt. The level of detail in every animated character and backdrop is breath taking. The energetic pacing of the animation, character designs and smooth flow of animation make a solid case for gaming to be an art form.
Even to watch someone play this is a treat and something you could observe repeatedly, picking up new details in the animation with each playthrough. The character designs are highly inventive, lending to some impressive looking bosses and the watercolour inspired scenery is pretty damn good looking too. As for the soundtrack, it’s perfect. I’m not a fan of traditional jazz but I got to say I’m totally won over by Cuphead. The speedy, frantic jazz numbers work well with the chaotic style of gameplay, helping create tension while keeping you in a rather pleasant mood.
Aesthetically, this game is perfect. Everything about it visually and in sound design can’t be beaten down in any way, shape or form. Unless you’re a massive buzz kill who hates anything pretty looking and sounding. As for the story, it’s a classic tale of gambling, drinking and making deals with the Devil. This is pretty much child friendly in 1930’s standards. Cuphead and his friend Mugman visit the Devil’s casino where they land themselves in a spot of bother after a bad spell of gambling. The Devil demands that Cuphead and Mugman go out to find and collect the souls of those who’ve wronged the Devil. Otherwise it’s out two cup inspired heroes facing the ultimate punishment. That’s it and that’s all we need.
So, aside from it looking and sounding great, how does it play?
Cuphead in all honesty is a very simple yet effective run and gun platformer. There’s nothing wrong with this but bear in mind that Cuphead is not the next Half Life 2. There’s no revolutionary dynamics or game changing mechanics to make it truly of the greatest games ever made. It’s simple and something we’ve seen before, but it’s so much fun that it’s hard to dislike anything about it.
You play as either Cuphead or Mugman as they venture across the land in order to battle 25 bosses and claim their souls for the Devil. Cuphead’s focus on conflict is driven on its immense and epic boss battles with some segments of run and gun platforming. So if you’re the type of person who loves a good boss battle and not too bothered on other aspects of platforming then you’re in for a treat. I’ve heard the argument that Cuphead’s structure seems rather hollow as boss fights take up 75% of the game but this definitely not the case. When you encounter these boss fights they’re a true marvel in every respect of the word. These epic battles have great variation and each boss fight implements different elements to their structure to keep them refreshing.
My personal favourite and one of the standouts (they’re all standouts) is the ghost train level. There are plenty of aspects at play alone in this level from being controlling a handcar while battling different components of the train as it spews all manner of mayhem. The bosses are a true achievement in design, presentation and how well they function in terms of challenge and gameplay. There’s an overwhelming sense of reward once they’re beaten and the next thing you’ll most likely do is replay them again because they’re so much fun to fight.
Cuphead in all honesty is mechanically simple with both Cuphead and Mugman are able to shoot projectiles from their fingers while being able to perform a number of special moves. They run, jump and can collect gold coins to upgrade their abilities and attacks. That’s it. Nothing more and to be fair that’s all we need. There are these run and gun segments which pop up every so often but never take the focus away from the excellent boss battles. They’re fine but I will say that these segments don’t compare to the remainder of the game.
As for the challenge and “extreme” difficulty, all I have to say is that Cuphead is fair for the most part. Bosses all have different forms of attacks and behaviours so it’s depending on how well the player(s) adapt and learn their counterpart’s manoeuvres. This is a very old school approach of boss battles were you register how they act before their attacks and learn what you should do when you see the signs. There’s often enough time to prepare yourself once you see certain behaviours and there’s always a means to avoid any attacks or to counter it. The only aspect of the difficulty that became slightly annoying were in the run and gun segments. They’re perfectly fun and balanced for the most part, but these segments will bombard you with numerous NPCs that seems a little overwhelming. However these are constructed beautifully just like the boss battles and also allow you to collect coins to buy various upgrades and perks.
Yet these are minor problems in an otherwise amazing game. Cuphead will stand the test of time as it offers something we’ve seen before but also something we’ve not. It’s been a while since we’ve played a game close to anything like Cuphead, a product created by passionate designers who’ve poured their heart and soul to crafting a beautiful looking and extremely fun game. This is definitely worth supporting as it’s a refreshing change of pace compared to all the other shooters we get on the market now days.
++ Amazing visuals
++ Awesome soundtrack
++ Compelling gameplay featuring epic boss battles
+ Great replay value and rewarding sense of accomplishment
- Run and gun segments aren't as engaging as boss battles (they're still good)