“It’s so funny that you’ve taken the Cuphead review!” said Dale, knowing full well that I’m, well… terrible at games. But there was just something about this game that made me not only want to avoid any spoilers, but dive in head first into this fast-paced boss-focused platform shooter, despite absolutely hating the genre.
For those who don’t know, Cuphead is StudioMDHR Entertainment’s indie darling which takes the appearance of a 1930s cartoon. The game itself is a platform shooter with a heavy emphasis on boss battles, and by that I mean, the first island alone has a total of five bosses and only two “Run & Gun” game modes.
What I found incredibly charming about this game is its visuals. MDHR have done an absolutely outstanding job of encapsulating that 1930s aesthetic from the character design, to the sound track, right to the game’s overall CRT TV appearance. The barbershop quartet introduction gave me goosebumps, the game’s announcer was just a fantastic little addition to the game and didn’t get annoying, despite the amount of times we were forced to replay a level.
So this brings me onto the elephant in the room. Sure, the game looks and sounds fantastic, there’s honestly no doubt about that, but what about the game’s difficulty? It seems there’s a current trend of games trying to get that “Dark Souls” experience of punishingly difficult gameplay, and Cuphead can certainly be tossed into that trend, however there’s something almost nostalgic about the game despite it being a brand new property.
MDHR have managed to capture that frustration, that difficulty, and that hatred all 80s/90s kids felt when trying to get through boss levels from Super Mario Bros. or Mickey’s Castle of Illusion, or any of the other platform games we cherished as a kid, and that’s a feat that no modern platformer has really been able to truly capture.
Yes, Cuphead is difficult, that difficulty is also doubled when you invite a second player into the mix, but not necessarily how you’d think. For the sake of this review, I’ll admit that I haven’t played the game solo. I wanted to review this game because of its focus on co-op play so my experience of the game is through being the Player 1 of a two-player playthrough.
Okay, so as a co-op game, Cuphead once again shines. The second player isn’t just an extension of the first, the second player has just as much control over the game as the first player, and while that might not be a big deal, you’d be surprised the amount of games that offer local-co-op or split-screen multiplayer, and gives the second player little-to-no abilities to enter menus or begin games (I’m looking at you, Rocket League).
That being said, adding a second player into the mix can make the game somewhat more frustrating. That’s because at times the game becomes so frantic with both Cuphead and Mugman jumping around and shooting, you can often lose track of your character and focus on the wrong one, causing you to inadvertently fall to your death, or get hit by an incoming projectile.
Adding to this, because the game can be pretty fast paced, especially once you get into a rhythm in the Run & Gun modes (think Rayman, but way more hectic), you’ll find yourself being forced back by the other player as they either get hit, or have jarringly stopped to avoid an enemy.
So while playing with a second player is definitely a lot of fun. There may be times where you’re not necessarily sitting next to your most favourite person in the world – especially if, like me, they’re prone to making stupid and often avoidable mistakes.
While I’ve been singing this game’s praises, Cuphead does have a few flaws, especially when a game is so heavily focused on boss battles, and that’s fatigue. After spending almost an hour on one of the last bosses of the first island, when we moved onto the next and found that we had a choice of three more bosses, we were exhausted and didn’t have the mental capacity to continue.
This is not necessarily an issue with the game per-se, as others may be able to continue after a pretty stressful battle, however be prepared to be bombarded with intense gameplay and relentless bosses which seem to just be throwing absolutely everything at you (in some cases, they literally are).
Interestingly, the game could almost be comparable to a rhythm game as each boss has a sort of pattern of things that they do. At first, it might seem like a completely random series of events coming at you from all angles, but then after one or two attempts, it’ll click, you’ll notice the pattern and you’ll be able to work with it. Honestly, it’s primarily human error which causes failure, and that’s likely where most of the frustration with this game comes from.
Simply put, Cuphead is a work of art. As someone who absolutely despises, nay, loathes platform shooters, I’ll admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Cuphead and will continue to play it to further improve our scores. It’s frustrating, devilishly so, but there’s nothing quite like fisting the air when you eventually get the “It’s a KNOCKOUT!” screen and you’ll finally be seeing the back of that boss you’ve spent the better part of two hours trying to defeat.
The game’s story is interesting but not really important. It acts more of a segway between islands and an excuse as to why you’re visiting each of these different boss characters. It does however encapsulate that Saturday afternoon cartoon experience as well as Disney classics where stories are told through pages in story books.
Overall, Cuphead is a welcome surprise. It’s a game which touches on so many different aspects of classic platformers yet offers a refreshing new IP for players to fall in love with. Seriously, I’m already eyeing up the Cuphead POP! vinyl from Funko which were announced last week.