Cuphead released on September 29th and it's the talk of the town! But what makes Cuphead so so special and what did we think of the game here at Cinelinx? Check out my full review of the game and find out!
Cuphead is a game I had my eye on since it was first shown at E3 in 2015. It caught my eye because of the hand-drawn 1930s cartoon aesthetic which set it apart from all the other games showcased. In aesthetic alone it promised to be unique, and it surely delivered. Every enemy, boss, character, and background nails that old cartoony style, expertly accompanied by a soundtrack inspired by music of the times. Every background is incredibly detailed and done with watercolors, making the more vibrantly colored characters more emphasized. Each character not only looks like they're from an old cartoon but they also move in the same bouncy way cartoons used to to give more life to their animations. Every little detail has been crafted and stitched together with their aesthetic goal in mind, but what about the gameplay?
In Cuphead there are two types of levels, run and gun levels and boss fights. Each run and gun level is unique, bombarding the player with different enemy types and other hazards. There's at least one mini-boss in every run and gun level to hinder the player's progression and test their grasp on the mechanics. There are only a few run and gun levels per area, but they're important as they have coins which can be spent at the store on different active and passive abilities. Each ability really changes your playstyle, letting the player mix and match abilities for their own personal preferences, as well as picking abilities that will have greater effects on different enemies and bosses. My personal favorite passive item is one that gives me an extra hitpoint because, "hot dawg!" this game can be hard!
The real focus of Cuphead's gameplay is on multi-stage boss battles. A few are easy enough to be beaten in just a couple of tries, but most bosses are brutally hard. The different stages of each boss forces the player to shift their approach in drastic ways, constantly keeping you on your toes. There's a lot of grinding to be done in almost every fight, but this mostly comes down to a good grasp on the game's mechanics, having the most effective abilities active, and memorizing the complexities of each boss and their respective stages. Despite the significant grinding necessary, the bosses feel fair even with their difficulty, making every defeated boss feel that much more satisfying. And while a game filled with boss battles may sound repetitive, no two bosses are alike. In one stage I found myself fighting in an airplane against a boss who turned into different zodiac beasts while in another boss stage I faced off with a clown on a horse that shot horseshoes at me, all while I tried not to be run over by a rollercoaster. I never know what to expect from each boss, and it's when I think I have them down that they do something to surprise me anew and make me rethink my approach.
And when a particular boss has you down and you feel like you're only getting worse at the fight with every new attempt, you can easily leave the level and enter the overworld. In the overworld, you can reach nearly every level at any point, providing that it's in the world you're in since you can't progress to the next world without defeating every boss in the world before it. You can try different bosses and run and gun levels before getting back to a boss who is giving you a particularly hard time, or explore the overworld which has a few secrets to be found. Eventually, you have to beat all the bosses in an area to progress, but leaving the player open to options is a good way to keep you motivated to eventually defeat them all and move on.
For an added bit of fun, a second player can jump in at any time. Their set of special moves can be customized to their preferences and so one player can, for example, do crowd control while the other focuses down the boss. Nothing is really added to enhance the co-op experience as the second player is just dropped into a normal game and the bosses' health scales up. However, I had a blast playing Cuphead with a friend as we adapted to our own individual strategies and how those interacted with each other and the level we were tackling. If that weren't enough, completing the game unlocks an expert mode, just in case you didn't already find the game challenging enough.
The one and only issue I had while playing Cuphead was an instance when I lost my progress and had to do some of the first and second world over again. This happened when I accidently quit the game right out of a failed boss battle instead of exiting the boss level and entering back into the hubworld. I haven't tried to exit a level in the same way in fear of losing my progress again since the loss of progress felt especially bad after feeling so accomplished in defeating each level. Luckily I didn't have much trouble redoing the fights, but it was still a disappointing issue in an otherwise perfect game.
My Cup of Tea
If this review wasn't already so glowing it's glaring, let me just come out and say that Cuphead is my cup of tea; it's a strong earl gray with honey and lemon which has been brewed to perfection so that each flavorful element comes together in just the right way. Everything from the visuals, the audio, and the controls fit together expertly, and it's a game where you can feel the passion that went into its creation. I haven't encountered a game as masterfully crafted as Studio MDHR's Cuphead in a long time, and so it was quite the refreshing experience. It's satisfyingly difficult yet fair, and at just 20 USD it's a steal. It's the first game I've ever given a perfect score, if that at all convinces you to pick up this modern masterpiece.