Here we go as Cuphead has finally made it to its release. A title that has garnered so much praise, excitement, and then upset over how gamers out there played the bit that was out there early. All kinds of fun in the gaming community here, but now is the time that we all get to sit back and see what all the hullabaloo for the game from StudioMDHR is all about. Well besides being a platformer using the artistic style of 1930's cartoons and such. We had our own chance to play Cuphead and now here we are with our review on wither or not you should give it a try on your Xbox One or PC as it has released today (September 29th).
This is a story all about how Cuphead and Mughead got flipped upside-down. They were just outside chilling in their local casino place when a couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble for the duo. Okay, I'll stop right there. The main guy up to no good was the Devil who thus tricked the duo into a bet that they lost. Now to get their souls back they have to go out and play the Devil's bounty hunter and collect on all of those other souls out there who have not come to where they should be. With each captured new soul, Cuphead and Mughead hoped this would be the next leap home…
Let us start off with something that felt like should have been the bread and butter of Cuphead but could have used a bit more time in the kiln. The controls for the game. This is a Run & Gun style game so they should have been locked down pretty tight. Unfortunately, it felt like this was not the case. Not to the point of where Cuphead should be labeled a bad game, but I do have to say that the "Parry System" needed some better timing. This had to be the biggest culprit of controls issues. The mechanic works like a double jump by pressing the jump button twice, but it is only used to "slap" pink items out of the air and give you a boost. This is something that I could see working so well, and it does in some levels, but the timing for it all is so all over the place that when it is needed to Parry enemies or damaging items, it leaves you wishing you had left the mechanic aside. With a bit of correction on that side, this gripe would be completely removed altogether.
Another thing that seemed to bother me for Cuphead was the lack of any indication of health for any of the characters in the game. Well, outside of the titular character but even his is reduced down to a block of text that is not easy to gauge when the screen is full of enemies. It is even worse when it comes to the long string of boss fights that is a good portion of Cuphead. Outside of the whole fight shifting, there is no solid indication that anything you are doing is having a great effect or a bad effect. When there are items in the game that even effect this, they are rendered almost pointless as they still kill minions in a single shot, most of the time, and do whatever to the bosses. I know StudioMDHR had a whole look they were going for, but it would be nice to see these changes do something or at least be an easy reminder on a HUD system.
Lastly, and it is another gripey thing instead of a game breaker, is that while the use of the art style for Cuphead looked amazing it also caused issues with gameplay somewhat. Maybe this is what people were complaining about when saying it was "too hard," but it is an awesome effect when enemies use attacks that kind of blend in with the rest of the goings on in the game world. It makes sense but, and I will use one of the earlier culprits, there is a fight that takes place while you are flying through the air. The first one to be exact. In this fight, the main enemy laughs and throws out a literal "HA" at you in the air. It damages you, but the way it looks it blends into the background or the chaos going on the rest of the screen that it is almost impossible to miss. When you only have three or four times you can be hit, this can be more than frustrating and drive players to want to quit. Especially since this is not the only time in Cuphead it happens.
Time for some shocking bits here, but right out the gate I was not overly excited for Cuphead as it seemed like the only thing it had going for it was the art style. Something I was not too keen on from day one. Now that I have had it in my hands and have been able to interact with it, it works insanely well and looks just the same. Even with characters and levels being completely based out of StudioMDHR, it looks at felt like something pulled right from the era that spawned it all. In fact, during my review of Cuphead I had a few non-gamers walk by and ask what I was watching as it looks like I was just chilling with vintage cartoons. Even while in the heat of another huge boss fight it was hard to tell where everything blended and looked just like a high action sequence for a very old cartoon. Not something I ever thought I would be praising, but there it is.
Now while I griped on the controls above, that was only one instance of an issue I found during my time with Cuphead. It would not have even made the Hated side of things if it were not a core mechanic for the game. That all said, the rest of the mechanics in the game were completely spot on. Any other issue I ran into was completely on my side of the controller and not something that needed to be tweaked. It brought back all of those familiar nights playing the original side-scrolling platforming titles of yore in the ways that other games just have not been able to do today. The levels were well thought out and the bosses all felt truly unique just as they used to before they became the same run of the mill things we deal with today. This has to be where Cuphead truly shines and the rest is just that extra level of polish we all hear games are getting but then never truly do.
Last, but definitely not least, the overall game structure for Cuphead panned out in a way I would not have expected it to. Usually these kinds of games are run and gun a level and then fight the end boss. Instead, there were missions that were just fight a boss, just run and gun, fight a boss then run and gun then fight a boss, fight a boss while running and gunning, etc. I hope you get the point. Cuphead kept it changing so even though it really was repetitive in nature, it never felt like that and you wanted to keep going down the rabbit hole you were already going down. It is an interesting trick that was used to do all of this and I know for sure it is this that is going to make the game live on well after the first adopters play and beat it. Especially since it keeps challenging you to do better each time you win or lose. Just as a great game should.
Should you give Cuphead a try here or leave it in the digital stores it now sits in? Totally give it a try. It really brings back the classic side-scrolling platformers that we all loved when gaming was just starting out. Not only that, but it manages to push the genre forward and brings along a fun new look that is almost never used in gaming. It can be "hard" at times, but the times that it is that way is not because of faulty controls or a game designed to be hard, it will generally be on your side of it all and then Cuphead will goad you to try and do better each time. Even when you get to the point of wanting to throw the controller and shut the game off, you will still know it is on you and not a bad game design. Head out and pick it up now would be the answer to my original question though.
I give Cuphead 5 Charms on the Charm scale.
Cuphead — Launch Trailer