“Cuphead” is a challenging 2-D, run and gun, platformer game with a 1930s cartoon aesthetic and a focus on unique and challenging boss battles. The story of the game is simple: players assume control over Cuphead (or Mugman for local co-op) who bet his and Mugman’s souls on riches with the devil himself. Evidently they lose, and are sent to collect the souls of runaway debtors in exchange for their freedom. The story isn’t much to gripe about, because what make’s “Cuphead” one of a kind, is how it plays, and especially how it looks.
It’s the first video game to use traditional animation techniques for its visuals, and it’s those visuals that really catch the player’s eye and draws one into the game. The soundtrack as well, was all performed and recorded by a live band with real instruments and musicians in order to truly capture the feel and the sound of a 1930s era cartoon.
As for the gameplay, it does have some run and gun platforming levels like one would expect to see in a 2-D shooter game. In those levels players fight lesser enemies while they jump on platforms and avoid obstacles in order to reach the end of the stage. Players can even collect coins along the way, which they use to buy different types of ammunition for their weapon, which gives them many different options for how they want to fight. The main focus however, is primarily on boss battles. There are over 20 bosses in “Cuphead”, each one with unique designs and attack patterns, and each has different stages of difficulty, requiring players to learn the boss’s moves and find a way to overcome them. Despite this, every boss is very challenging, and the difficulty only increases as players go on.
There is a “simple” difficulty setting available, but players cannot advance in the game unless they beat bosses in regular mode. With no health drops or checkpoints within levels, “Cuphead” requires players to be persistent and determined. It is very difficult to beat any boss and will require a degree of trial and error. Some may say that the game is unfair, and should be dumbed down in order to cater to a larger audience of gamers.
But that in the end, would defeat what makes “Cuphead” fun: no matter how challenging and frustrating it is, no matter how many times players die on a single boss, when players do manage to beat it, they get a feeling of triumph, a feeling of accomplishment and victory from the fact that they were able to overcome this challenge. In the end, “Cuphead” is considered by many to be a masterpiece, and that’s because the developers managed to create their game almost exactly what they had envisioned: a 2-D side-scrolling run and gun game, made as if it were done in the 1930s. Truly, a work of art.
Erix Pizano // Head of Graphics