By: Johnny Big Fudge Marcondes
Living up to the hype
Cuphead falls under that rare category of games that not only meet exceptions but shatter it leaving players with a game that’s more impressive and fulfilling. From the hand drawn aesthetics that are a love letter to early 1930’s cartoons to the beautifully orchestrated music that ties the game’s essence down, there’s so much Cuphead gets right than you never dwell on the small things they get wrong. Having this surrealistic approach to character design couples with their classic run and gun platform mechanic there’s this perfect blend of nostalgic and modern influences that frankly is just addictively fun. Within the first few minutes of Cuphead you’re easily shown that this isn’t like any other game you’ve ever played before. Cuphead from the very start of the game instantly grabs your attention and heart as it’s just so incredibly well put together you can’t help but fall for Cuphead and Mugman as the two brothers regretfully make one wrong decision.
While the main story is fairly linear and straight to the point as the two brothers gamble their souls away to the Devil, the journey to reclaim your souls is where the game picks up. Having to collect the souls of various characters who have made a contract with the Devil may sound fairly simple but where the game really shines is through is it’s colorful and vivid world and character designs. Having more boss battles than any other game I can think of, Cuphead makes each encounter with a boss as creative as the last and equally as challenging. This isn’t your run of the mill platformer, Cuphead is easily one of the most challenging and grueling experiences I have had in any run and gun/platforming game. Each boss you encounter has their own set of unique patterns and timing that can seemingly change per encounter.
For example you may be facing a boss for the first time and like with almost every new encounter with a boss you become a little overwhelmed. Each boss has a set of patterns they follow which can be easy to predict and avoid however if/when you die and return to that boss sometimes their patterns change often throwing new projectiles or changing their strike. While frustrating at times it’s also what makes Cuphead such a great game. For all it’s challenge and toughness the game puts you through it’s one of the most satisfying experiences you can have simply because once defeated, you as the player can have this sigh of relief and sense of accomplishment that you rarely get in modern games. The bosses are overwhelming and challenging but they never feel impossible or unfair. Cuphead forces you to not only think quick but think smart as the bosses may knock you down numerous times but always leave you with enough hope that encourages you to keep trying.
Personally speaking, I have been waiting for this game ever since it was announced back in 2014 and after three years of waiting I can honestly say I am not disappointed. Cuphead embodies some of the best aspects of both gaming and art where the game doesn’t pull any punches and takes these risks that feel incredibly rewarding. What makes Cuphead so special is that it’s completely unforgiving and expects you to get better (get gud) leaving you with an honest sense that you adapted to the game and really earned every win. Even though Cuphead does more often than not give you a lot to overcome it never truly impossible. Frustrating, but never impossible. Having the chance to upgrade your characters arsenal and switch weapons mid game does come in handy and most of the times after a few tries you really find yourself getting in the rhythm of each level fairly easy.
Outside of the boss battles the standard platforming run and gun levels are equally as fun and challenging as each level has their own set of unique enemy types and mechanics. My only gripe with the game is that in order to purchase upgrades for your character you need to go through the standard run and gun platforming levels to collect coins. Each level has anywhere from one to three coins that can be collected and once collected that’s it they’re gone from that level which means you won’t be able to grind through and collect coins for upgrades. It’s a bit of a double edge sword as it does force you to be more stingy and think more strategically when buying upgrades but on the other hand it means if you buy the wrong items early on the rest of the game can be even more grueling without the help of the right upgrades.
Every world has it’s fair share of boss battles and platforming levels but each world tends to up the battles a little to the point that some bosses feel as if they last forever going through four or so transformations. Again, it’s fine and still fun but for those who made some wrong upgrade choices might find them more challenging than they should be and there’s no way to change that as you can’t sell items or farm for coins. Nevertheless it’s damn near impossible to stay mad or frustrated at Cuphead when the artwork is so beautiful and the music so catchy and good, this is easily one of the most charismatic and charming games I have ever played to date. Each character you encounter feels thought out and just look so cool that you may die or take unnecessary hits just because you were distracted. Cuphead moves at such an incredibly fast pace that often times you forget to take it all in and really appreciate the art, it’s both a good and bad thing as the fast paced nature of the game keeps you on the edge of your seat while focusing and powering through a level may distract you from really seeing the game.
As the game progresses and the brothers(if playing 2Player) begin to rack up the souls/contracts for the Devil you encounter a lot of imaginative boss battles. From mermaids to ghost trains to angry flowers, Cuphead is certainly one of the most creative experiences in the run and gun genre to perhaps ever come out. The main plot of the game does flow fairly easy as it’s pretty straight forward but upon reaching the final boss the game gives you an option. Either the two brother can join the Devil and be his new right hand enforcers or they can battle the Devil for their freedom. This leaves the player with two possible endings meaning there’s more than enough incentive for a second play through. Honestly, the story of the game is fine and works in the context of the game but it never truly feels like the star of the show. Narrative takes a backseat to the actual gameplay that really carries the game, no matter which ending you choose you never really feel that involved in the story but rather in the battles. While Cuphead is a great game, the story isn’t exactly the reason for that it’s the challenge and boss battles that make it great not the journey the brothers go on.
All in all, Cuphead is an incredible experience, the bosses are all challenging and the artwork is beyond amazing. For those who are like me and have been waiting for this game for years, Cuphead does not disappoint. There’s this incredibly nostalgic approach to the game where you’re reminded that games don’t have to be hyper realistic or flashy, they can be imaginative and weird and most of all fun. Those are the aspects of gaming that Cuphead no only aims for but fully embodies. Challenging and creative are the easiest ways to describe the game but shouldn’t be the only way. Every aspect of this game embodies what makes gaming so much fun. The characters, the art, the music and gameplay all work so perfectly together that it’s really hard to not fall head over heals with it. Even though the story itself doesn’t steal the show and feels more or less like a supporting role the game is so much fun that you never really seem to mind. There aren’t any games quite like Cuphead out and it’s nice to see something so different out on a large platform. Cuphead has been on numerous peoples must watch list and anyone who’s spent a few minutes with it can understand why. Would the game benefit from a more detailed story? Sure, but it doesn’t need it when everything else falls in line.
While essentially a short game with three worlds the characters you meet along the way and the battles you have more than make up for the short game time. Playing with a friend or solo is equally fun, whether you’re taking on bosses with a friend or trying to parry attacks solo and beat the game alone there’s always fun to be had. Usually when a game takes this long to come out it often gets over hyped and no matter how good it is they never live up to the hype we create. That isn’t the case with Cuphead and I hope to see more from this game later on either through DLC or a sequel.