It may be strange to think of how a game centred around adorable, animated cup characters could be compared to the likes of Dark Souls. Cuphead however is not as innocent and child-friendly as it first appears.
An animated run-and-gun style game, Cuphead sees you tasked with collecting souls from the residents of Inkwell Isle after losing a bet to the Devil. In order to gain these soul contracts, you must defeat a series of bosses. These battles, which are the main feature of the game, involve being pit against a variety of strange, highly imaginative enemies. With formidable foes including a crying onion, two boxing frogs, and a giant blue blob, each beautifully-animated boss offers their own unique set of quirks and challenges. The battles themselves vary between plane battles, platformers, or straight up shoot ‘em ups, keeping players on their toes.
Developer: Studio MDHRPublisher: Studio MDHR Platforms: XBOX One, PC (Reviewed) Release Date: September 29th 2017
With Cuphead, there’s no easing you in. The game is brutally difficult from the get-go with the first levels already presenting a significant challenge. This only gets harder as the game progresses. At times the entire screen appears to be covered in obstacles making it feel almost impossible to avoid the onslaught of feathers, homing carrots, and fireballs coming your way. Adding to the difficulty is the limited health. There is no way to regain lives during a match, making every hit count. In order to succeed, near perfection is needed.
Ultimately, Cuphead is a game that forces you to make mistakes. Dying over and over again is the only way to see everything each boss will throw at you and learn how to best deal with it. Even then, the order in which obstacles appear is randomised making no two battles the same.
While it may sound off-putting, it is this uncompromising difficulty which is the game’s true appeal. The only hint of your progress appears after you’ve died where you see how far off you were from the end. Knowing you were just inches from defeating the boss, you’re spurred on to play again. The reward, the triumphant ‘Knockout’ is so satisfying that all of the stress and frustration before this moment becomes worth it.
“The beautifully crafted single cell animation layered on detailed watercolour backgrounds truly catches the eye.”
Along with the seamless gameplay, it’s the game’s stunning appearance which makes it stand out. The beautifully crafted single cell animation layered on detailed watercolour backgrounds truly catches the eye. The art style is reminiscent of an old Disney cartoon. With so many elements, it’s easy to get distracted during a battle. The animation is complemented with an upbeat big band, jazz soundtrack which will have you humming along. All of this seamlessly knits together to deliver a satisfying nostalgia kick.
Oozing with charm, the challenge of Cuphead is by far one of the most surprising stand out games of the year.