A game so gorgeous in it’s animation, I never wanted it to end. Studio MDHR have crafted a unique experience which feels like it’s pulled straight from the imagination of a 1930’s animator.
A Smashing Time
Cuphead’s story is simple: Cuphead and his brother Mugman have lost their souls in a bet with the Devil. In order to win their souls back, the two brothers must collect ‘soul contracts’ from the Devil’s debtors who are coincidently the bosses in this game.
Rather fittingly, I played this game alongside my own brother as we attempted to win back what our ceramic-headed equivalents had lost.
It was amazing.
Story driven co-op games are hard to find, but Cuphead’s challenging yet rewarding gameplay make every boss win a triumph. At the end of nearly every boss fight, we celebrated as ‘A KNOCKOUT’ flashed across the screen.
I would also be lying if I said there was no arguments in between. One of us losing a cheap life or losing focus would usually end up in the other making a snarky remark or letting out a fizz of frustration.
The true joy came when figuring out a specific strategy to beat each boss. Some were pretty easy, only taking 3 or so attempts in order to beat them
Others… they were soul crushing. Sometimes we were stuck for literal hours, requiring breaks to recollect our thoughts and concentration levels to give ourselves a better chance throughout.
The controls are easy too. Simple run and gun mechanics with a ‘parry’ function in order to keep things interesting. Certain projectiles enemies throw can glow pink which means the can be parried. A well timed tap of the ‘X’ button eliminates the threat and charges up your ‘super-move’. Mistime it however, and you’ll lose one of your three hit points of damage. A brilliant adoption of a ‘risk/reward’ mechanic which can be the difference between persevering or perishing.
Run’n’gun levels are used to break up the gauntlet of bosses faced. In these levels, you can collect hidden coins to use in Porkrinds shop. You can buy different guns which changes the accuracy or damage. You can also buy ‘charms’ which can give you an extra hit point or an auto-filling super meter to name a few. These options add to the variety of ways you can play the game. Me and my brother were constantly switching our weapons and charms to best find the way of taking on each boss and part of the fun derived from this.
But what always followed was the music. This games life audio charges the life within the visuals for a beautiful showpiece of what a game can do.
This game is HARD. It doesn’t quite breach the realms of difficulty developers ‘From Software’ are renowned for, but some of these bosses are monstrous, especially on the third isle of Inkwell Hell
The difficulty adds to the enjoyment 99% of the time. Carla Maria was the only boss I found to have a poor level design, with success revolving more around luck than skill if playing solo.
However, if you decide to partner up, a few more levels become harder. Run’n’Gun levels fall victim to this as the screen scrolls to the front players movement which means the trailing player needs to speed up and the player at the front can’t see what is coming. We found ourselves constantly debating whether to just do these levels solo so we can move on.
Another problem which occurs in both boss and Run’n’Gun levels is it’s easy to get distracted with the other player on the screen. There is already a multitude of different projectiles being thrown at you, obstacles needing to be avoided and bosses to damage without the extra player on screen. Co-op mode always relies heavily on communication and concentration which is not appealing to those looking for a more laid-back experience.
Cuphead is fantastic. It really is. My own love for the art style and music may sway me but the challenge entangled with each boss hooks me into the depths of Inkwell Hell. But be careful. A cute art style may fool you, but these bosses burn. Do you take on the challenge?