Cuphead Review – A Cup Worth Drinking Out Of
Video game developers are always pushing the boundaries of their craft by experimenting with things like narrative, gameplay, and style. Cuphead, a run ‘n’ gun indie game developed by Studio MDHR, easily surpasses the limits of what video games are capable of stylistically.
After 3 years of waiting in anticipation, Cuphead finally dropped last weekend, and it exceeds all expectations. What better way to start talking about the game then with its look. Cuphead‘s design is inspired by 1930s cartoons, specifically, the cartoons of Fleischer Studios, Ub Iwerks, and Walt Disney. The game’s designs are delicious eye candy and makes it one of the most visually fascinating games to come out in a long time. All of Cuphead‘s characters are hand drawn and its watercolor background are very beautiful. What I love the most about Cuphead‘s art style is that it pays homage to rubber hose animation, an animation style that was once abandoned, but has found new life in this game.
I have total respect for Cuphead‘s animators. I cannot even begin to fathom the amount of work that went into making this game as animating by hand is arduous and incredibly time-consuming. Nonetheless, all of their hard work paid off because Cuphead succeeds in looking like an authentic 1930s cartoon. The game essentially feels like you are playing a cartoon from that era, which is, as far as I am aware, a first in gaming.
The story begins on Inkwell Isle where two brothers named Cuphead and Mugman enjoy a fun and fancy free life. One day, they stumble upon a place called the Devil’s Casino. The boys enter the joint and immediately go on a winning streak, attracting the attention of the casino’s owner, the Devil himself. When the Devil approaches them, he raises the stakes of their streak by putting their souls on the line. Cuphead rolls snake eyes, causing the brothers to lose the challenge. However, the Devil strikes a deal with them: collect the soul contracts of his runaway debtors and their lives will be spared. Without much choice, Cuphead and Mugman abide the Devil’s command and venture back out into Inkwell Isle to gather his souls.
Inkwell Isle serves as the game’s main overworld. In it, you can enter levels, talk to NPCs, and browse Porkrind’s Emporium, a shop where weapon upgrades and buffs can be purchased. Cuphead‘s gameplay follows the basic run, jump, shoot formula of other run ‘n’ gun games like Contra and Metal Slug with some additions thrown in. One of such additions is the inclusion of a super meter that is capable of unleashing powerful attacks on foes. The super meter is built up by inflicting damage and by parrying. Parrying is one of Cuphead‘s new contributions to the run ‘n’ gun mold that I love a lot. It can only be performed on pink objects and, once executed, nullifies attacks and builds up your super meter faster.
The meat and potatoes of Cuphead are its difficult boss battles. In addition to the boss fights, there is an even mix of run ‘n’ gun levels that are just as tough. Calling the boss fights hard would be a gross understatement; they are more relentless and brutal. Yes, the boss fights are frustrating even on the Simple setting, but don’t let the difficulty deter you from trying out this game. Dying is the norm in Cuphead, and the more it happens, the more you learn about the boss. You will also learn what weapon upgrades and buffs work best against a boss giving you a lot of trouble. As tough as the fights might be, the boss fights are very entertaining and equally rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying than learning the attack pattern of a boss who has murdered you hundreds of time and finally defeating it.
If Cuphead’s memorable boss fights weren’t enough, the game sports a stunning jazzy soundtrack. It has already become one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks, following close behind Chrono Trigger‘s OST, my second favorite soundtrack. Take a listen to one of the songs for yourself down below to get an idea of how amazing Cuphead‘s music is.
Video uploaded by AlfredDerCreeper
Cuphead is a phenomenal indie game. It is a welcome breath of fresh air that proves anything is possible in video games. Sure, the game may be a hard boss rush, but its focus on good gameplay partnered with a unique art style make it one of the strongest titles to come out this year. I hope Stuido MDHR makes a Cuphead sequel or better yet, makes another game in this same art style. I would love to see an RPG adventure game done using this animation. Maybe now other game developers will be inspired by Cuphead‘s animation and adopt it for their own games. Most importantly, Cuphead will prompt people to actually check out cartoons from the 1930s to see exactly where the game is coming from. So what are you waiting for, stop reading this review and play Cuphead. It is available on Windows 10, Steam, and Xbox One for only $20.