Billed as a run-and-gun action game, Cuphead is overflowing in originality with its art style and focus on boss battles. Modeled after the Fleischer Studios style of the 1930’s, it stands in a league of its own. And even though there are a handful of platforming levels, the game centers around levels that throw you right into the fire against bosses.
You control either the titular character or his equally jovial brother Mugman who have found themselves in some hot water. After a streak of good luck at the craps table at the casino, the owner takes note of the brother’s fortune and offers them an interesting gamble. If the brothers win one more roll, they will win all the money in the casino. If they lose, the owner gets their souls. With eyes only on the prize, Cuphead rolls without thinking or listening to his pleading brother and rolls snake eyes. And wouldn’t you know it? The owner was none other than the Devil himself. Cuphead and Mugman plead for their souls and ask if there is any other way they can repay the debt. The Devil offers a solution: collect the soul contracts of other equally unfortunate debtors and they might be able to keep theirs.
A brief tutorial then shows the player the main mechanics of the game: jumping, dashing, ducking, aiming, shooting, parrying, and special moves. The world map allows the player to freely walk around with a bird’s-eye view perspective, before initiating the start of the level. Whether it is a platforming level or a boss level, they are always side scrolling on a 2D plane. And even though this is all done with a whimsical art style and zany accompanying music, make no mistake: this game is tough.
With a base amount of three hit points and no way of regaining HP mid-level, staying alive can be quite challenging. Combine this with having to deal damage to advance and withstanding somewhat unpredictable attack patterns, it becomes even more challenging. Yet through trial and error, determination, and perseverance, your enemies will eventually fall. But is the challenge worth it?
The achievement of the art and animations within Cuphead cannot be overstated. It is truly masterful work that never overstays its welcome. The bosses are so well constructed and varied that it’s almost unbelievable. Even within each boss battle, multiple forms will shock and awe the player as they occur.
Not quite as impressive but still greatly enjoyable, the music is a perfect compliment to the visuals. Ranging from carnival tunes, to barbershop quartets, to jazzy growls, the audio component helps drive the action.
Control wise, Cuphead and Mugman handle perfectly. Not too light, not too heavy, not too fast, and not too slow. The screen can seem too small at times with not enough room to get away from the dangers at hand. But the reality is that too much room would be excessive and would push the player away from the action.
The platforming levels offer variety within such a boss driven game, but they feel like an aside. They are still fantastically constructed and varied, but it’s hard to not feel that they are lesser than their boss level counterparts.
Ultimately, Cuphead was a masterpiece when it originally released years ago and it still holds that position today. And with the upcoming “The Delicious Last Course” DLC set to add another playable character, levels, and bosses, more greatness could be on the horizon. The difficulty might rule some out, but this is a game that should be experienced by all.