There is a day in my life I will never forget, but for all the wrong reasons. I had been on a fad diet for a few weeks and as a result my body was a bit out of sorts, mainly lacking in fibre. Which in this case had led to serious constipation. I spent the best part of 8 hours in pain, unwilling and unable to stray from a certain room in the house, all the time struggling and swearing, but when I had that breakthrough it was a wondrous moment.
And that my friends, is extremely similar to the process of completing a level on Cuphead.
Yes folks, I just compared Cuphead to Constipation. But it’s not quite as painful, and the relief at the end is probably somewhat greater.
You see, every level on Cuphead is tough. Not unbeatable, but really tough. I need to point out that I haven’t finished the game yet. That’s my first ever review where I haven’t done so. But, if I waited until I had then this review may not go out until 2018!
Cuphead is made up of three islands, and progressing to the next is only granted by completing the island you are on. Each island has 7 levels, which are split between three game types. The most common is the Boss Battle level, which was the basis of Cuphead when it was first revealed. These levels require the player to defeat a single enemy to progress. Each of these levels can be tackled on Easy or Regular difficulty, but you will need to complete on the latter to make it count towards completion. There are also “Aeroplane” levels, which are boss battles but set in the sky where Cuphead is in control of a Biplane. Finally, and probably most rare, are the Run and Gun levels, which are short platformer levels with a smaller boss at the climax.
Defeating the boss is achieved by shooting. A lot of shooting. Collecting coins during levels allows you to unlock new guns, and these can make the later levels much easier to complete. At any point you can switch between two guns and these are manually swapped by the LB button. You also have a super attack that builds up and is displayed at the bottom of the screen as playing cards. A full card means you can fire the super, or you can build up to five cards to unleash the best super attack possible.
Now, I know that sounds easy. “21 levels in total? “Why the heck haven’t you finished the game yet dude?” is what I hear you all cry. Well, it’s really hard! Really, really hard! You see, it’s not as simple as learning the patterns of your enemy, much like the retro games of old.
The enemy do have patterns but they are mixed up so much that although you can predict which attack is incoming, you have no clue as to which one will follow. On one occasion I had nearly perfected the level when the boss threw a new attack at me. This all lead to some sticky situations where quick reflexes and incredible dexterity are needed to survive. But each time you play the level you find yourself improving and getting further. Which leads to an incredibly strong urge to have “one more go” as you get closer and closer to victory.
A certain level on the first island followed this pattern, and it was a good two hours of gameplay to get skillful and knowledgeable enough to defeat the boss. And when that moment happened I yelled and punched the air in delight. And thats Cuphead in a nutshell. The moments of feeling cheated by poor collision detection are few and far between as the game is hardly ever unfair. 99% of the time if you die, it’s your fault. But it’s not completely perfect. That 1% of imperfection is due to the parry mechanic. During each level there will be pink objects that will attack you or appear on screen as an object. Pressing A near these will result in a parry move, and I found this to be very hit and miss to register, which is especially frustrating when it causes a loss of a precious life.
And it’s very difficult to know just how close you are to victory. Your enemies have no health bar, but during the course of the fight your experience tells you how far you are along. When you die you get to see your progress on a sliding scale, with the different stages marked. I have lost count of how many times I have been millimetres from victory at my inevitable death!
You start each level with three lives. Lose all three and it’s game over. And at that point the level restarts. No checkpoints, no extra lives. It really feels quite brutal at times. When the level is successfully completed you are given a score based on your time, number of parries and number of super’s used, and like games of old you are given a score, which usually for me was a nice C or B+. I’m assuming that somewhere in the world there is a superhuman who is achieving A+ scores!
Cuphead looks astonishingly amazing. Its 1930’s graphical style makes it stand out from pretty much any other game I have ever played. Credit to StudioMDHR for creating and perfecting this style. And the music and sound design pretty much follows that theme, with Swing, Jazz and Big Band songs written specifically for the game. And these are just as good as the graphics. If Cuphead doesn’t win multiple awards based on it’s design then I will be amazed. In fact, my wife entered the room as I was playing and likened Cuphead to “Tom and Jerry” because of its graphical quality. This is made to look as authentic as possible with the addition of “noise” on the screen, particularly in menu screens, almost as if the game had been created and restored many years ago.
But I am not the only one here at TiX who has been playing Cuphead. Let’s cross over to John Pinnick to see what he has to say!
“When I offered to contribute to the review of StudioMDHR’s Cuphead, I didn’t realise that I’d struggle with condensing my feelings of it as much as I struggled with the fantastic world that StudioMDHR had crafted. I’ve been batting this back and forth for a few days now, a little like how my controller was back and forth from my sofa to my hand, my emotions to and fro between elation and despair.
I’ve read many Tweets, Reddit posts and YouTube comments from people exclaiming they’d “finished the tutorial” – I challenge this by saying that I feel the whole game is one big tutorial. I certainly felt schooled during each stage on the game. That isn’t me saying the game is unfair because that most certainly isn’t the case… Well, okay, maybe I feel it is unfair in some places. For example: facing down a boss that does the same pattern of attacks for a half-dozen attempts, then just when I have nailed the pattern, a totally new pattern emerges. Baroness Von Bon Bon, I am talking about you!
I’ll hold my hands up now, as I come to a close, as of this being written, I’d not defeated boss 7 on world 3. That being said, I feel I can at least comment on this remarkable game; it is so charming, from the artistic design of the 1930s, and the tunes that will stick in your mind (due to hearing them a dozen times each) to the refreshingly strong handed approach to difficulty of most of the stages, and beyond. Cuphead is a great entry in the Xbox and Windows 10 world, one that won’t be replicated anytime soon.”
So, John has progressed further, but has very similar feelings to mine. And I feel empowered and inspired enough to say that Cuphead is a tremendous game and will go down as a classic in future years. It’s not perfect, but then what game is? Whether you are battling the aforementioned Baroness Von Bon Bon in a circus big top, or fighting a three headed dragon whilst jumping around on cloud platforms, Cuphead will amaze, enthral and frustrate you all at the same time. And you’ll put your controller down in anger, and immediately pick it back up for one more go.
At the time of writing Cuphead has sold over a million copies, which is quite astonishing. It’s also available to buy for under £17. It will be high up on many GOTY lists and rightly so.