The wait for Cuphead has been a long road, with its utterly distinct art style drawing plenty of attention ever since the title’s announcement in 2014. Now that the game is here, Studio MDHR has definitely released a product that accomplished exactly what what it set out to do with Cuphead by delivering a challenging and nostalgic experience that takes all the great parts from retro videogames and 1930’s cartoons, while cutting out all of the negatives from each.
A cursory glance at any moment of Cuphead is all gamers will need to know that this a game filled to the brim with character. Gorgeous hand-drawn creatures and environments bounce and sway to the 1930’s soundtrack, with every caricature in the game carefully designed with a delectable combination of both innocence and malicious intent. Without a doubt, Studio MDHR has crafted a timeless look that makes Cuphead immediately stand out from the crowd.
Beyond this, however, lies a game that demands precision and commands respect from gamers accustomed to breezing through games without a high risk of failure. While players can expect that each successful boss fight or platforming level will only take about 2 minutes to complete, the actual runtime will be much longer. Every boss fight comes with its own unique challenges, and players will be baptized by a trial by fire as they learn – through failure, no less – how to appropriately defeat each obstacle. These bosses all have different stages, splitting up each massive fight into challenging, compartmentalized sections that must be tackled with completely different strategies.
The result of this is that players quickly become adept at fighting one boss, only to have to rethink their entire strategy when they move on to the next. It keeps the pace of the game consistently challenging, with each boss phase providing clever and unique challenges. This especially pertains to the ending, but we’ll leave that for gamers to discover.
As unforgiving as each distinct boss fight is, Cuphead does give a fair bit of leeway on how gamers tackle each challenge. Gamers can equip their player with a combination of different attacks, charms, or supers. This allows them to change how they approach each boss phase, adopting to new challenges as they arise. That’s about where the help stops, though. Cuphead doesn’t give players the win – it must be earned through concentration and sheer power of will. When it all comes together, a successful boss fight will bring players a feeling of triumph that less challenging titles just can’t reproduce.
Outside of the instant boss fights, Studio MDHR has included a few platforming levels. While gamers still won’t breeze through them, they seem to offer less of a challenge than the big baddies, and simply offer a nice change of pace and a chance to earn coins that can then be spent purchasing upgrades. Cuphead doesn’t require players to complete these levels to progress through the game’s open world map, a good indication that the title’s focus is almost entirely about the gargantuan boss battles as opposed to sidescrolling action.
To ensure that the entire game isn’t just dodging and shooting, Cuphead also features a clever parrying system. Any pink objects in the game can be bounced off of with a well-timed button press, giving the player some extra air, charging their special, and giving them a higher rating should they survive the fight. Miss-timing this button means instant damage, though, and sometimes what the game accepts as a parry or takes as a miss feels very inconsistent. That being said, it’s easy for the occasional pink object to sometimes get lost in the sea of movement happening on the screen anyway. To parry is to add style points to one’s playthrough, as if telling the game that you’re back in control. The feeling won’t last long.
Players will be able to have a friend join in on the action via couch co-op, with the game adjusting its now-infamous difficulty accordingly. Multiplayer action is perhaps where Cuphead shines brightest, as having two players jump and dash around the screen as it fills with utter calamity is a sight to behold. The lack of online multiplayer, however, shows a rare crack in Cuphead‘s otherwise flawless mug. A Studio MDHR producer confirmed that the Cuphead may add online multiplayer at a later date, but it’s certainly one of the modern features fans would have expected to be implemented from the get-go.
Hearkening back to an era of hectic boss battles and stylized enemies with seemingly limitless tricks up their sleeves, Cuphead feels like an instant classic. While its looks directly attribute to this, it’s the consistency with which Studio MDHR has painted canvas after canvas of unique enemies for gamers to test their mettle against that really sets it apart. The unrelenting gameplay may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then again, Cuphead didn’t set out to appease absolutely everyone.
Truly, Cuphead is a game which will give victorious gamers a sense of satisfaction that few modern games manage to accomplish. The nostalgic visual prowess supplied by the game’s hand-drawn animations are second to none, and its period-appropriate soundtrack will force its way into gamers’ heads. Precision gameplay is key here, and the mechanics behind it – aside of an improvable control scheme – deliver a delightfully challenging title that doesn’t hold your hand through the process. It’ll send gamers all over the emotional spectrum and leave an impression that, much like the game’s artistic inspirations, will truly stand the test of time.
Cuphead is a great purchase for those unafraid of challenge, and its low price point is simply icing on the cake.
Cuphead is available now on PC and Xbox One. Microsoft provided Game Rant with an Xbox One key for review purposes.