Cuphead came out on Xbox One and PC a couple weeks back, and given that very, very little was heard or shown for nearly five years as it was being put together, I imagine that lost some people some bets. For my part, I didn’t know shit about it until it came out and everyone lost their minds. Never one to miss out on a cup of koolaid, I decided to head to the Steam store to see what all the fuss was about.
What we’re fussing about is a 2d shoot-em-up from indie studio MDHR, reminiscent of Contra or Mega Man, with focus on elaborate, multi-phase and bloody difficult boss battles. You assume the role of Cuphead (and optionally his brother Mugman for co-op), a cheerful boy with a cup for a head whose penchant for gambling with the actual Devil has got him into quite a bit of trouble, the little scamp. Satan, ever magnanimous, offers to waive the soul debt if Cuphead retrieves the debts of the other inhabitants of Inkwell Isle (the bosses), which he does by shooting them up (the battles).
These fundamentals are solid, but not particularly special. The specialness is the style. Cuphead channels the vibrantly hand-drawn cartoons of the ‘30s and ‘40s, trying its hardest to look and feel like it came straight out of the golden age of animation. Believe it or not from my world weary outlook and, tired, soulful eyes, I’m about 70 years too young to have been fully immersed in the cartoons Cuphead homages, but I’m familiar with the type- Tex Avery and all that.
|aye awrite Billy Bitcoin calm down|
But it goes further than looks, a lot further. Every detail, from sound effects and music to the layout of menus and title screens, is excellent and feels so right. Let me tell you how a level starts in Cuphead- c’mon, it’ll only take a paragraph. You first traverse the prettily handdrawn overworld to a start point. There’s an amusing title card, like it’s an episode of a show, says something like “Hilda Berg in Threatenin’ Zeppelin”; you select difficulty and it loads up- well drawn Cuphead at one side, a beautifully drawn villain at the other, and an exquisitely drawn background behind. There’s an announcer who has only a handful of voice clips, but all of which just fit with the experience, in the words and speech- “A great slam and then some, and begin!” The word ‘WALLOP!’ flashes across the screen, a wonderful and period correct jazz tune swells in accompaniment, and only now does battle begin- you haven’t even played Cuphead yet, but you’re having a wonderful time just looking at it.
But when you do play, the next thing you’ll notice, the other thing about the game, is the difficulty- there’s quite a lot of it. You normally have three hit points, and while these can be expanded with equipment it comes at the cost of damage output and precludes you from using other items. Three hits until death is a fairly tall order with these bosses shooting, punching and leaping at you in pattern memorisation bullet hell fashion- die, and you have to start the fight from the beginning, no checkpoints. Bosses, by contrast, have huge, unseen health pools that you have to chip away at while evading, and will switch to a (usually far nastier) new form two or more times upon taking enough of a beating.
|it was hard to get screenshots and also fight this rat guy sorry|