I first heard of Cuphead a while back when it was briefly shown off at E3 2014. Since then it’s stayed on a lot of radars as one to watch. The game was playable at the Xbox stand at rAge 2015, and so, armed with my 6.4ft tall weapon of co-op destruction (i.e. Chris Kemp), I tackled the game for the first time.
There was so much death. The game stomped us like we owed it money. If this were a coin-op game, Chris would be in debt until after his second child goes to college. This game is NES-Hard, and will either destroy you as a person, or turn you into a better human. I didn’t grow up with Contra or Mega Man, so I had a bit of a rough time with Cuphead. Chris fared a little better though. Anyway, this level of frantic challenge works well here, creating a game that compels you to keep playing.
Aiding this is the presentation, especially the art style. Cuphead doesn’t look like any other video game out there. Graphically it looks just like a cartoon from the ’30s, with surreal animation and surprisingly horrific designs on some characters. Screenshots look just like an animation still, and in action the game is mesmerising. It’s difficult to describe all the little details that have been thrown into it, but each asset carries this visual identity perfectly. The music is highly authentic too, sounding exactly like it was taken from the score of a forgotten 1950s animation. According to the developers, Studio MDHR, the art style is inspired by Fleischer Studios, most renowned for their Popeye, Betty Boop and early Superman cartoons.
Beyond the presentation, the game is essentially a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up. The demo had a tutorial level, a beautiful, watercolour painting-style overworld, and several boss stages, and the final game is said to mostly consist of boss battles. The game handles well: it’s smooth and highly responsive, and rewards skillful play.
To sum up, Cuphead was fun and difficult as hell. It looks amazingly unique, plays incredibly smoothly, and is an addictive throwback to certain older games. It’s due for Xbox One and PC sometime in 2016, and comes with the Fick-Kemp Seal of Approval.