Side-scrollers and platformers have always been about challenging the gamer. Testing your reflexes and patience have always been common with these games, and now we’re getting a true ‘blast from the past’ in the form of Cuphead. Does this game go easy on the modern gamer? Or does it revert back to the ways of retro gaming where skills are truly put to the test?
Cuphead 1930’s Charm
Before I talk about anything else, I must first talk about Cuphead’s visuals. You can see from the screenshots in this review that it takes inspiration from 1930 era cartoons and it is done brilliantly! When was the last time a game’s visuals have impressed us this much?
Everything is hand-drawn to perfection and gives this game a huge amount of personality. The animations of the characters and bosses are even better and really bring this game to life. Every boss has such exaggerated features and animations and Cuphead’s visual style and animation suits it absolutely perfectly.
But Cuphead’s charm isn’t limited to just the visuals, but the music too. The music also sounds like it was taken from the same era, and like the visuals, helps give this game more charm than I’ve ever seen in a game before.
A game’s visuals are one thing but that doesn’t mean the game is automatically good. A game also needs great gameplay to make it worth playing. Thankfully Cuphead delivers! You play as the character simply known as Cuphead (and if you’re playing with a second person, the second character is Mugman). Cuphead likes his gambling and goes on a winning streak inside Devil’s Casino but unfortunately finds himself on the losing end with his betting.
In order to pay off the debts, Cuphead must journey to find and fight the runaway debtors and gain their contracts so the casino owner can claim their souls, and therefore free Cuphead and Mugman. It may be a silly little story, but it gives you a goal for your brutal adventure.
This entire game is based around the boss fights which ties in nicely to the game’s storyline. You’ll travel through multiple regions and take on boss after boss, progressing your way through until you’re ready for the next region.
Even though Cuphead is about the boss fights, there are some run and gun platforming stages to break things up, but don’t think for a second that these are easy. These stages are almost as difficult as the bosses, and will still require a lot of patience to get through them. In these stages you can also collect coins, and these coins can be used to buy shots (different types of ‘weapons’) and upgrades for your character.
Some of these upgrades are basically perks such as an extra life or a free parry. There’s plenty more to unlock, but even though you are limited by how many you can equip, it’s nice to see a level of customisation in a game like this.
Even though this game is a little more than just a ‘boss rush’ mode, it would have been nice to see it expanded a bit more. I understand it’s an indie game and would have been limited with its resources, but if we see a sequel, a more expansive and in-depth game would be more than welcome. But at its core, Cuphead is all about the bosses, and that’s what I’ll talk about next.
Cuphead Boss Fights
Now for the real point of this review- the boss fights! The boss fights are what you’ll doing for most of your time in Cuphead. And that’s a very good thing because they are the best part about the game! Each boss fight is more of a unique problem solving challenge than anything. There’s no winging it, if you want to succeed in every boss fight, you absolutely must be prepared to learn them well.
You’ll need a perfect mix of reflexes, patience and skill to learn the boss attacks. When you first start a boss fight, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and think that it’s impossible to beat them. I felt this way many times throughout my playthrough. Some fights took me a while just to properly learn all of the attacks, but took even longer to execute a perfect run and defeat these menaces.
But it was this process that made it all the more compelling to play. Every time I faced a boss for the first time, I was filled with eager anticipation but also dread at the same time. I knew that every boss fight wasn’t a sprint to the finish, but a marathon I needed to prepare myself for.
Not one boss feels the same as the other. They all have their unique sets of attacks that need memorising, and no attack patterns are repeated with any other boss (as far as I know). To make things even more interesting is that bosses go through different phases where they’ll use a brand new set of attacks. This makes it terrifying when you’re doing well against a boss for the first time, but have no idea what’s coming next, only to find yourself getting destroyed and having to start again.
But this is where Cuphead can be a turn-off for a lot of people. If frustration causes you to quit, then this may not be the game for you. It may be a short game, but you’ll need a level of dedication if you want to defeat each boss, let alone complete the whole game.
But that immense feeling of satisfaction and joy you feel when you finally beat a boss, especially the ones you spent over an hour on, makes it all worthwhile. It was that feeling of accomplishment that drove me to want to fight the very next boss waiting for me.
Cuphead Review Summary
I’ll say it again: Cuphead is not for everyone, at least not for the faint-hearted. You will need patience and practise to make your way through this brutal game, but I feel the pay-off is worth it. Every boss fight is a unique experience that I couldn’t wait to overcome.
The stunning visuals and music just adds so much personality to an already great game. Cuphead would have still been amazing regardless, but that 1930’s charm just elevates this game into something truly memorable.
I would have loved to see more than it just being about the bosses, as it does feel like a pretty small game, but that was obviously the vision the developers had for this game. But that’s ok with me, it may have been a small package, but it gave me so much more than even some of the bigger games can give.