What happens when you mash up 1930’s cartoons, violent video games, and thirst? You get Cuphead, a game that’s only a breath away from a Disney lawsuit.
Cuphead is Mickey Mouse with a cup for a head, forced to take down bosses in order to settle a deal with the devil in his casino. More importantly, it’s about the imaginative flow of creativity and the possibilities of animation and music as a whole. Cuphead is a project filled to the brim with so much love that, even though it took four years to create through a murderous hand-drawn animation process, Microsoft funded a majority of the project without directly interfering with it. When a billion-dollar company recognizes the genius of your indie game project without getting in your way of its production, you know you’ve created a standout game.
Cuphead’s graphics and animation are hand drawn in a fashion that alters and transforms characters; even when you’re not playing, you have no idea what’s going to happen next. Against bosses, each attack is an unpredictable masterpiece. The game is a pure joy to both play and watch, which is telling considering graphics in games like Uncharted are now reaching microscopic facial qualities in their detail. Musical compositions run hand-in-hand with the art, accompanying the animation with over 40 jazz songs, unique to every stage and boss battle. Other 1930’s genres, such as sambas, a barbershop quartet and even a tap dancing section, are a testament to the game’s artistic spirit.
Now, is the game hard? Of course, but not for the reasons you might think. Cuphead has a mix of the most forgiving and unforgiving mechanics I’ve ever seen. Everything does the same amount of damage. Enemies, bosses, projectiles, bottomless holes, regardless, they all do one damage. Most Mario games are perceived as easy, yet in those games falling into a pit is grounds for an instant life loss. Speaking of lives, you have infinite lives and can retry the stages as many times as you want. You get a series of power-ups through coins, allowing you to customize yourself with six weapons, six unique abilities, and three supers. These combinations allow the player creative freedom to bypass most of the game’s difficulties.
Those difficulties are, actually, quite numerous, so you really do need all the coins you can get. You see, even with all these possible aids, you can only get hit three times. You can boost your health, but you’ll do less damage. The game is essentially a platformer-shooter. As aforementioned, the bosses are animated so perfectly you have no idea what in the name of Jesus is going to happen next. “Of course, I should have known the flower would turn into a revolver and start firing seeds into the air that birth floating Audrey 2s! Silly me!” Though you are given three hits to work with, you are basically required to die multiple times to every boss in order to memorize their attack patterns. Don’t worry, however, the game, with mistakes, should be a total of ten hours. Fairly concise, almost suspiciously so. For a game that took four years to make, this is an extremely fast playthrough.
Additionally, while there is a two-player mode, it is much more advantageous to go it alone, as boss health is nearly doubled for every stage once the two-player mode is engaged. To prove my point, here is a transcript of me and my friends playing Cuphead:
“No! No! No! God No!”
“For God’s sake, Jesus Christ.”
“This is BULLSH–“ alright I think you get the picture.
However, even when the game culminates to its most difficult portion, there’s still so much innovation. Mr. Dice’s level is a board game boss gauntlet with ten original bosses, requiring you to roll dice to get the end fight with optional benefits in-between. The devil’s fight not only challenges you to use every mechanic you know, but it also combines the entirety of the previous boss soundtracks, borrowing everything from previous boss fights to give a true sense of everything coming together. A tap-dancing section, identical riffs, it only furthers the feeling of finality for the final boss.
In the end, it comes down to direction; the game is a playable 1930’s Cartoon. Cuphead isn’t simply a game, it’s an experience to be appreciated. Who cares about the difficulty? Who cares about how long it is? This $20 game is created beauty, pure and simple, and just looking at it has inspired others to do the same. It doesn’t just accomplish what it sets out to do; it crushes it. Cuphead is a guaranteed 10/10 for any Xbox One player and a jolly good time for any lad who wants to view it through other means. Drink up the spirit of Fleischer Studios and Disney magic with the MDHR’s revolutionary masterpiece.