Having missed the boat when Cuphead released for PC and Xbox One in 2017, I was eager to see if this side-scrolling, run and gunner with platform elements, really lived up to the hype?  Especially on a system less powerful then a PC and Xbox One, such as the Nintendo Switch.  Plot-wise, Cuphead does have a story and even though the premise is somewhat brief, it’s an interesting concept none the less.  In Cuphead you can play as either Cuphead or his brother Mugman, who has been added as a second playable character from the get-go with the Switch version, as well as via an update for PC and Xbox One.

After a casino lands on the home island of the brotherly duo, Cuphead  and Mugman visit the casino, despite the warning of their elder.  When at the casino, the brothers go on an unearthly winning streak, which catches the eye of the devil, who is also the casino owner.  He tells them if they land one more winning roll, they will win all of the money that the casino has to offer.  However, if they lose, the devil will claim their souls and guess what happened?  Yep, you’ve guessed it, they lose.  The devil then makes the brothers an offer, if they are able to collect the debts of souls owed to the devil by midnight the next day, the brothers get to keep their souls.  That’s if the word of the devil can truly be trusted.

Once the game has started, you’ll navigate your way around the world of Cuphead via a free-roaming map, approaching whichever challenge you wish to take on.  Beating the challenges you take on, you will often open up a new path to take.  This offers a solid level of freedom, giving you the choice to progress on the path that you please.  The two main types of levels that you will take on will be either a Run and Gun section or you can go straight into a Boss Fight.  In Run and Gun, you don’t have to necessarily rush through the levels, as you can take your time and collect as many collectible coins as want, which can be spent upgrading your characters special abilities.  However, a lot of Cuphead’s gameplay will rely on momentum and rhythm to a certain degree, so once you get use to the platforming and enemy encounters, you’ll soon be speeding through levels.

The Boss Fights do exactly what it says on the tin, loading up these levels will throw you straight into a boss fight and this is arguably where Cuphead really does shine.  Cuphead is a beautifully animated game as it is, akin to the 1930’s bygone era.  The small development studio at StudioMDHR have been rightfully praised for their work done on Cuphead, not only with the stunning art-style, but also the super-slick and refined gameplay, and the bosses are shining examples of their work.  In traditional fashion, the bosses will attack in three stages, each stage different from the last and to add further challenge, the three stages are often randomised, so you’ll always be kept on your toes.

As I’m sure you already know, Cuphead is a very challenging game, to the point where it will at some stage, frustrate the hell out of you.  But it never feels overly unfair, because many of the grunts encountered in the Run and Gun levels, are quite easy to take down.  The challenge in that respect more so comes from knowing the level, which you will most certainly will do after many a death.  The Boss Fights are also equally challenging in their own right and it’s a case of learning their patterns and rhythms.  So it should come as no surprise that you will die A LOT in Cuphead.  Thankfully, you do have an unlimited amount of lives, so you can replay each level as many times as you want, and learn with each new life.

At the end of each level, you will be graded on your performance, which on its own adds further replay value as you’ll often find yourself wanting to constantly beat your best scores.  You can also play Cuphead in two-player co-op with the other player playing as Mugman (or Cuphead) and from what I can tell, co-op does increase the difficulty somewhat.  If you want the game to take a little pity on you, you can select from two difficulties, which are effectively a Simple (for boss fights) and Normal difficulty.  Obviously the “simple” difficulty won’t be quite as challenging, but compared to other games in this genre, it still offers more of a challenge then most.  But it’s still a great way to at least learn some of the ropes of Cuphead and by beating the game, you can unlock Expert mode.

With the Nintendo Switch release of Cuphead, came some new improved features, which as already mentioned, were also made available to PC and Xbox One as a free update.  Now I can’t compare the recently improved visuals to what was on offer before, because this is my first time playing Cuphead.  In terms of new features and improvements, not only is Mugman a playable character for the campaign, but there’s now fully animated cinematic’s for the cut-scenes, as well as new animations which includes boss fight intros.  Cuphead has also been localised in eleven more countries and the developers have even gone the extra mile by working with expert calligraphers so that the text is brought to life to represent cartoon inspiration from each of the countries featured in the game.  I must also give a mention to the absolutely sublime soundtrack, which is truly some fantastic work done by Kristofer Maddigan, as well as barbershop, big-band and jazz musicians.  The soundtrack of Cuphead brings the game to life as much as any of the other great aspect of the game.

In conclusion, Cuphead is a brilliant achievement by such a small studio and considering this game was ported from more superior platforms, it’s a game that performs to near perfection.  The challenge is reminiscent to games of old such as your Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and ContraCuphead’s difficulty never really feels all that unfair and even at your most frustrated peak, it’s a damn hard game to put down due to the shear enjoyment it provides.  Cuphead is a game that’s old school, brought into the new school and is one of the best games of its ilk that I’ve played in such a long-time.  Whether you’re a PC, Xbox One or Nintendo Switch owner, believe the hype and buy Cuphead, now.



Author

Richard Lee Breslin
Richard Lee Breslin

Gamimg has been my life for 30+ years and will always be my passion. I have a BDes Hons Games Development and Digital Media, and I hope to one day turn my passion for gaming and writing into a living. My favourite gaming series are Resi Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and The Last of Us. I collect gaming merchandise, comics and movies. I love football (namely Aston Villa) and WWE. I can also often be found wondering the outskirts of Raccoon City. Follow me on Twitter @Solidus5nake and you can check out my Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/solidus5nake