Cuphead is a game for stubborn people. This can also be interpreted as ‘for those that like a challenge’ (which would also be true). I myself am considered to be a very stubborn person, and that side of me really kicked in while playing Cuphead. More on that later.
Cuphead is a beautifully animated platformer cross shoot ‘em up that has been in development for around 7 years and recently was released exclusively for Xbox One and PC (sorry PlayStation and Nintendo fans). Just to get it out there early, this game is excellent, and if we had a rating system I’d give it 8.5/10.
The main draw to Cuphead, and the thing that caught people’s interest very early on is the visuals. The entire game is designed around a 30s/40s era cartoon (think Steamboat Mickey). The characters, themes, music and more all have that old style cartoon feel. The art for the game was all created by hand, with the team drawing every single frame in what must have been a painstaking 7 years. The end result however is nothing short of perfection.
You play as the titular named Cuphead (with an optional second player taking control of his brother, Mugman). The duo wander into the Devil’s Casino run by King Dice. When the brothers go on a winning streak, King Dice calls upon the Devil who raises the stakes. Cuphead rolls snake eyes and he and Mugman must give up their souls. The Devil makes a deal with them: collect the contracts of the other inhabitants of Inkwell Isle who have lost their souls and he might let the brothers off the hook.
You then have to make your way around the overworld, taking on various bosses in order to beat them and collect their contracts. Each boss has anywhere between 3-5 sequences; for example one of the early boss battles is called Botanic Panic and has you fight a potato that spits huge seeds at you. Once you’ve dished out enough hits and beat him, a crying onion will appear, who’s falling tears can do you damage. Finally, after the onion has been dispatched, you need to deal with a giant carrot that appears, shooting smaller carrots and telepathy rays at you. Yes, this might be the most random paragraph ever written in bazaar…but welcome to Cuphead!
There are also a small selection of Run & Gun levels, which are more platform-like. Rather than being confined to one arena with a boss, you have to make your way through the level, start to finish, a la Super Mario.
The game has been gaining notoriety for being extremely hard, which, having just finished the game I can fully confirm is an accurate and fairly earnt reputation. In parts, it’s almost too hard, even on regular mode; as standard, you only get 3 hits before dying, with no option to regain health. On top of that, everything that’s on screen can, will and does hit you. At one place in the first area, there’s a place that tells you how many times you died. Last time I checked, which was a couple of hours before I completed the game, I’d died 804 times. I suspect following the final boss, I’ll be over 1000 by now.
This is where the stubbornness comes in. Usually, when a game is too hard, it can be because of cheap deaths, bad game design, or a multitude of other reasons that you cannot control. At those times, I’ll get frustrated and put the controller down, probably never to touch the game again. But in Cuphead, it’s all for reasons that can be deemed your fault. You find yourself annoyed at your own actions, and hitting retry over and over, saying ‘I can do this, I know the pattern now’. As a stubborn person, you won’t let the game win, nor your own mistakes let you give up. Again, if you’re just the type of person that loves a challenge, Cuphead is going to be for you.
I’d have liked the game to be a bit longer, and with more Run & Gun levels, rather than primarily a boss rush. These are the only ‘issues’ I can take with the game. There are 2 endings to the game with some post-game unlocks, so when you finish the game on regular, you then get an expert mode (which I have in mind to try and complete but the difficulty is through the roof). I think I need something a bit mellower for my next game. Just as well Super Mario Odyssey is here in 2 weeks… (Yes, that’s a cliffhanger ending for next issue’s Geeks & Gamers).