Cuphead Hands On – The Brighter, Happier ‘Dark Souls’ of Platform Shooters

Cuphead will punish you, but you can win…

News flash; Cuphead is hard. It’s not kinda hard, it’s not sorta hard, it is 100 percent legitimately goddamn hard BUT it’s not unfairly hard. That’s an important distinction to make when looking at a game that touts its challenge level as a badge of honor. Some games that pride themselves on their nearly impossible difficulty levels are exactly that… impossible. After getting my hands on the game last week I feel comfortable in saying that while Cuphead is certainly challenging its goal is for you to get just a little bit better with each and every playthrough.

After seeing a fellow journalist get burned at the stake for his recent performance trying Cuphead at Gamescom I was almost afraid to pick up the controller and get started. I was even more afraid to hit record on the capture device and have footage of how bad I was. Luckily, my opening moments were far from disastrous as I ventured through the tutorial but things quickly went sour on the first platforming stage. It only took me four or so attempts to get through the level completely but it was undeniably still a challenge. Let’s keep in mind this was the first level. THE FIRST. There should be no dying yet. What ended up getting me through was simply learning the movements of my enemies and mastering (a term I use VERY loosely) my own movement in response. When I died it was on me for rushing or not paying attention because the controls were pinpoint accurate.

Cuphead Balloon Boss (1280x720)

Boss fights are a beast all their own with danger coming from all angles. With the limited amount of time I had, I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t actually beat either of the bosses I faced. Both of the bosses I took on were further into the game where the player would have had a decent amount of time to become well versed in the movement and mechanics that Cuphead offers. In spite of this, it was again another situation of learning movements, reading your enemy’s attacks and reacting appropriately. I felt challenged but wasn’t overcome with the feeling that I’d never be able to triumph.

Cuphead is smart in the sense that early battles (and perhaps later ones) are truly geared to teaching the player by sheer force the entire move set available to them. Reminiscent of a blue slime you’d see in your favorite JRPG one early boss is all but impossible to beat without mastering the dash mechanic. A move that many might forget about while in the heat of platforming is shoved in the player’s face to make sure they know it. Beat that boss and you’re one step closer to glory on the level that comes next.

By now you probably know that one can’t talk about Cuphead without acknowledging exactly how stunning the game looks. The 1930’s era cartoon vibe isn’t just mimicked but utterly mastered in every possible way. The grainy film effect on screen is perfectly complemented by not only the game’s music but the scratchy ‘aged recording’ pops as well. Every enemy, every background, every painstaking detail all hand drawn by the talented team at Studio MDHR with results never before seen in a video game. In all honesty, Cuphead’s striking visuals are all that anyone can talk about after seeing it and it’s for good reason. Putting into perspective exactly how much work it took Studio MDHR to bring this to life I was told by Maja Moldenhauer, one of the artists on the team that in one particular scene they had to individually draw and animate somewhere in the amount of 1300 raindrops… all by hand.

Cuphead Sketch (700x)

Sure, Cuphead suffered some delays from when we first heard about it to release but according to Studio MDHR, they were fully focused on bringing their absolute best to life without exception. In an era where we see unfinished games popping up and taking your money without concern, it is refreshing to see a developer hold back and refrain from pushing unreasonable timelines. In the end, we’re going to be blessed with what might be the single most unique game of 2017. Releasing in just over a week on Xbox One and PC we certainly wish Studio MDHR the best of luck and can’t wait to get our hands on the final product.