It has been a long time coming, but the best part of the arduous wait is the realization that the Xbox One and PC exclusive Cuphead is truly a masterpiece that was worth waiting for, especially after two years of watching it in action, but never getting to play it.
As a being with a cup for a head, you gambled with the devil himself and lost, and are tasked with collecting debts from the devil’s other victims, the many bosses of the game.
But that’s not what makes the game so appealing. It is an obnoxiously difficult side-scrolling shooter with boss battle after boss battle, and a great throwback to video games from the 80s, where there was no grinding or levelling up to even the playing field.
No. The skill here is learning the patterns in the game and mastering the well-timed press and push of each button and controller.
Cuphead pulls no punches, this is certainly not a game for the fainthearted or the easily frustrated. Quick reactions and knowing when to take your shot are key to survival, and I found myself more often than not just barely scraping by.
Yet, the satisfaction of besting a truly punishing foe has never been so real and gratifying. Knowing you managed to avoid streaming bullets, annoying henchmen, diabolical stage designs and still getting the best of the boss is a cycle that is equally frustrating as it is rewarding.
Breaking up the tough battles are several, less demanding platforming stages for players to run through. Coins can be earned from vanquished foes, that are in turn used to purchase weapons and buffs for Cuphead.
Do not even think about farming though, as coins only drop once and you will do well to cherish them when they come by.
Said weapons include spread shots, a chargeable blast, and boomerang rounds, with six in total. All weapons come with a secondary attack, which you can unleash when you fill a meter by landing hits on the many enemies.
Cuphead can also parry both enemies and pink projectiles, you can pull off the former by jumping towards the enemy and pressing jump again before the impact.
All these actions will fill your meter, allowing secondary actions like throwing a fireball or unloading a burst of big, dangerous arrows. Fill the meter up all the way and you get to utilise your Super Art, a screen-filling attack that can be lifesaving in times of need.
The catch, of course, is that once your meter is filled, you have to use the Super Art, and secondary attacks are unusable till you do so.
Knowing your enemy is key to master Cuphead, and deaths are aplenty if you wanna see what is coming for each battle. Bosses are never one-dimensional, and they can take multiple stages and undergo varying forms before you can vanquish them.
Their mixup of attacks, the most I had seen was four at one go, will demand your utmost attention, and will keep even seasoned players engaged. With only three points of health, four if you forego some firepower in lieu of protection, Cuphead is a frenetic affair that thrills till the very end.
That said, the only design mechanic I have an issue with is the fact that Cuphead does not do enough to help you gauge your progress during the game.
How close the boss is near to being bested, or even change forms, is at best an estimate, and how the different weapons stack up against each other in terms of damage output is also a guess. Yes, this is like the classic games such as Contra, Castlevania and Super Shinobi, where players don’t have a HUD or a built-in system that reveals such things.
This can make trying new weapon loadouts an unnecessary game of luck and a hassle. When you wish to retry a fight, the long and slow journey across the map is annoying, when a fast travel option would have been the better solution.
Cuphead throws all these and more at you in an art style that is to say the least, breathtaking. Its 1930s Disney/cartoonish aesthetic never ceases to capture attention, and remains charming till the very end. The colours pop beautifully off the screen, and everything from the stages, enemies, to the titular Cuphead, are realized splendidly. This is hand-drawn cel animation done to perfection and we are all the better for it.
Characters and the bosses are never what they seem, and be prepared for some nasty surprises that definitely threw me off more than once. The creativity demonstrated by developers Studio MDHR in creating this world of Cuphead and their technical ability to pull it off makes brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer bright, shining stars to watch out for.
Cuphead also supports local two-player co-op, where you and your buddy can scream in frustration together as you die over and over again. While it is fun if you can manage to pull it off, a second character only adds to the already chaotic happenings on screen and makes Cuphead even harder than it already is.
There is also an easier option for players looking to experience the bosses in a more simple manner, albeit with the caveat that the final battle is locked till you overcome every other boss on normal difficulty.
Cuphead was a game that had many gamers trembling with excitement when it was first unveiled back at E3 2015. While the general fervour has been worn away by time, when you get your hands on Cuphead, you will be drawn in by its uniqueness in art and design, its masterful gameplay and the occasional frustrating mechanics.
This is truly a one-of-a-kind game, and it was worth every second of waiting.