Cuphead Review

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Studio MDHR’s long-awaited run and gunner based on 1930s cartoons has finally arrived. Find out what we thought about it in our Cuphead Review.

Release Date September 29, 2017
Genre Action/Platformer
Platforms Xbox One/PC
Developer Studio MDHR
Price $19.99 US
ESRB Rating Everyone
Players 1-2 Players

 

Cuphead became a legend before it ever came out. It seems like everyone has been patiently waiting to play this game for years now. Aat one point, it almost felt as though this game was never going to actually happen, but here it is right in front of us. By the way, it is incredibly difficult.

We’ll get to the difficulty in a minute. First, I want to talk about just what Cuphead is all about. You play as Cuphead (and Mugman if playing co-op) who gambled with the devil and lost. Now the characters must go and collect debts from the devil’s acquaintances who make up the game’s bosses. Boss fights aren’t the only thing to do in the game, though, as you also have some run and gun stages to split up the action. These stages allow you to collect coins to upgrade your weapons and give you passive buffs. Coins do not come back once you collect them so there is no cheap way to gain an advantage (nor should there be).

Cuphead Review
The run and gun levels have enemies all over the place.

You get to new levels, the shop, and boss battles by using a World Map. This map is more of a pain than anything as it’s actually really slow to move around in. It’s not like a Super Mario World Map, it’s more like a Commander Keen World Map where you free roam and go to whatever level you feel like playing that you have access to. There are some shortcuts along the way and things like that, but it’s pretty basic by most accounts.

Thes best part about Cuphead is the attention to detail to trying to make it look like an authentic 1930s cartoon. StudionMDHR did a great job creating title placards for each level that make them seem like episodes, they even put a 1930 copyright. The animation itself is beautiful and even includes that grainy effects and spots on the screen that characterized that era. There isn’t a game out there that has come as close to playing out an animated show. I’ve never seen anything quite like the style of this game, but I really hope it’s successful enough to warrant more in this style. 

Cuphead Review
There are plenty of boss battles with lots of variety.

A lot has been said about how difficult Cuphead is, and it is, but it’s not impossible. It brings back a difficulty level that is similar to what some games were like on NES. It wasn;t meant to be easy. I will say it did frustrate me early and often, but that’s what I expected. It actually made me feel more fulfilled when I finished a stage because of how hard it is. The battles and levels themselves only last a few minutes, but when you only have 3 (or 4 with a power-up) hit points, it does make it a test of your skills. It’s pretty crazy to try balancing enemies falling from the sky, enemies bouncing towards you, projectiles, pitfalls, and trying to defeat all of those enemies at the same time. That’s hard enough and we’re only talking about the run and gun levels.

Bosses create even more frustration as you’re never sure how close you are to defeating one as there is no life meter. You can see a progress line when you die so you get a bit of an idea how close you were, so it’s not all bad. It takes a lot of practice to defeat some of these bosses and a lot of pattern memorization. I actually enjoyed these battles a lot because of how much strategy is involved. It’s not like a boss battle in Sonic the Hedgehog, these battles are intense and involve some of the most colourful characters you can imagine. More than that, the bosses change forms or the way they move in the middle of the stage to keep you guessing. They even have multiple different attacks that they can use in a battle so you really have to pay attention to survive. There is a simple version of the boss battle, but you have to complete all on normal difficulty to get the final battle so, there isn’t much point in trying to the easier version.

Cuphead Review
There are some flying stages that are particularly fun.

So what tools do you have to fight such insurmountable odds? Well, plenty actually. Cuphead allows you to have two different types of shots at once with each being mapped to a different button. You start out with a straight shot that Cuphead fires from his fingers. There are plenty more types of shots than that such as a spread shot, boomerang shot, and a charge blast. There are six in all and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Each one of those attacks also has a secondary attack that is tied to a meter that fills up upon successful attacks on enemies and successful parries (hitting the jump button right before impact). These secondary attacks only take away part of the meter and include things like a fireball and a ring of gems to name a couple. There is even a super attack which can only be fired when your meter is full. You’re forced to use your super and cannot use your secondary attack when the meter is full. Depending on what situation you’re in, that’s not always the best thing.

One of the best things about Cuphead is that it supports 2-player local co-op. It’s not that much easier with a partner, though. In fact, with the extra projectiles and other things on-screen, it may well be harder. It’s still a fun way to play, it’s nice to have somebody battle with you and you can even revive your partner by parrying their ghost before it floats away. I thought this was a nice idea as most games would just leave you without a partner for the rest of the battle. The only downside is you have to be fast because once the ghost is gone, you don’t get your friend back for the rest of the fight.

Cuphead Review
The animation style is second to none.

Cuphead is a different type of game in a time when every game feels the same. Studio MDHR cultivated a wonderful new experience that, while difficult, is incredibly fulfilling. I recommend this game to everyone to try. Not everyone will like this game because of the difficulty level, but I think it’s important to give it a chance. Not every game needs to be easy to be good, and this is a great example of that. Give Cuphead a try!

*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by Xbox for review purposes*

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  • Yeah great game, but it’s a little tough for me.

    Do you know of any other retro feel games that are not quite so difficult but still have the same feel about them?

    • You might like Broforce or Mercenary Kings. Both of those have a retro run and gun fell to them. Cast of the Seven Godsends is another good one.