Cuphead (Xbox One Review)
I remember seeing a trailer for Cuphead and thinking how beautiful the game looked, a throwback to the 30s cartoon style, and promising myself that when Cuphead was released I will buy and play it to within an inch of its life.
It’s been over a week since release and I have managed to keep that promise to myself. The team over at Studio MDHR have done a fantastic job in bringing their idea to life and it has really paid off.
If you have somehow managed to miss out on any screenshots or footage, firstly I need to know your secrets of avoiding something that has been everywhere as it’s a massive talent. You should really check out the trailer at least as words aren’t enough to describe how good the artwork is for Cuphead. Even if you aren’t big on cartoons, you’ll recognise the throwback to the old school aesthetic and be reminded of the unusual, and sometimes trippy, imagery of the old 30s cartoons. Chances are you will have seen an old Loony Tunes cartoon that looks similar. A lot of attention has been put into the scenery and you can easily get lost in the vivid imagery as everything floats by.
As fun as Cuphead is it, unfortunately, it won’t be for everyone. The difficulty level in Cuphead is quite high and unforgiving, which can potentially leave the more casual players tearing their hair out and likely not wishing to return it. I, personally, have no problem with the difficulty. However, there can be times where having to attempt the same boss for the thirtieth time can be extremely dull and leave you with a feeling of dread rather than a determination to get through it.
There is an option to reduce the difficulty of a boss fight to Simple but the downside to this is it doesn’t count as actually completing the round. It’s handy for an easier practice run where you can get you used to the majority of phases the boss goes through but it tends not to show the final and naturally most difficult phase. You can’t have everything ruined for you in a practice run.
It’s not all go with constant boss battles. The boss runs are split up with a ‘gun and run’ mode which, simply put, are side scrolling shooting levels you’ll recognise from games such as Metroid or Mega Man. These modes are on the same difficulty level as the boss runs but it has a different feeling of pace to it and I welcomed the break it provided from constant boss fights.
The purpose of the ‘gun and run’ modes is to collect coins, 5 in each level, which can be used to purchase various upgrades for Cuphead and Mugman. There are various combinations to help you with the boss runs that leads to the opportunity to strategize against certain bosses which I enjoyed. There are enough power ups and combinations that will suit a variety of play styles.
Studio MDHR have also included a parry move that is something that needs to be mastered for certain levels. Luckily, there are certain levels where all you need to is parry the enemies that came as good practice for boss levels. The parrying can take a while to master but it can be done. There’s nothing more satisfying that when the timing clicks and you become a Cuphead parrying machine.
I did have a couple of issues, the first one being an unfortunate aesthetic issue. On more than one level/boss fight there was foreground scenery that got in the way of what I was doing. While this may not seem like a massive problem it can be really frustrating and cause the loss of a much needed hit point or case a death leading to having to start your run again. It’s almost always at ground level and can obscure for about a second, which I know isn’t much time at all but, imagine you’re attempting to dodge a barrage of bullets or random objects and your vision of Cuphead is obscured even for a second. That’s all the time it takes for a run to go sour for a game where timing and reactionary skills are everything.
My second issue was an unfortunate, and hopefully potentially rare, game breaking bug. I don’t think it is that common and I’m hoping that it was just down to my bad luck that I came across it. It was during a particular boss fight and we both hit each other at the same time which lead to me being killed but also lead to the start of the final phase. The new phase starting seemed to overtake the death sequence in that Cuphead’s ghost floated away but the camera and boss kept moving. Nothing else happened other than the animation continuing but I also couldn’t do anything like quit to the main menu. I had to go back to the console’s home screen and quit out the game completely. It threw my concentration a bit and was frustrating more than anything else. As I mentioned, I’m not sure how common this is but it’s enough to break the game and really annoy anyone that’s unlucky enough to come across it. Luckily, the autosave system puts you back to the start of the level you last attempted.
If you don’t mind a high difficulty level and putting the time to master parrying then Cuphead is a game that you are going to thoroughly enjoy, from the artwork, music and sense of relief when you finally get shot of that boss that’s been giving you hassle for days. If you’re looking for a laid back side scrolling shmup then Cuphead does not fill that role. It’s a highly challenging game and if this is something that doesn’t float your boat I wouldn’t recommend you pick it up.