Cuphead is a run and gun, boss rush platformer developed by indie-studio, Studio MDHR. You play as the titular Cuphead, or his brother Mugman, as you collect the souls of those who are indebted to the Devil in order to save your own fate.
Cuphead combines an outstanding aesthetic and sound with gruelling and gripping levels that kept me playing for hours on end, despite the two-hundred and fifty deaths I had.
As mentioned earlier you play as Cuphead, or Mugman (only if playing in co-op). These two brothers one day stray far from their home and stumble upon the Devil's Casino. Whilst inside the brothers build up an impressive winning streak, to the point where the Devil himself challenges the brothers himself. Cuphead naively challenges him and unfortunately loses the bet; the Devil wants their souls in return. Upon pleading for any other alternative, the Devil offers them one. Cuphead and Mugman must go and collect the souls of the Devil's runaway debtors.
That is Cuphead's premise and it's ridiculous. However, so is Cuphead. And whilst not the main draw, it fits with the hyperbolic style Studio MDHR was going for.
Cuphead is comprised of two types of levels, these being boss battles and run and gun platforming levels. Boss Battles are the focus of Cuphead. They are a substantial number of these and each one is utterly delightful. Each boss embraces Cuphead's creativity, and variety is really the core of these battles. The imagination behind these battles is insane and unparalleled in the modern gaming industry. Some of my favourites were a female Zeppelin who transforms into a moon, a queen bee who decides to become a plane two-thirds of the way through the fight, and a pair of boxing frogs who turn into a slot machine via one eating the other. I cannot emphasise how delightful Cuphead's boss design and variety is. This kept me urging to continue even after many deaths, as I constantly wondered what new, weird and wacky design is around the corner of the game's map.
These boss fights would mean nothing if they were not a challenge. And, my god are they a challenge. Cuphead's bosses are always a challenge from the beginning to the end. However, it is never an unfair challenge. Whilst there may be a dozen projectiles on screen as well as the boss preparing an attack, the surgical precision needed to dodge each of them was hugely gratifying.
Pulling off a dodge perfectly, whilst simultaneously pummelling the boss with bullets, showed me that I was learning the fights. Despite dying ten times, now I was able to pull off this phase of the boss every time. This allowed me to move onto the next phase, and the next, until I eventually beat the boss. And, the game wants you to do this, as a progress bar appears upon death. This micro-progression within a battle made me feel as if I was making strides of improvement, instead of slamming my head against a brick wall.
The fact I enjoyed Cuphead's bosses so much is undoubtedly what I will remember about playing them.
Run and Gun Levels
Supplementing Cuphead's cascade of boss battles are a handful of 'Run and Gun' levels. These levels are made up of platforming through small linear levels, whilst shooting enemies along your way. Almost everything I said about the boss battles can be transferred to these Run and Gun levels. They are brutally hard, if not harder than the majority of the bosses. The same feeling of micro-progression exists through a similar progress bar. And the enemy variety is just as great.
The fact that a lot of what made Cuphead's bosses great is transferred to these levels allowed me to enjoy these almost as much as the bosses. As well as just being enjoyable Studio MDHR is able to toy with some ideas, unique to a level, which is refreshing considering the number of times you do the same thing in the game.
Systems and Customisation
Within both bosses and run and gun levels, you have a few attacks and movement options you can use. Your main weapon is your finger gun and you can equip two different shot types at a time. All six different shots have their own unique uses, from the simple shotgun-like Spread shot to the boomerang inspired Roundabout shot. The variety in these shots allowed me to play how I wanted. I loved to stay up-close and use the Spread shot, but the Charge shot will favour those who prefer keeping a distance.
As well, as that that you can also equip a 'Charm'. These charms give Cuphead an active bonus that alters Cuphead's stats and moves. One bonus would let me take an extra hit, consequently, my damage would decrease. Charms and Shot Types are welcome additions to Cuphead as they stop the levels from feeling repetitive They also stopped me from feeling hopeless, as a change in shot type often meant a wild difference in my effectiveness.
Both of these customisation items can be bought from an in-game shop, known as Porkrind's Emporium, with gold coins collected during the Run and Gun levels. Whilst, it did give me an objective in these levels, one boss fight felt impossible due to a specific shot allowing me to hit a specific angle that none of the others could. I didn't have that shot and there were no Run and Gun levels available. Therefore, I had to restart my entire game so I could buy the specific shot I needed to have a chance of completing that one boss. Locking these upgrades behind these levels with no way to alter your purchase left me stuck in a corner with no way to progress.
Graphics and audio
Cuphead's visuals are just exceptional. Inspired by 1930's cartoons, such as those produced by Disney, Cuphead impresses with beautiful water-coloured backdrops. Combined with that are hand-drawn animations that stun. Studio MDHR really outdid themselves with Cuphead's visuals and you can tell they really wanted to emulate those cartoons, everything from a video filter overlayed on the game, to the floppy and stretchy characters. I cannot put in words how remarkable Cuphead's visuals are. It's unique style displays to the rest of the industry there is a lot we can still experiment with.
Along with the visuals, Cuphead stands out for its music as well. The Big Band, 1930's jazz is incredibly enjoyable to listen to. Not only that but, the upbeat nature of it adds some levity to the tough, frustrating hours you will spend in Cuphead. Cuphead also adds reverb to almost all of its audio, furthering the 1930's presentation. It is utterly delightful to listen to, and I will constantly keep coming back to the soundtrack for its unique sound.
And, as I played on PC, I have to talk about the game's performance. I am happy to report that Cuphead ran flawlessly. I also played on quite outdated hardware, so you should have no issues trying to run Cuphead.
Cuphead is utterly delightful and unlike anything else on the market today. Its special visual style and audio, hard yet addictively rewarding gameplay, and whimsical world creates an amazing experience that stands out from everything else this year. Cuphead stands out as something special. It proves to an industry and consumer-base that is so concerned with copying each other, that a bit of your own soul and spirit is better than someone else's.
|+ Addictive yet challenging gameplay.||– A problematic upgrade system.|
|+ Unique and striking enemy and boss design.|
|+ Distinct music and visual style|
|+ Excellent Control over Cuphead|