Cuphead: A game from the 1930’s – timeless fun for today

by Nicholas Stephan, Reporter

The run and gun indy game Cuphead developed and published by StudioMDHR Entertainment hit Xbox and PC consoles late 2017. The game stars the titular character Cuphead as he traverses strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets.

Cuphead began development back in 2010, and was previewed during the Xbox press event of Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014 gaining immediate audience approval. Inspired by the cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio of Cuphead are created with the same techniques of the era, including original jazz recordings, stunning watercolor backgrounds and, most impressively, traditional cel animation (a cel, short for celluloid, is a transparent sheet where drawing are painted on for traditional, hand-drawn animation).

This thumb-busting side scroller isn’t just critically acclaimed for its looks, as its gameplay has prompted controversy for being extremely difficult and unforgiving. There are no checkpoints, so if you lose during a level you must start said level from the beginning, again and again.

Unfortunately, to keep reviewers and streamers from posting entire sections of the game on the internet, non-disclosure agreements were incredibly restrictive for content shown until the game’s initial release on September 29, 2017. This means, unlike most games, fans were unable to see too many samples of the game to even fill a trailer. However, as a casual gamer, I can confirm that Cuphead was a hell of a good time to play, and was definitely worth the wait. That could depend on how hyped you were to play it in the first place, but I, being a fan of golden age cartoons, was very excited to play this game.

MDHR aimed for a theme centered around 1930’s cartoons and undoubtedly hit their target to the point the game has an almost surreal in its slickness style. It’s no wonder they won the IGN Best Xbox One game award at E3 in 2015. Cuphead delivers from start to finish. It’s interesting that something so important as personality doesn’t hit its mark for a lot of games, but with this title it does, and this is a game about two dudes with cups for heads.

While Cuphead is for one or two players, I had to play alone because no one wanted to try such a difficult game. Despite being a boss rush title, there are run-and-gun levels, though they come every once and awhile. Now each boss can have two to three to five or more phases and will take the player whittling down an invisible health bar for them to activate. Each boss phase gets harder and harder before all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into defeating them causes the boss to blow up in a turmoil of white puff clouds and lightning bolts.

Take, for instance, the candy cane house and its creepy owner, Baroness von Bonbon. She can send flying waffles after you or a gumball machine man, or that nasty jumping cupcake, but make no mistake: the moment you think, (“I got this. I’ve played this level 105 times. I’ve memorized the huge candycorn’s pattern,”) all of a sudden the game is going to trip you up with little jellybean soldiers.

Unfortunately for you, overweight plumper logic doesn’t work in Cuphead, so you can’t expect to hop on your enemies heads and kill them that way. However, you are not entirely defenseless. You can fire pellets from your hands up, left, right, or diagonally, and you also have a series of special moves and new abilities you can buy and keep for the rest of the game.

In conclusion, the magic of Cuphead exists is in its delivery, and despite being punishing, it isn’t unfair. It’s one of those ‘Just one more time’, kind of games. You may find yourself jumping off fat ghosts intent on stealing some random person’s ashes from an urn and then dying right at the end. You’re sure to smash your controller, but afterwards you’ll immediately plug in a new one and start the level over.

The game is difficult, providing a different type of fun that’s not for everyone. With two different difficulty levels, the higher of the two being the one to actually open later battles, Cuphead is difficult but it’s absolutely wonderful. It doesn’t skimp on the content either, delivering over 30 unique boss battles for you to pummel. Cuphead will make you want to return to it time and time again. Considering that and its enticing animation and scenery, I can safely say this game is a work of art.