Catching the eyes of many for its gorgeously precise Steamboat Willie aesthetics, Cuphead is a call-back to the dawn of animation. Those keeping a loose eye on the title still see it as a platformer, but its main focus is that of a Boss Rush run n’ gun.
Wandering off on their own, Cuphead and Mugman end up gambling against the quirky characters of Inkwell Isle; only to push their luck against the Devil himself in a wager likely inspired by Charlie Daniels’ iconic 1979 country rock song.
Falling victim to their own greed and the mischief of ol’ Red, the only way to save their souls is to collect those of the Isle’s other pesky players who couldn’t keep their end of the bargain.
A 2-player affair if wanted, going alone has you controlling Cuphead across the 4 Isles popping off creative bosses and besting a couple of side-scrolling platformer segments along the way. If you’ve played games like MegaMan or Castlevania, you’ll have a good idea of what these boss encounters look and feel like. Reading your opponent is just as important as your own reflexes.
Shooting and dodging needs to come naturally. Without sizing up your opponent beforehand, you’re highly unlikely to win - so expect a lot of deaths along the way. Thankfully the defeat screen shows exactly how far into a certain ‘phase’ you managed to clear, meaning you’re always aware of your own progress.
If there’s one phase that causes more problems, you’ll learn to go all-out in easier sections to hopefully shave down the time needed to push through the next.
Pivotal to this is collecting Coins through platforming stages to spend on the right tools for the job - like short-range/high-damage weapons, health perks or different EX attacks fueled by dishing out damage or parrying the occasional pink projectile or switch.
Likewise, platforming sections are similar business. In what feels like a well-oiled machine, every enemy or projectile feels perfectly placed to have you second-guess your own reflexes. You’ll rarely best a section without having it counter your thought process first, but it never feels unfair. Dozens of deaths on each boss had me understanding my own error, rather than simply blaming the game for pulling a cheap trick.
Bound to be known for its brutal difficulty, players of the past will say it still pales in comparison to 8/16-bit days. True or not, Cuphead is one for the ages. It’s precise, beautiful and ready to offer up a fine challenge for you and a friend. Perfect strategies and flawless parries are never necessary, but those willing to put in the practice will certainly reap the rewards.
How much game you’ll get for your buck is entirely down to your own skill - some clear the whole thing in 7+ hours with hundreds of deaths, whereas 6 saw me halfway.
In an age where punishing difficulty is finally yearned for again, Cuphead is a worthy title to the list of the best ways to test your gaming mettle.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Beating just about any boss. After dozens of deaths and noticing potential safe spots, having it all come together in a two-minute battle after close to an hour of attempts gives a feeling of triumph you just can’t beat
On-point mechanics that feel responsive with pixel-perfect hitboxes to boot
Tuned to give a respectable difficulty curve without ever feeling unfair
Absolutely phenomenal art. A true testament to the easy years of tireless frame animation
Perks and abilities let you play your way, but rarely feel absolutely necessary
Might not feel long enough for players who manage to breeze through