Cuphead Review – Charming Presentation Meets Punishing Difficulty
I’ve been waiting for Cuphead for a long, long time. Back in 2014, I recall seeing early Cuphead footage during the Xbox E3 conference. The look of the game created a hype inside me that gradually faded as the years of development went on. Fast forward to the beginning of 2017 and StudioMDHR Entertainment finally had an actual release date. Cuphead quickly returned to the top of my most hyped 2017 games. Was Cuphead worth the wait? Here’s my Cuphead review.
What is Cuphead?
Cuphead is a classic inspired run and gun action game which emphasises boss battles. The aesthetics of Cuphead are inspired by cartoons of the 1930’s, and interestingly, most of the visuals and drawings were created by utilizing the same techniques of that era. Cuphead can be played either solo or in couch co-op mode. Players fight their way through various worlds in order to complete a task for The Devil, who holds a large debt over them.
Cuphead is a Difficult Game
In Cuphead, you will die over and over again. This is to say the game is difficult. With that being said, Cuphead is not 30 minutes struggling with the tutorials hard, but rather an interesting mix of periods of struggle and success. I’ve seen people compare Cuphead to “Dark Souls“, but I would argue Cuphead is far more akin to 80s and 90s gaming where difficulty was just part of the gaming experience.
Cuphead‘s balance of difficulty and control is masterfully done. Never did I feel like the game cheated me, but instead failures were simply my fault. My death may have been because I was a touch slow here, or forgot an attack pattern there. The more I learned, the better I became in Cuphead. By the end of the game, I was able to go back to World 1 and fight bosses easily. This type of trial and error may not be for everyone, but I enjoy banging my head against the proverbial wall to then finally breakthrough to the other side.
Cuphead is a Beautiful Game
Cuphead is one of the best looking, and unique game’s of the year (maybe even decade). There is nothing on the market that even compares to the intricacies in design from both a visual and sound perspective.
The visuals in Cuphead are all masterfully crafted with colors popping off the screen. Everything in the visuals department is so well crafted. There’s interesting levels; crazy background and foreground animations; and crazy character designs which create a feast for thine eyes.
Complementing the visuals is an equally crafted OST of barbershop quartets, big band, and instrumentals. Each track fits in perfectly with what you see on screen. From the title screen to the various boss battles, the team over at MDHR meticulously designed each interaction to tantalize the ears.
I could easily recommend Cuphead from both a visual and audio position alone, but we also get gameplay alongside this beautiful game. Turns out the game is actually really fun which is nice.
Cuphead is a Fun Game
As Cuphead is a videogame and not say a Studio Ghibli movie, there has to be more then simply beautiful visuals and eargasmic sounds to the experience; thankfully there is. Cuphead‘s gameplay revolves largely around two very specific concepts: boss battles and platforming.
Boss battles do the brunt of the heavy lifting in Cuphead. Bosses exist within their own boss levels on the overworld map, which means you choose which bosses you want to fight and when you want to fight them. Boss fights progress through phases which sees the boss evolve into stronger, more powerful forms. You may start out fighting a blue blob only to end up fighting a giant tombstone by the fight’s end. To progress through each boss fight you must learn to identify each phase’s attack pattern and play accordingly to counter it. This portion of the game is probably the most Souls – like aspect of Cuphead and is one I really enjoyed. Completing a clean boss run typically requires multiple attempts, but rewards you with that feeling of success.
Run and Gun
When not fighting a boss, you can try your hand at the Run and Gun levels that are spread out throughout the different worlds of Cuphead. These levels essentially act as your traditional platformer with twin stick shooting mechanics. Completing these levels rewards you with coins and other goodies which can help you on your journey through Inkwell Isle.
Like the graphics and sound design, the design behind Cuphead‘s gameplay is masterfully done. Each boss feels fresh and unique, while Run and Gun levels give you a chance to take a quick breather from battling bosses all day long. While playing Cuphead I never felt bored or uninterested. Things flow so well together that I literally just kept playing and playing.
Overall I can say that my experience was close to perfection. Everything about Cuphead is well thought out and well executed. There are a couple of minor gripes I had with the game (which I will address here), but these are relatively minor.
The first problem I have with Cuphead is the lack of online co-op. Prior to the game’s release, I attempted to convince @CaptClue to pick Cuphead up so we could play together. To my dismay, I learned co-op was local play only. Having had the chance to try out co-op play, it’s a shame I can’t play the game with friends that live over the internet.
The other problem I have with Cuphead is minor frame hitching. While this wasn’t prevalent in my playthrough, there was a few instances where it felt like the game’s engine was struggling to keep up. This resulted in intermittent frame hitches. As the game is rather difficult on it’s own, dealing with frame hitching makes things much harder.
For a game that started it’s life in 2010 and spent the next seven years in development hell, the final product is nothing short of incredible. Cuphead for me reaches the heights of indie greats like Stardew Valley, The Binding of Isaac, and Terraria. The final product oozes meticulous attention to detail which provides an incredible gaming experience. From the graphics and sound design, to the gameplay, I enjoyed my entire playthrough of Cuphead. I’m even considering doing another playthrough which is usually only something I do for the Dark Souls series.