The spotlight owner of Microsoft’s 2014 E3 conference, Cuphead “Don’t Deal with the Devil”, has finally arrived on Xbox One and Steam. Studio MDHR began this project in 2010, revealed it at the E3 conference in 2014, teased it all throughout 2015, but was gone completely throughout 2016. Fast forward to September 2017, the game was finally released, and it hit the ground running and gunning into many gamer’s hearts.
The brilliance of the game lies in its graphics. Every single frame of animation is hand drawn and backgrounds are watercolor paintings, matching the 1930s cartooning style, rubberhose. Even the soundtrack is authentic, consisting of a huge jazz band to make up the chaotic music of a busy game. The only non-hand drawn thing is the coloring of the sprites, which were done in Photoshop, but still a brilliant feat.
However, what is Cuphead? From the mind of Chad and Jared Moldenhauer and animation skills from Jake Clark, it is a game of the run and gun genre that sports brutal difficulty with extreme rewards. The story is about two brothers, Cuphead and Mugman, who make a bet with the devil himself that they end up losing. While begging for their lives, the devil offers them a chance to redeem themselves and catch every other soul that escaped his deal. A simple plot that easily mimics the game’s time period. Players will be facing 19 bosses in total, along with brutal run and gun stages. As warned by the devil early in the game, this is not an easy feat.
Brutal difficulty is a theme of this game. Every boss has it’s own theme and patterns, so no fight feels similar, but the game never ceases to keep you on your toes. It is always throwing in something fresh and new, even changing the boss completely during battle. Remember that every single animation frame was sketched and inked before being inserted in the game, so it includes the drastic form changes.
From personal experience, I must say that even though this game is an excellent experience, it is not perfect. Every boss except for two of them sport a simple mode, but it is ultimately useless. You cannot even get to the other bosses until you have beaten a group of them on regular mode. Even though this sounds tedious, the modes barely differ from each other, as simple mode only modifies attacks and takes out a phase of the boss, but it is far from frustrating. Most bosses have a hidden timer, which basically measures your letter grade at the end. The timer has an average of two minutes, meaning the bosses are super quick. This basically creates a “just one more” mentality. As soon as you die, you can just press retry, and you are back in the action in literally seconds. Whenever I died to a boss, I always felt like it was my fault. The game is fair but just difficult, a fantastic blend to contribute the “just one more” mentality.
Overall, this is a work of art alone. Add genres that relate to the brutality of Contra and fill the game with personality, and you have a masterpiece. With an average of two minutes for boss battles, the game is quick and just plain fun. And for 2017, $20 is not bad for a game brimming with content. I could not recommend this game enough.