Cuphead is a great first offering from StudioMDHR Entertainment. It boasts hand-drawn graphics and a nostalgic feel. It’s only failure may be that it dared set the bar as high as it did. Besides that though, the game is perhaps one of the most gorgeous ever made and that’s saying something in a world of 3D universes that extend into space and back into time.
This run ‘n’ gun, follows Cuphead, a cartoon character forced to repay a debt to the devil. It was based on the work of 1930s cartoonists, namely Max Fleischer’s Fleischer Studios. They delved into surrealist content back when there wasn’t necessarily a gigantic market for that — the 60’s would’ve eaten Fleischer’s work up.
Fleischer Studios was best known for characters like Betty Boop, Bimbo and Popeye the Sailor. But the studio also worked on third-party properties like Superman and helped bring his stories to millions of children who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see it.
And that’s really what Cuphead does so well; it shines a light on an era of animation that has long since died. While some have said that it doesn’t delve far enough into that world and leaves the player wanting more, that’s a good “problem” for the indie developer to have.
Clearly the game is a hit selling over 1 million copies in its first two weeks. Any subsequent sequel will be a hit as well.
Many people were looking for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit vibe from the game and that really never materialized. Yet, what did was anything but simple. The game mixes different styles and genres. So, while it starts with a simple run ‘n’ gun style, it’s actually anything but simple in terms of difficulty.
It’s another nod to a bygone era, this time being how difficult games used to be when there was limited space on a disk or cartridge. Besides how beautiful the game is visually and the fact that it looks perfect for a small child, even the most seasoned gamer will find difficult to complete it, almost from the outset.
Unlike most games, Cuphead has no checkpoints and really no way to regain lost health as the game progresses, something that is almost unheard of in modern gaming. Even traditionally difficult games like the Mega Man series or Ninja Gaiden had the ability to save or regain health, so if you’re thinking of buying Cuphead for a young one to avoid the violence of first-person shooters, keep that in mind.
Most levels in the game, like Mega Man, can take hours to beat. To progress to the final level you have to beat all the other levels.
Cuphead boasts co-op as well, via Cuphead’s friend Mugman. You’d think it would make the game easier but in reality, it makes it harder. This is a game that looks simple and cute but adding a second player just makes the screen much busier, with twice the enemies to defeat — not unlike Battletoads and the infamous Jet-Ski level.
The game is so difficult that it almost detracts from the beauty of its graphics. You become so engrossed in beating certain levels or bosses that you may miss some of the details.
This creates a dynamic of social playing, as you’ll want to watch your friends play so you can pick out the tiny details, especially the different boss designs. The giant bird wearing a cuckoo clock armor with tiny, ray-gun-holding chicks that fire wads of garbage at you is something to marvel at.
The game can be hectic but its design is relatively simple. It’s a linear game with three independent worlds that are all filled with one-shot levels that once completed, lead to the finale. Each level can take one of three different forms, the first being the run ‘n’ gun to left-to-right platforming that most people are familiar with — think Contra.
These levels are the easiest in the game and are meant to be the calm before the storm. The boss battles, which are a lot more difficult than the run ‘n’ gun levels, are great tests of hand-eye coordination. They are a lot like classic treasure games or the types of games where you control a spaceship from above and collect upgrades — just without the spaceship.
Most difficult and awesome are the platforming battle levels. These levels are the highlight of the game. They are some of the better levels in any game in recent memory. The battles are often really creative and funny and difficult.
For example, one boss is an actress that you battle in her theater. The fight takes you through the different stages of a play and brings different elements that you otherwise hadn’t used up until that point. That portion of the game feels more like a fighting game — like Street Fighter — as the actress uses kicks and props for special moves.
It’s a perfect example of how Cuphead flows freely in and out of different video gaming genres and that’s what makes this game so special. So while younger gamers might get frustrated easily by the game, it’s still a visual spectacle. It somehow delivered on its promise and has a decent amount of playback value as well.
Considering the detail that went into each level and each character, this is a game that could bring you back time and time again. Especially in the day and age of updates and new levels/DLC.
There’s a reason why Cuphead is getting rave reviews; it’s mixed old with new in a way that has rarely been done before.