How in the hell have I been writing a blog for all these years without ever talking about this game? I talked about the show before I reviewed this! What is wrong with me?!
One of my biggest gripes with the video game industry is in presentation. Everyone is always going for the games with the most graphical fidelity. Look, this one looks almost just like real life! Then five years pass and look! That game now looks terrible because technology has evolved. People simply don’t understand that style is what’s important, not tech power.
Then there’s Cuphead. Which is, without exaggeration, the most beautiful video game of all time.
The story is brain-dead simple. After losing to the Devil at gambling, Cuphead and Mugman owe him their souls! To keep from paying, the two now must travel around the Inkwell Isles to collect debts from those who sealed a deal with the ruler of hell. But it’s not going to be easy; all of their targets have been granted powers by the Devil, and they won’t go down without a fight. Will you be able to collect all of the contracts and ultimately overcome the Devil himself?
It isn’t a complicated plot, and it isn’t meant to be. You’re not supposed to go on a grand adventure with rich characters who have rich and compelling arcs. It’s a simple video game plot that gives you context for shooting all of the wacky bosses you’ll encounter. That’s all it’s meant to be, and it does that job perfectly well.
Now, let’s talk about the style. Like I said literally two paragraphs ago, Cuphead is the most beautiful game of all time. And I wasn’t kidding. Because Cuphead does something truly insane with its art style:
The animators took a cartoon from the 1930’s and made an entire playable video game out of it.
In case you fail to comprehend why that is so completely insane: everything you see in this game is animated by hand. Every single frame. That’s twenty-four drawings per second of animation. And there are a holy fuck ton of frames in this game! Cuphead and Mugman (and later Miss Chalice) each have hundreds of frames of animation all on their own! Add in the bosses (and the basic enemies found in the Run ‘n Gun stages) and you’ve got a game with thousands of frames of animation, all done completely by hand!
And that’s not even talking about the backgrounds! Some of these are highly detailed still drawings, as one might see from a cartoon from the 1930’s. These look great on their own; each one is packed with details that you will more than likely miss in the gameplay. Then there are the rotating panoramic backgrounds seen in certain boss stages; I’m not sure if those are actual models or if they’re CGI, but either way they look real and they look stunning!
Then there’s the music! Oh my god, dude, this OST is spectacular! The fast-paced orchestral/jazz style these tracks take is just as memorable as it is stress-inducing! Since the game came out in 2017, these tracks have become some of the most iconic boss tunes of any modern video game, and for good reason!
In terms of presentation, Cuphead simply cannot be beat. No other video game has ever tried to do what it did and no other game will ever try it again. It’s style is unmatched and will stand the test of time forever, without a shadow of a doubt.
And we haven’t even talked about the actual game yet!
Cuphead is a simple run ‘n gun shooter (think the classic Contra series) boss-rush game. You wander about the three Inkwell Isles, picking fights with each of the bosses. Once you’ve cleared all of them on one isle, you get to move on to the next. Rinse and repeat until you defeat the Devil.
Each of these bosses are entirely unique. No two of them share in the same patterns. Whenever you hop into a new battle, you’re delving into a fresh new hell. If you don’t have their moves memorized yet, they very well might flatten you in just a few seconds.
Some of these bosses are fought in the sky. In these battles, you don’t need to worry about platforming. You do, however, need to be incredibly aware of your spacing. While in flight, you’ve only got two guns and the ability to shrink down in size in order to dodge projectiles. Depending on how you play, these bosses might end up being more difficult than the normal bosses.
In terms of your arsenal, you’ve got plenty of options. In Porkrind’s shop, you can purchase extra guns to mix up your playstyle or special charms that give you abilities to make things easier. You can increase your base HP, you can give yourself a boost to your parry, and a few others. These are essential for success, and which one you like best is up to you.
No matter who you are, though, you’ll need to learn how to parry. This isn’t all that difficult to understand; press the jump button again in the air and you can parry pink projectiles. Doing this can be risky; if you aren’t aware of your spacing, you might just launch yourself into another obstacle. But if you succeed, you’ll not only clear the screen just a bit, you’ll also gain a card for your super gauge. Plus, there are a few small bonus levels that are all about parrying, so you’ll need to figure it out if you want those extra rewards.
On that subject: the super gauge. You can build up to five cards as you fight. One of these cards can be spent to use a small burst (which are all unique to your weapons). Or, if you clear one of the Mausoleums, you can gain an ultra-powerful five-card super ability. Proper super ability management can make or break a run, so be careful!
Now, the game isn’t all about the boss fights. There are also the Run ‘N Gun levels. This is where the Contra influence truly becomes obvious. In these levels, you’ll need to move your way through a level filled with weaker enemies. Scattered around these levels are coins, making them essential for you to make money to buy stuff from Porkrind.
I’ll be honest: I hate the Run ‘N Gun levels. They clearly aren’t as polished as the boss fights and feel like filler meant to extend playtime. The level design is more frustrating than it is rewarding and the basic enemies are obnoxious. They’re fun enough once. But on repeat playthroughs, they are infuriating. But you need those coins, so you need to do them!
Luckily, those are but a small part of this wonderful game. And the game itself has only gotten bigger with the Last Course DLC! Now there are even more bosses and an entirely new playable character, who controls completely differently to Cuphead and Mugman! This DLC is easily the hardest content available in Cuphead and it is a total blast!
Oh, and did I fail to mention that the entire game can be played with local co-op? Have you any doubts remaining as to this game’s quality?
In short: Cuphead is an amazing game. It’s style is unmatched and its gameplay is challenging and addictive. Despite its brutal difficulty, it’s a game that anyone can pick up, play, and have a good time with. If you haven’t played it yet, I highly encourage you give it a shot.
Just… try not to smash your controller. Or hit your co-op partner. Both are frighteningly realistic possibilities.