LAN Mob Game Review - Cuphead

Cuphead is currently taking over the world of gaming, and I assure you almost everything you've heard about it is completely true. Studio MDHR's debut title is certainly brutal and kind of punishing, but there's so much more to the indie title than "It's hard and looks like 1930's cartoons." The game is difficult, but with some patience and willingness to learn, even the toughest enemies in the titular character's way don't stand a chance. Cuphead is a perfect example of a work being much greater than the sum of its parts. The difficulty, art style and gameplay mechanics all work in tandem to create a perfect balance and make the player feel nostalgic about something they've never even experienced before.

Released September 29th 2017
Microsoft Windows + Xbox One

Cuphead is a story about two young brothers (who just so happen to be Cup people) who find themselves in a casino rolling dice with some unsavory figures. After some ridiculous success against King Dice, the casino's manager, Cuphead rolls against the casino's owner; The Devil. Of course, they lose and in order to save their own souls the Devil offers a trade. If the boys bring all of the contracts from the past debtors, he will void his right to their souls (yeah ok). So the boys set off to collect the contracts of all the big baddies by shooting, dashing, jumping and parrying their way to victory. I was really pleasantly surprised with the relatively dark narrative, to be honest. Studio MDHR crafted a simple tale, but avoided falling into the same old "Save X from Y to save the world" tales.

Cuphead's gameplay is best described as a classic run & gun; almost similar to Contra/Gunstar Heroes. The gameplay is solid, there's even a multitude of weapons, special passive abilities and super arts to let you customize how you tackle the game's challenges. There's also a very unique parry ability which can be utilized to negate certain hazards and earn a super charge. There are multiple different types of levels throughout the 4 worlds, 6 "Run n Gun" levels, and 28 bosses. In my opinion, the Run n Gun levels manage to be harder then the bosses, but also earn you some cash to buy new gear. The Run n Gun missions play just like Gunstar Heroes/Contra, where Cuphead (and Mugman if you're playing Couch-Coop!) run through a long side scroll stage, battling a plethora of enemy types and platforming across hazards. The Run n Gun levels are pretty brutal and honestly the most punishing stages in the game, but the real cornerstone of Cuphead is collecting the contracts via boss fights. 

Run n Gun stages are usually a mess at first. It takes a whole lot of trial and error to understand the patterns of each enemy.

Cuphead's gameplay is about 80% boss fights and not a single one of them disappoint. Each boss fight manages to be a completely unique experience in both style and approach. These epic brawls come in two flavors - mid air bullet hell flight bosses and the standard platforming fight. Each boss has multiple phases and somehow each phase is just as unique and memorable as the last. I wrote a blog a while back where I try to list off my favorite boss fights ever, and honestly Cuphead's bosses blow some of them out of their rankings. These bosses are tough, and you're only allowed your current loadout to complete the battles. No healing, no checkpoints and no gimmicks. Each boss is a test of reflexes and your ability to stay level headed and solve the combat puzzle presented to you. During my first time co-op playthrough, Dictator and I had multiple "AHA!" moments when we figured out a pattern or weakness, some of which were as simple as knowing when to duck. I cannot stress enough how great it feels to hear the booming voiceover shout "Knockout!" when you topple each debtor and earn their soul contract.

Ribby & Croaks (The Frog Brothers) are one of the first boss fights in the game, and really set the stage for what kind of unique experience each fight will be.

Of course Studio MDHR's greatest achievement is Cuphead's beautiful art style. Cuphead was inspired by the cartoons of the 1930's and it's easy to see the influence of animations like Betty Boop, Popeye, Willie Whopper and even Tom and Jerry. Studio MDHR achieved this by utilizing the exact same process of that era -Hand drawn cel animation. This process involves essentially hand drawing every single frame we see in the game and on top of the watercolor backgrounds and original jazz recordings, it is an understatement to say Cuphead took a LOT of hard work to create. Speaking of the soundtrack, the 3 full hours of jazzy goodness couldn't have been more spot on. It's difficult to not gush over MDHR's design choices for Cuphead, I mean just look at this animation-

 Did everyone in the 30's have bad knees when they got older? 

Ultimately, Cuphead surpassed every expectation I had for it. It was quite a long wait with a plethora of delays, but it's clear Studio MDHR was hard at work perfecting their craft. There's definitely some awkward press out in the web regarding Cuphead; I even read an article bashing the game for being "impossible for the casual gamer". This is completely untrue in every aspect, Cuphead is designed to allow you to learn and overcome each boss fight, not get hard stuck. Cuphead feels like an accomplishment to get through whether you're a casual player enjoying the atmosphere, a hardened speed runner or somewhere in between. Studio MDHR created one of the best game to release in 2017, and I cannot wait to see what gift these guys will give to the world next. Clearly this studio is willing to work their asses off, so you should too; give Cuphead a chance.
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1 comment:

  1. Definitely going to give this one a try. I love the artistic style of it, makes me feel like I'm hopping back into Steamboat Willie's level on Kingdom Hearts.