Developed: Studio MDHR
Published: Studio MDHR
Released: Sept 29th, 2017
Platforms: Xbox and PC
Cuphead was released earlier this month to a ton of anticipation from the gaming community. The game has been delayed multiple times, centered around controversy with game critic gaming skills, and hyped to a long time because of the way the game looks and sound. How does Cuphead actually stand up when it’s actually played? Let’s find out.
First, how do the developers describe the game that they made?
Cuphead is a classic run and gun action game heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio are painstakingly created with the same techniques of the era, i.e. traditional hand-drawn cel animation, watercolor backgrounds, and original jazz recordings.Play as Cuphead or Mugman (in single player or local co-op) as you traverse strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets while you try to pay your debt back to the devil!
I would agree with all of this. This run and gun has a lot of similarities to games like Contra and Metal Slug with the difficulty level’s being ramped up to something close to Ikaruga. And they do it all while putting you into this 1930’s cartoon that at times confuses your mind into thinking that you might actually be watching one and not playing.
When I think about Indie Games I think about them more as a genre rather than a business model. And the one aspect that ties all of these widely different games together is their ability to take risks artistically. Thinking back to old indie games I always remember how eye-catching they were because of how different they were trying to be from anything else in the game’s industry. Now that the uniqueness of the look of a game has lost the charm that it once carried with me, I feel that it’s just kind of par for the course. Then a game like Cuphead comes out – and I’m completely blown away and obsessed with a games art again.
Cuphead rightly boast that everything you’re playing in their game was created with old-school methods from the 30’s. Every frame is hand drawn, colored with cel-shading, and animated with a style would see from old Disney and Warner Brother cartoons. This game looks like Steamboat Willie or Looney Toons – it’s amazing. The love that was put into this game can be felt in every corner that you play in.
Not only does Studio MDHR capture the look of the era, they also capture the tone. The minions and bosses you find yourself fighting against, they all have this sinister look that makes you feel, slightly uncomfortable, wondering how and why people ever made these things for kids.
I cannot sing the praises of the graphics in the game enough. The developers had a vision for the game, and that did nothing but succeed in fully realizing that vision. It’s extremely impressive and largely why everyone seems to know about this game.
The sound in this game has so much to do with why this game feels so authentically set in a different era. This easily could have been an aspect of the game’s design that destroyed the world they were trying to put you in. But Studio MDHR has really outdone themselves. Everything in this game sounds like video games were invented into the 1930’s and your just playing a port of a game that your Grandpa told you about.
The music alone is just so goddamn good. Every track that this game plays has some really good jazz going on. Everything’s upbeat and never grows tiresome even after you are retrying a level for the 15th or 45th time. Sound effects come across as super satisfying. For the majority of levels, you’re just holding down your fire button to keep up with what’s being thrown at you. Even here the developer has found the right balance of communicating with you what is going on but having sounds that never get stale or infuriating.
For years developers have been easing the pressure and challenge of games to appeal to a market they classify as casual gamers. This trend has been led to games that now allow you to skip boss fights to continue on with the game. In a small scale, the group of gamers who enjoy a challenge has continued to exist. But now on the shoulders of the Dark Souls series, a larger counterculture to the casual gamer has grown on the internet fueled by those looking for a bigger payoff.
Cuphead is the next game in line to pick up the flag for games that will have you on the thin edge of accomplishment, or throwing your controller across the room.
Let’s set aside the difficulty for a brief few seconds. Because to just say that this game is difficult or that it should be played on the merits of its challenge alone is just cutting it too short.
Everything that this game does from a mechanical standpoint is just so damn smart. While a lot of modern shooters employ a twin stick style of shooting that allows you to shoot any direction from anywhere, Cuphead will only allow you to shoot in eight directions, up down left right and then the 45-degree angles in between. This choice in game mechanic’s limits the player and increases how difficult it is to kill the things that need killing. Your choice of where you position will determine how successful you are in this game.
Creativity in the monsters and bosses you face is just simply incredible. It’s been a long time since I have played an indie game that is so fully realized inside of its own world. From frightening potatoes, birds to big for their own birdhouses and dragons that devour hours of your actual life – Cuphead is impressive in its game design and how creatively they establish new mechanics for the player to deal with.
It’s just an absolute joy to have the story of Cuphead told to you. The game feels like it was written by the same old timers who made Disney cartoons from their golden era.
Feeling ever so lucky, Cuphead and Mugman get into a soul debt with the Devil at his Casino. The only way for them to repay and save themselves is to go and collect the debts of other. The plot is simple and mischievous, just a lot of fun.
Every character is made to hilariously fit in with each other and the world they find themselves in – Cuphead and his Brother Mugman are the grandson’s of Elder Kettle a, well, tea kettle. King Dice works at the Casino with a large Dice for a head and then there’s Baroness Von Bon Bon who rides a gigantic candy castle who shoots a cotton candy shotgun. It’s all just spot on and never gets old.
I’ve played a lot of game’s recently that I just don’t feel like I would want to pick up and play again after I have beaten it. But that’s just not the same for Cuphead.
Every boss fight and level in this game comes with a report card once you’ve beat them. Scoring you in a few different area’s of gameplay you are given a final grade from F to A. The desire to make your parents proud of you is still present as leaving a level with anything less than an A just feels disappointing.
All of this would be for nothing if everything before this didn’t line up perfectly. The gameplay, graphics, and sound in this game never feel stale and never verge on repetitive annoyance. It’s amazing that on the 30th time of me trying to beat a boss I’m still not exhausted by anything in the level.
I can’t say enough good things about this game. I hate to not sound critical of a game – as if I haven’t put thought into things that it might actually have wrong with it. But Cuphead has me in a trance, I’m deeply in love with this game and everything that it accomplishes. It’s fun, it’s refreshing and it’s a game that you should absolutely Buy.