Cuphead Is A Brutal Blast From The Past
Hot damn, it has been a loooong time since we first learned about Cuphead. The side-scroller’s 1930s-era cartoon visuals instantly turned heads when it was originally revealed at E3 in 2014, and no one has been able to forget it since. The game has certainly earned its reputation not just because of its painstaking representation of a bygone aesthetic (that it totally nails right down to the hand-drawn cel-animation, grainy film stock, and creepily lo-fi audio quality), but also because it’s also one of the most punishingly difficult run-and-gunners in years. If games were made back in the ’30s, they’d probably be as unforgiving as this.
And yet I cannot stop playing it, despite how enraging the boss fights are and how relentlessly chaotic the side-scrolling action always becomes. Did I mention that you only get three measly hits before “you’re dead”? This may seem harsh, but the game’s astonishingly inventive production values will bring you back again, until you finally overcome that seemingly insurmountable obstacle and move on to the next one.
All this to say that while Cuphead is psychotically difficult, it’s never cheap and it’s always a pleasure to play. The game controls wonderfully, the characters and writing are top-notch, and, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s gobsmackingly gorgeous. If you’ve ever enjoyed very old school Disney (not, like, Aladdin), Betty Boop, and maybe even little Ren and Stimpy, this game will speak to you. Its style can be best described as “rubber hose animation,” in which artists drew characters without joints—hence their flowing, rubber hose-like limb movements.
Fast-forward to 2017, Developers Studio MDHR took a long time to get this one out of the gate, but the wait was more than worth it. Cuphead is a fully fleshed out shooter classic that will be admired for generations, and will probably spawn more than a few imitators that pale in comparison.
When you’re not running and gunning for your life, you’ll be travelling the world map as a debt collector for the devil, collecting souls thanks to a bad gambling break. Obtaining souls requires you to overcome some very daunting boss battles, in between equally frantic platform stages that will help you acquire coins that can be exchanged for weapons and buffs (like a charm that mercifully offers you a fourth health bar). Be warned, these coins are hard to come by and you can only snatch them once. But they will definitely come in handy, giving your literal hand-gun the ability to fire spread shots, charged blasts, and other fierce firepower.
The game also comes equipped with two-player local co-op, but I guarantee that won’t make it any easier. If you find single player frenetic, adding another person to the mix will double that. But there is hope for those who are less inclined to take on such a difficult challenge. You can opt for easier boss fights that reduce the strain, however, you’ll need to beat every boss in normal mode to face the final foe. It’s definitely worth the challenge.
Cuphead is available now exclusively on Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. Don’t be a wimp and check out the trailer below.