by Kathleen Teel
After numerous delays over the course of seven years due to budget cuts, Studio MDHR’s indie platformer Cuphead has been released to the public, to the delight of many gamers, including myself.
Back in my Day…..
The most striking thing about Cuphead is its unique presentation, which replicates classic cartoons from the 1930s such as Popeye and early Mickey Mouse shorts. The artstyle just oozes charm. I didn’t feel rage after dying so many times against every single boss, or missing that one jump in a platforming stage, since the visuals are simply joyous to see, everything moves fluidly, from a giant sunflower with anger issues to the small projectiles Cuphead shoots out of his hands. This is somewhat thanks to the fact that everything in the game is hand drawn. Every character and environment set piece was drawn frame by frame to authentically capture the 1930s artstyle. The score comprised of jazzy tunes also reflects the 1930s aesthetic.
The Devil’s in the Details
The plot of the game, like early cartoons is simple and morbid. Two friends, Cuphead and Mugman decide to go gambling in the Devil’s casino. After winning a fortune, the devil himself shows up and makes a wager, if Cuphead beats him at his own game, then Cuphead and Mugman would get the Devil’s entire stash. If not, then the Devil would take their souls. Cuphead accepts the challenge despite Mugman’s warnings and ends up losing, the two plea for their lives and asks for a way to pay their debt. The Devil then tasks the two on a quest to gather up souls that are owed to the Devil. That’s the objective of the game, collect souls by beating bosses.
Despite its friendly appearance, Cuphead is a brutal game. Harkening back to the hardcore platformers of the 80’s such as Megaman, everything in Cuphead is out to get you, and with only three hit points and a potential fourth one as an upgrade, making every jump and shot count is essential. Unlike platformers of yesteryear, deaths in Cuphead are significantly more forgiving. There are infinite lives and you don’t lose your upgrades. This creates a game that promotes trial and error, and allows the player to experiment with various strategies. Every death is a learning point, a stepping stone to defeating whatever obstacle you find yourself against. However, this is a double edge sword, since dying repeatedly and replaying a stage over and over again can get repetitive and leave certain players feeling angry and frustrated. The game isn’t completely unfair either; whenever I died, I realized that it was my fault that I died and not an issue with the game itself. Studio MDHR hands over tight and responsive controls to the player and wishes them good luck. Stages are constructed in ways that test the skill of the player, whether the skill is, analyzing the situation or their jumping expertise. Knowing what power-ups to equip for a stage is crucial. These power-ups can be obtained by finding coins in the platforming stages, and using said coins in the upgrades shop. Power-ups are almost essential to the entire Cuphead experience. For example, the smoke dash ability allows Cuphead to dash without being able to be harmed by enemies, which allowed me to complete certain stages a little less irritated than I was before.
Misery Loves Company
This game also has co-op multiplayer if a friend wants to join your adventure. The second player takes control as Mugman, while the first player remains as Cuphead. Co-op mode is the same as the single player game, except there is an extra person helping you complete the stages. A friend can connect a controller at anytime and join in, however this is restricted to local multiplayer; for there is no online feature.
Cuphead is a relatively short game if you’ve mastered old school platformers, it’s short enough to be completed in a single day. Unless you’re like me, and are inexperienced in the genre, then it’d take you a week. The game is rated E for everyone, and is currently $19.99 on PC and the Xbox One, which is way cheaper than the usual $59.99 price tag for other games of high quality. If you crave the cruel difficulty of platformers of the 80’s or just want a challenge in general, then Cuphead is a very rewarding experience. Just be aware that this game is not a walk in the park, it takes serious willpower to go through, but it’s worth it.