First announced during Microsoft’s E3 press conference in 2014, Cuphead has been a long-time-coming, and the anticipation has been growing ever since. But, can it live up to this massive amount of hype? That greatly depends on what you want as a gamer.
- Title: Cuphead
- Developer: Studio MDHR
- Release Date: September 29, 2017
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Review Copy: Purchased by Reviewer
- Reviewed By: Jaime Mikolajewski
- Story Completed: YES
- Proudest Achievement: Pacifist
If you’re the kind of gamer that loves to stop and smell the roses, contemplating every pixel placement, and taking your time to enjoy the atmosphere the game creators have made for you, then Cuphead is not for you. If you, however, enjoy games that require lightning fast reflexes, punishing difficulty, while still being easy of the eyes, then Studio MDHR’s gaming debut may be right up your alley. Mega Man fans and Contra fans rejoice – This is what you’ve been searching for.
A Trip Back In Time
Based on the 1930’s animation of yesteryear (with influences of Popeye and Betty Boop, to name a few), Studio MDHR went all-in on recreating this golden age of cinema. Anyone that gives Cuphead even a passing glance will notice its beautiful hand-drawn art style. Completed over a span of 7 years, Studio MDHR painstakingly drew every frame you see on screen – and it shows. This game, especially on a 4K TV set, is one of the prettiest games you will ever lay eyes on.
Even the soundtrack invokes nostalgia with its jazzy influences from that same time period. With over 50 original tracks stretching over 3 hours, composer Kristofer Maddigan brings the time period roaring to life – all played by live musicians. Every track is catchy and enjoyable, which is great, as you will be hearing them over and over again as you constantly die and restart stages multiple times. (You can even buy the soundtrack in MP3 format or on vinyl)
Speaking of gameplay, Cuphead is a time capsule of gaming greatness as well. Those that fondly remember blasting through stages as Mega Man on their NES or running-and-gunning with Bill and Lance as they take down the alien threat in Contra will feel right at home. Game play consists mainly of diving and dodging past enemies while shooting any oncoming projectiles. In all honesty, your finger will never let off the fire button.
Making a Deal
As far as story goes, there’s just enough to give you motivation. It’s all told through pictures in a story book, bookending the beginning and end of the game. No animated cut scenes to be found, but that’s part of its old-timey charm.
The story goes that, while gambling at a casino, Cuphead and his pal Mugman unintentionally make a deal with the Devil. The only way to pay him back is to collect the debt from his other “clients” – also known as the brutes you will be battling. The only way to go toe-to-toe with the Devil himself, and win back your soul, is to first defeat the many obstacles standing in your way.
The game is split into two gameplay styles over three islands, with an over world map to guide you along the way. Like any great old-school game with an explorable map, there are also many secrets to be found if you snoop hard enough. Stages are either boss rush battles or run-and-gun platforming stages. Hopefully, you enjoy boss battles, as that will make up the majority of your experience. Cuphead consists of 6 run-and-gun stages and nearly 30 boss battles (17 main bosses, and 9 mini bosses). You’ll be running, jumping, floating on clouds, riding rollercoasters, and even flying a plane, as you take on the games many behemoths.
No matter how many times I had to replay a boss, I was always impressed with the variety Studio MDHR was able to squeeze into this game. While most bosses have a known pattern, the game does mix up the formula, sometimes putting phases in different order. This keeps each battle fresh without being frustrating. I will say, many times I was caught off guard because I was too busy gawking at the beautiful animation that I missed a projectile heading in my direction. This is a wonderful trap to fall into.
The only real downside to Cuphead comes back to the hand drawn art style. Studio MHDR went the extra mile and animated both background and foreground animation. While this adds to the depth of the scene, sometimes the foreground animation can get in the way, making it impossible to see a projectile coming your way. While this was infrequent (and comprised of only the plane stages), it did become frustrating over time. Not only were you dealing with the extremely difficult bosses, but you would be fighting the environment as well.
It’s also worth noting that this game does not feature online co-op. While Studio MDHR did promise it will get patched in with a future update, the only way Cuphead can be joined by Mugman currently is with good, old-fashioned couch co-op. If you’re looking for a good game to play with your pals online, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Roll The Dice
Cuphead is not a game for everyone, but I suggest everyone should at least give it a try – even if just to see this game in motion and enjoy it’s wonderful soundtrack. The game can be extremely difficult at times, but at least you can grind away with a friend through local co-op. Outside of the frustrating moments with foreground animation, I can’t seem to find a flaw in this gem of a game. We may never see another game like Cuphead, and that is a real shame. Grab this one while you can. This is an experience that can’t be missed.
Final Grade: A
- Beautiful, hand-drawn art style
- Enjoyable, swinging Jazz Soundtrack
- Boss variety
- Foreground animation can get in the way of the battle
- No online co-op