Reviews: Cuphead

Stylishly Classy and Classically Hard

"A brawl is surely brewing!"

Boy, what to say about Cuphead that hasn't already been said. It drew a lot of attention a couple of years ago when it was selling itself as an indie Boss Rush game styled after the Deranged Animation of the 1930s, both for gorgeous art and insane difficulty. Fast forward a couple of years and we get a full game with proper levels, bonus stages, and yes, dozens of bosses to wallop, taking us somewhere between Contra and Metal Slug by way of Fleischer Studios.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: This game is hard, and while it's quite fair, it is nonetheless the sort of thing that can drive some people to frustration. It's also slightly repetitive in that the gameplay tends to boil down to "die, observe pattern, die, learn pattern, defeat pattern," with a lot of rote memorization involved if you want to earn the best ratings. There's also the case where things occasionally bug out and leave enemies invulnerable or breaking hitboxes.

None of this is a deal breaker, however, and much of the charm and allure of the game is in its gorgeous visuals, catchy music, and solid gameplay, rivaling the 16-bit Mega Man X games in control tightness. There's also a bit of slack for players who are not hardcore speedrunners, with the game providing ways to catch up when falling behind (most notably the parry, partner revive, and super-shot mechanics). There's a little variety in the form of weapons and charms to keep the gameplay interesting without being entirely unbalanced (where the high-DPS spread gun has to be used at point-blank, the auto-aiming chaser bullet is fairly weak, etc). The balance for solo and co-op is also quite fair, in that when you screw up something you've already seen, it was your fault. Boss fights are heavily scripted precisely so players can learn their way through—indeed, half the fun is seeing what sort of zany thing is going to happen next in this madcap cartoon world.

In closing, do not be put off by either the cutesy aesthetic nor the posterior-crushing difficulty; this game is not only a labor of love but of genuine passion to make a game the feels as good as it looks. While it doesn't bring quite so much new to the Run-and-Gun category, what's there is slick, well created, and extremely charming. And hey, how often do you get to play a game with its very own Villain Song sung in classic 30s' crooner style?

"Ready? WALLOP!"
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