By Henry Badilla / October 17th, 2017
|Developer||StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.|
|Publisher||StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.|
|Release Date||September 29, 2017|
|Genre||Platform, Shoot ’em up|
|Platform||PC, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
I don’t know when I started but I know that I have watched cartoons all my life with no plan on stopping. Which is why back in 2014, when Cuphead was revealed, it immediately caught my eye. In the coming years the media always praised the animation and art style, but recently the game difficulty surfaced as the main topic of discussion. Flash forward to today, the game is out and the community is divided. Is it really as hard as people says it is? Or have we become used to easier games? I had to find out.
Cuphead and Mugman are two brothers that enjoy getting into trouble. One day at the Devil’s Casino, Cuphead gets extremely lucky and wins, and keeps on winning until it catches the attention of the owner. The Devil makes a bet with the boys, one last game, winner takes all. As you may expect the Devil wins, and now Cuphead and Mughead must work for him, defeating all the other debtors of the devil so he can collect their souls.
With that out of the way let’s talk about the gameplay. Cuphead is a mix between a platformer and shoot ’em up, with an emphasis on boss battles. The control scheme is very simple, you can jump, shoot, do a dash action to avoid incoming attacks either forward or backward, and do a special shot.
And that’s pretty much everything that there is to know to play Cuphead. The game uses the philosophy of “simple is better” in such a masterful way that it removes all the complexity of learning how to play it, to focus all of its design choices on the bosses themselves.
There are no real upgrades through the game. You start with three life points that you can’t increase. The same would be the case with your base damage, but there are a couple of items that can be bought with in-game currency that alter some of these starting parameters.
There are six different weapons that can be bought at the store which range from a homing gun that deals less damage, a weapon that works like a boomerang/cross from Castlevania, and a water gun that creates an downwards arc when you shoot. And while some may sound better, they are balanced in a way that while you will be technically dealing the same damage, different weapons could be better under certain circumstances. However, you can only carry two at a time, so you have to test them to see what works best for you.
Additionally you can equip an accessory that changes how a few things work. One increases your life points by one to a total of four by decreasing your base damage, another makes it so your dash has some invincibility frames. Another allows you to parry attacks more easily. Again, none of them are better than the others, it just depends on how you play the game so it covers the areas in which you may be lacking.
I mentioned that you can buy these with in-game currency. You can collect gold coins through the game during the Run and Gun sections. These are short levels filled with enemies that you have to traverse from left to right until you reach the end. In my experience these are the hardest part of the game at first. And while these feel more similar to Contra than a platformer like Super Mario, they still require some precise platforming in some areas.
There are only six scenarios like these in the game, and each one has a different theme and enemies. Unlike traditional platformers you won’t get bored of seeing the same enemies with a different color palette. But let’s get to the meat of the game, the boss fights. There are a total of 19 bosses, which can be divided between regular bosses in which you control Cuphead and customize your gun and equipment, and then there are a couple of shoot ’em up bosses, in which Cuphead rides a tiny plane and flies through the screen while fighting the boss. For these you cannot change your weapon.
And while mobility will change a bit depending on the type of boss it is, the same general concept will apply to all of them: shoot at them at all times while dodging their attacks. All bosses will have different forms or transformations that will change the way they attack, but all of these have an animation letting you know that a new phase will begin.
Many things have been said about the difficulty of this game, but I feel the game is fair. Yes, you will die a lot. That’s almost inevitable, but it never feels cheap. All the phases of the bosses have patterns that you will need to understand, but for most of them you just need to react accordingly to their animations. For example, one of the first bosses is a pair of boxer frogs. One of them will always start moving their arms before launching a projectile attack, or will bow down before jumping at you. You just have to look out for these animations and plan accordingly.
If you die at any phase of the combat you will have to start over from the beginning. For some this may feel like a lot, but please note that any boss battle takes around only two minutes. I’ve played many other games in which you could die 30 minutes into a fight only to start from the beginning, so it’s not really as punishing as some may think.
And while the enemies don’t have a life bar to show how close you are to defeating them, once you die you will see a progression bar showing how close to the end of the fight you were, and in which section or phase of the combat. This actually helps a lot to motivate you to try it again. Usually you will see your character closer to the finish line after each attempt.
It took me 15 hours to complete the game on the normal difficulty. I personally don’t consider myself as a hardcore or pro gamer. I can’t play DarkSouls to give you an example, but I don’t think Cuphead is that hard. Dying is part of the game and personally there are only two bosses that I felt were really difficult, both near the end, so that’s expected.
Death never feels cheap and most of the time you know it was your own fault because you miscalculated a jump, were too close to the enemy, or simply panicked. The best recommendation I can give is, try different weapons if you feel you are not doing enough damage, or take a break when you feel you’re making the same mistakes every time.
There is nothing much that I can say in regards to the game graphics that hasn’t been said before. It looks stunning. The bosses are filled with details, and references to videogames, animations and the 30s in general, which is where it takes most of its inspiration. My enjoyment of the game came both from the tight combat and all the transformations that the bosses go through. It really takes the surreal tone of classic cartoons and ups the ante. The music is great as well, with the use of jazzy tones, orchestra and even a barbershop quartet to sing some of the songs. This is a true tribute to the cartoons of the 30s and the whole world and culture that surround them.
In conclusion, don’t feel intimidated by what people are saying online about Cuphead. It’s not a walk in the park, but the game is quite approachable to anyone who has played a videogame in their life. It looks marvellous and costs only $20. I don’t think there is a reason to pass on this game. It will show up on many awards at the end of the year and you don’t want to be left wondering what’s so great about it.
Review copy purchased by the reviewer.
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CupheadPCplatformingshoot'em'upSteamStudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.Xbox One