Cuphead is a 2d platforming game made by Studio MDHR, in which you play as a character named Cuphead in a 30s style cartoon. This game has seen hype and delay over the years, so the question I hope to answer is if this was worth the wait.
Going into the story, you play as Cuphead, a simple man who has lived a safe life with his brother Mugman (who is player 2 if you have a second character) and his father Elder Kettle. One day, you and Mugman decide to explore, only to end up at the devil's casino. After rolling the dice and winning, the devil gives a deal: win and get the casino, or lose and give him your souls. You lose, but the devil decided to instead make you a soul collector. The rest of the game is exploring the different isles in search of souls to collect. The story after this disappears until the end, but honestly the story is more of a way to answer the question of why are you fighting everything around you.
Let's get over the obvious part of this game: the visuals and sounds. For those who don't know, the game takes the style of a 30s cartoon, and Studio MDHR nails it. The hand-drawn art, water color background, and the film grain filter makes this game pop to your eyes while the original soundtrack and washed-up sounds are aurally pleasing. This game tried for a style, and I don't think I have seen a game get so close to that style.
The real question is how the game holds up. We have known about this fantastic style for a long time, but we haven't properly seen what the game is like until now. Now that the game is out, I can say the gameplay part of the game is also fantastic.
To get a little deeper into the gameplay part, Cuphead mostly consists of boss fights, with a few platforming sections scattered along. These boss fights can be boiled down to two types: on-foot fighting and airplane fighting. Now from that description, the gameplay may sound like it dries up over time, but I never found myself forcing my way through this game. The platforming levels are a lot of fun, which brings me back to them. As for the boss fights, they are also a lot fun, but also varied and have slight differences between each run. What I mean by slight differences is that the boss fights will have slight differences between each run of the boss, but nothing that dramatically changes the fight and makes it impossible. For example, a boss will always have the same phases and phase order, but within that phase the moves that boss uses will be in a different order. It was these slight changes that didn't make the boss fight feel repetitive each time you played one, but also didn't dramatically change to make it impossible.
Now of course we can't about gameplay until we talk about the biggest factor of the gameplay in this game: difficulty. This game is very hard, but I feel that this game isn't stupid hard. Some games think that making a difficult game means sliding up the numbers on damage and health while lowering your own damage and health, and that to me a bad way to make a difficult game. This game on the other hand shines with its difficult gameplay. It's difficulty is hard, but I never felt like dying was the game's fault. I could always see where I went wrong, and I only had myself to blame for dying. Because of that, I wasn't frustrated when playing the game, only determined. And what adds onto the fact that I wasn't frustrated was how fast each boss fight or platforming level was and how fast it was to restart. There are no checkpoints in the game, but I was fine with that. Also, their isn't a health bar shown until after you die, which I thought was a smart move as for I could see how far I got after while not being distracted by a health bar while playing. This difficulty is more of a trial-and-error style difficulty. You die over and over to get a good pattern, which to me making a pattern always feels satisfying and looks cool. But nothing is as satisfying as beating a boss in this game, as satisfaction I haven't had for a very long time. Few things have felt better to me in a video game than defeating a boss in Cuphead, and I wish I had that feeling more often. Oh yeah, that is all part of the normal difficulty. Their is also an easy difficulty and a hard difficulty in the game. That's right, this game can get harder, but I want to talk about the difficulty, because that is also done really well. Again, with other games the difficulty feels more of a slider of health and damage, but this game knows how to do different difficulties right. The easier difficulty will have less phases, slower and less attacks, and others. The higher difficulty speeds things up while throwing multiple things at you all at once. This game could've easily taken a route of changing sliders around, but the time they put into the difficulty is what brings me back and says that this is one of the best harder games I have played.
Going into the smaller parts, the game introduces items and secrets as your progress through the isles. I felt that some items are a lot better than others, which left me using one item the entire game. The weapons on the other hand changed up a bit. Different boss fights called for different weapons to be used, and I felt that doing this was part of the trial-and-error of the game. I will say that discovering a weapon that works best against a certain boss was this good feeling that I am making progress with the boss. The weapons and items are varied, and change up the way you go through each boss fight. The only complaint I have with the weapons and items is that one of the items drops a heart-shaped container, but interacting with it doesn't give you an extra life. When it comes to secrets, they are a very small part of the game. The secrets boil down to hidden passageways or challenges. I wanted to talk about the challenges, as for they are the only reason worth talking about the secrets. The challenges only give out filter rewards, but I think that the challenges themselves are fun and a good way to keep you in the game. The challenges consist of getting an A-rank in everything and not shooting a single shot in the platforming levels. It adds another layer of difficulty to the game, but difficulty is what the game is about.
The last thing I have to say about the game is that it got a little glitchy towards the end. Occasionally, the game would crash or the boss fights would be one-hit. It is an issue, but one that never got me frustrated. Similar to dying in the game, I just started again and got back to it. As for the one-hit issue, I restart the boss fight and try again (I play fair). Restarting the game always works for me. But I don't consider this a major issue, as for it is something that will be fixed and was something I encountered only a few times.
The verdict: Cuphead was easily worth the wait. The visuals and sounds shine in the game, but that doesn't stop the gameplay from being great either. The game is a great callback to vintage movies and retro games, with a great difficulty, amazing bosses, and fun platforming levels. I can say without a doubt that this is one of the best games of 2017. Studio MDHR's first game is a fantastic one, and I can't wait to see what they do next.