In 2017, Cuphead took the world by storm. Even more impressively, it took the world by storm as a complete surprise!
Like the movie industry, our beloved video game industry is often caught up in creating sequels, prequels, reboots, remasters, and so on. It’s difficult to find a genuinely original game.
According to its many fans, Cuphead is the original game we’ve all been looking for. But does it live up to the hype? Or will a new player walk away from it disappointed?
A Wild Legacy
It’s impossible to talk about Cuphead without talking about the animation. First of all, everyone who sees it says it looks familiar. However, they often have trouble describing it as anything other than “old-timey.”
It’s true that the game looks “old-timey.” For example, most screens are made to look like the kind of film stock you’d find in a theater from nearly 100 years ago.
The creators of Cuphead were highly influenced by the Fleischer Studios cartoons of the 1930s and ’40s. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Fleischer created the iconic 1940s Superman cartoons that served as the artistic inspiration for Batman: The Animated Series.
Long story short? If you enjoy nostalgia, Cuphead is going to win you over well before you hit the start button.
The Power of 2D
Cuphead was in development for a long time. But the final release date corresponded nicely with the pop culture zeitgeist: the return of 2D.
For years, the emphasis in both video games and film animation has been 3D: from CGI to polygons, everything was about creating fully-realized three-dimensional spaces.
However, the recent explosion of indie games has helped remind players of how much fun 2D can be. And nostalgia-fueled products like the NES and SNES Classic systems have helped drive that point home as players relive adventures with iconic characters like Mario and Link.
The final result is that Cuphead performs a very difficult balancing act. It helps to evoke the very best of yesterday’s games while still adding a ton of charm, style, and design diversity.
So, what kind of game is Cuphead? If I had to give it a single label, it’s a “run and gun” style game. It is similar to classics like Contra in that your character has to get from the beginning of a level to the end while dodging a seemingly endless array of enemies and traps.
However, there’s also a dash of “bullet hell” style games in here as well. Cuphead is a throwback in terms of difficulty as well as style: it’s very easy to die, and the only way to succeed is to keep playing a level until you have everything sufficiently memorized.
Cuphead also throws in some of the world-exploring fun that comes from games like Super Mario Bros. 3: your character wanders around an overworld map, allowing you to select the stages you want to play. And some of these stages allow you to take control of vehicles like planes, adding some nice variety to combat.
My favorite aspects of the game, though, are the pseudo-RPG elements. Despite the story being paper thin, you are given numerous opportunities to buy better gear and accessories for your character, leading to a surprisingly deep game.
Cuphead is a game of player choices. You can purchase upgrades for things that sound really great, such as bullets that automatically track your enemy like heat-seeking missiles. However, these shots do less damage than your normal blasts, and prolonging things like boss fights for too long makes it likelier for your character to get killed.
You are ultimately encouraged to change out your gear for different encounters. This is a powerful incentive to keep playing, as a boss that once vexed you might be quite easy with slightly different weapons and accessories.
This level of customization is also great because it allows every player to find the style they like best. Considering that a large part of the game’s appeal is the 2-player mode, it’s good to know each player can find a style they love.
The Pros and Cons of Old School
If you can’t already tell, I really like Cuphead. However, it’s true that this game is not for everyone.
The style of the game is absolutely stunning, and the gameplay is surprisingly rich and complex. However, the difficulty may be a deal breaker for some players.
Despite looking like a cute cartoon, Cuphead boasts a level of difficulty that would be more at home in a Dark Souls game. You might end up throwing your controller in frustration. The good news is that you’ll go pick it up right away because it’s tough to stay away from this game.
Cuphead is a great game with dazzling visuals, zippy music, and challenging gameplay. I highly recommend it.
Also, the game is getting easier and easier for more people to play: while it was once limited to Windows and Xbox One, this game has now been released for the Nintendo Switch. That means you can take this zany world wherever you go.
If you’ve ever wanted to control a cartoon, Cuphead is the game for you. Check it out today!