Eccentric boss battles and The Devil himself await us in this surreal representation of a 1930s cartoon. Developed and published by StudioMDHR Entertainment, Cuphead is a run and gun shooter that features branching levels and continuous boss fights. The game’s premise is all about the challenge, prepare to have your patience and ultimate limits tested from a bunch of adorable cartoons.
We begin our journey as Cuphead along with his brother Mugman who live on the fictional Inkwell Isle with their guardian Elder Kettle. Against Elder Kettle’s wishes, we find Cuphead and Mugman in the Devil’s casino on a winning streak. It doesn’t take long before things go sour when the Devil order’s that they both give up their souls. The only way out of this predicament is to collect souls from other debtors to wipe away your debt. With that in mind, you begin your road to salvation as you attempt to conquer one boss soul to the next.
Cuphead’s 1930 animation aesthetic will mesmerise you at every turn from the hand-drawn characters, water coloured backgrounds to its subtle scratched film-grain filter. The game is highly authentic to this 1930’s cartoon period and the sound is no exception. You’ll be greeted with a mix of lively swing and jazz that will accompany you in the background for each stage.There’s no doubt that this is a gorgeous game that will lure you in through its style alone.
To say that Cuphead is challenging is an understatement. Don’t be fooled by its cute cartoon aesthetic as this game will grant you no quarter. Right after the tutorial, you’ll be asked to reach a variety of feats from running, shooting, jumping dashing and parrying, all in quick succession. There’s no difficulty option for Cuphead either. The game gives you a deceiving choice before each boss fight to play the stage on simple mode or regular, however, playing the game’s simple mode won’t grant you a boss’s soul that you’ll need to progress. Begging the question why this ‘simple’ mode even exists in the first place? Each fight is chaotic and unrelenting demanding your utmost undivided attention to succeed. No enemy has a health bar or let alone an indication of when the fight will end. Each and every encounter will feel as if it lasts far too long. You’re only hint of knowing when a fight is drawing near appears on a graph that shows how close you were to the KO or the next phase of the battle. Obstacles will often clutter your entire screen as you desperately fumble your way through each and every level.
Cuphead has two different types of stages that vary from run and gun levels to boss fights. The run and gun stages are pretty self-explanatory as you’ll have to avoid all the obstacles thrown at you to get to the end. The main point of these stages is to collect coins that you can use to purchase upgrades for your weapons and health. Collecting money in Cuphead, much like everything else, is difficult and grinding to make the game easier for yourself is completely out of the question. When you finally do manage to get your hands on a small amount of money you’ll realise that spending all that hard earned cash on upgrades won’t come without a consequence. For instance, you can upgrade the amount of hearts you have so that you can endure more hits but your damage output will be significantly reduced.
Cuphead can be described as a game with style over substance. It’s highly picturesque graphics are truly beautiful to look at, however, its linear plot design and challenging emphasis on gameplay make it fall a little flat. When it comes down to it, the game’s difficulty can feel overwhelmingly frustrating which make Cuphead’s hard-fought obstacles fill you with relief rather than reward. Cuphead is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and what you see here is most certainly not what you get.