Game Review: Cuphead (Xbox One)

Cuphead, has anyone heard of this game? It released in 2017, sold two million copies and won numerous awards in that year. Believe it or not, the game was originally revealed at E3 in 2014. Developer & Publisher StudioMDHR delayed Cuphead time and time again until it was entirely ready. I’ve been waiting a long time to play it and now I have, was it worth the wait?

On the fictional Inkwell Isles, Cuphead and his brother Mugman are two fun-loving kids who live under the watchful eye of Elder Kettle. Against the elder’s warnings, the brothers enter the Devil’s Casino and begin playing craps. When they go on a winning streak, the Devil himself offers to raise the stakes. If Cuphead and Mugman can win one more roll, they will receive all the money in the casino; if not, the Devil will take their souls. Cuphead loses by rolling snake eyes, and he and Mugman beg for mercy.

The Devil makes a deal with them: collect the “soul contracts” that signify his ownership of the souls of his runaway debtors by midnight the next day, and he might let them keep theirs. They visit Elder Kettle, who gives them a potion that allows them to fire blasts from their fingers to aid in their quest, but also warns them the debtors may change themselves to different things in attempt to stop them.

Cuphead’s gameplay is based around continuous boss fights, with interspersed run and gun levels. The game also includes role-playing elements, and a branching level sequence. Cuphead has infinite lives, maintaining all equipment between deaths. The player can purchase weapons and “Charms” (special abilities) from the shop using coins collected from the run-and-gun levels. Player characters feature a parry attack that can be used on certain objects marked in pink, to various effects; the most important of them being increasing a “super meter” that enables more powerful attacks.

After completing a level, the player will be ranked with a grade based on their performance, through factors such as the time taken to defeat a boss, damage taken/avoided, and number of parried attacks.

The game also has a two-player local cooperative mode that allows another player to play as Mugman.

Cuphead is the type of video game that you just won’t be able to stop playing until you feel like you’ve succeeded. I’ve seen some people compare it to Dark Souls and I can see why. Much like Dark Souls, this isn’t a game for everyone. It’s a pity because Cuphead is a game that literally everyone that loves the medium should experience. However, the average gamer will likely struggle to witness all that it has to offer which is a massive shame.

What’s the reason for this? Well to put it simply, Cuphead can be a frustrating experience. However, it’s that frustration that leads to that satisfying feeling that only comes with success. It has been some time since I last felt this addiction to progress. While it can be hard, it is never unfair. To play Cuphead, you must accept that you’re going to fail and then fail again over and over. However, eventually you’ll notice patterns in the boss’s attacks. You’ll know what’s coming next and you’ll know how to win. When you do win, there’s no feeling quite like it.

I managed to achieve an A rank in every level/boss in the game. It wasn’t easy but the difficulty had been so hyped up. In the end, I don’t feel it was too bad. Sure, I struggled for some time on certain bosses but then others I beat in a couple of attempts. It’s interesting how this can be different for each person.

The 1930s cartoon art style is so beautiful and charming to see in motion, even that adds to the difficulty. I found my eyes wandering to the sublime watercolour backdrops or the subtle movements of the mystical creatures before me. It truly is a sight to behold, unlike anything I have seen before.

Gameplay is as fluid and responsive as you could hope for. If you mistime a jump, dash or parry you’ll know deep down that you only have yourself to blame. Also, I’m glad that StudioMDHR added in the run-and-gun levels as they are a nice change of pace. Although, they are just as tough and shouldn’t be underestimated. However, the most memorable moments come from each of the unique boss battles. You’ll amaze yourself with just how many projectiles you can dodge in a short period of time.

Having someone play as Mugman only increases the difficulty which was done for obvious reasons but it makes it feel kind of pointless. It’s hard enough without someone else on screen jumping around and shooting.

Another aspect I really enjoyed was the Jazz soundtrack that perfectly matches with the stunning aesthetic. Also, the “King Dice” song is so good.

Overall, Cuphead is a really great game. One that everyone should at least attempt to experience. I mean, if I can do it then you likely can as well. As I said, it can be frustrating but not once did I want to quit. It made me want to win and I managed to do so. In fact, I had so much fun I only wish I could do it all over again. I know there’s an expert mode but yeah, that’s a whole different level. Keep an eye out for my Top 10 Hardest Cuphead Bosses with tips on how to beat each one.

Cuphead
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