From the Beginning
If you are a member of the gaming community and you haven’t been living under a rock for the last two years, then you have probably at least heard of Cuphead. When I first caught wind of the game a little more than a year ago I had a mixed reaction. I mean, sure, the art style was unique and it seemed fun, but it didn’t seem like anything that hadn’t already been done before. In fact, it almost seemed like a step backward compared to some of the games we have seen come from the Indie community lately. So why has Cuphead received so much publicity?
As Cuphead grew closer to an official release it seemed like word of it became more frequent and interest in the game increased. I, myself, spent more time looking into the game and started to realize just what all the hype was about. As it turns out, Cuphead is not at all the standard side-scrolling platform game I originally thought it would be. Having now spent a good deal of time with the game, this is what I have come to find:
What is Cuphead?
At its core, Cuphead is reminiscent of a classic run-and-gun side-scroller similar to Contra from the 1980s. We follow the story of two brothers, Cuphead and Mugman, as they accidentally trade their soul to the devil and desperately do everything they can to change his mind before it is too late. This charming little adventure takes you all across the fictional world of Inkwell and through all kinds of dangers trying to save your skin. It is a simple story, yet just as full of life as any game, you would find these days.
Don’t let its charm fool you, however, because, despite its appearance, Cuphead proves to be far more twisted and unforgiving than you would expect. Myself being somewhat of a seasoned gamer, I expected to go into the game with little in the way of challenge. I quickly learned otherwise as I dug into what may very well be the Dark Souls of the side-scrolling genre. With each and every level I was faced with a slew of enemies and objects flying at me from every angle as I tried (emphasis on tried) dodging, aiming and shooting all at the same time. It was difficult, but it was exciting as it gave me, a gamer of near 20 years, a reason to go back to his gaming roots.
If this all wasn’t enough to at least make the game stand out, there is the art style to top it all off. Now, this isn’t the first time that someone has used retro graphics to create a unique game, but this may very well be the first game I have seen that seems to have gotten its inspiration from 1930s Disney cartoons. They even managed to throw in the old grain effect and a barbershop quartet. Its character designs are a perfect blend of bizarre and charming. It is like playing through the brainchild of Walt Disney and Pendelton Ward (the creator of Adventure Time) and I loved every minute of it. There is no knowing what strange twists each encounter has in store.
The Cuphead Experience
Cuphead can be experienced in either single or two-player but, after a few hours of gameplay, I think it is safe to say that it was meant to be played with two people. Playing alone is a completely viable option, you will just be the focus of all attacks and have no means of reviving yourself. This being said, playing with a friend does not instantly remove any degree of difficulty as I thought it would. Not only are there more enemies with more health when you have two people, but there is just generally twice the chaos and twice the amount of things to keep track of on the screen. It is a very nice way to balance it out.
Speaking of chaos, this seems to be the primary attributing factor to Cuphead‘s difficulty. In any given instance you are likely to have any number of obstacles, projectiles, etc. flying at you from all sides. It is a definite mental workout trying to keep track of everything while learning enemy patterns and trying to get to a good spot to land good hits of your own. Luckily, the game provides you with a clever arsenal of weapons and power-ups that can be mixed and matched to find unique solutions to encounters and provide an element of strategy and planning to the game.
By the time you get to the end of the 3-world game and all of its beautifully crafted levels, you will almost certainly be wanting more. It may take a little extra time to complete the game to 100%, but once you are done it is difficult to experience the game in a new light again. It is for this reason that I wish the game had a bit more to complete. Regardless, at its current $20 price-point you are certainly getting your money’s worth.
Regardless of your age or your previous experience with video games, there is a way to enjoy Cuphead, and there is no reason why such a creative game shouldn’t be enjoyed. You probably won’t be able to sink hundreds of hours into the game like you would a full-blown RPG, but it is more than sufficient for a few hours of casual gaming with your friends.
It is clear that a great deal of passion and creativity went into the creation of this game, something I can definitely respect in an independent game title. For a game built on such a simple foundation, it is a lot of fun and takes you back to a time when your reward for playing was the satisfaction of knowing you had completed a difficult fight rather than some superficial collectible or cosmetic piece. Whether you are a casual gamer or not, it is definitely worth devoting a little time to this gem of a game.