We remember the first time we saw Cuphead way back in 2014 among a series of upcoming Xbox One exclusives at E3. The uncanny resemblance to Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s was both novel and familiar. Cuphead instantly caught the attention of many gamers including us that have been waiting three long years to finally try it. And while the presentation is outstanding, a game you’ll want to show off to friends, there unfortunately isn’t much else there.
You play as the titular character after having made a foolish bet with the devil who challenges you to collect the souls of his debtors in exchange for your now owed soul. Distilled down, the game is a series of boss fights connected by an overworld map which you open up over time as you defeat more and more bosses. There are a handful of conventional platforming or challenge levels but they are in the minority and feel like a tacked on 11th hour update to break up the boss fights.
The gameplay itself is eerily similar to run and gun games like Gunstar Heroes or Contra. You take on enormously overpowered bosses, barely able to withstand even a handful of hits yourself, and dodge/parry/shoot your way to the end snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Boss battles typically run in the 2 minute range but even with 30 bosses, expect hours of gameplay since you’ll inevitably repeat some boss fights dozens of times until you spot the pattern to narrowly survive.
Aesthetically the game is top notch with its insane dedication to the cartoons of the past. You’ll be immediately absorbed from the opening title screen of Cuphead swaying back and forth to a barbershop quartet humming the story of the game. Enemies bend and squish, at times mugging for the camera, as they throw a barrage of attacks your way. Everything is richly designed and polished in a way we just haven’t seen in another game. We do wish loading screens were a bit faster but we can swallow that pill considering how good the rest of the experience is.
Ultimately the game feels like a nonstop boss rush requiring pattern memorization and impeccable timing to survive. There’s a wave satisfaction you’ll feel when you finally take down a boss after so many losses, but the novelty does start to wear off after two dozen or so fights.
The visuals and accompanying music are unparalleled and may be worth the price of admission for many. If you don’t play this game, at least check some playthrough vids because it’s stunning to see in action
What doesn’t work
The boss rush formula does get tiresome after a while. We would have loved more platforming levels to break up the grind of conquering yet another boss. The game is extremely challenging but we never found it unfair – we just know many gamers will avoid playing for that reason alone.
Overall: Good but skippable
The fact this small dev crew created this game is a minor miracle. Their dedication to their source material should be commended and studied by future devs. We’d argue it’s worth playing for its novelty (which again, is top notch), but there isn’t much reason to stay once you’ve appreciated that.