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Review: Cuphead

Right from the start that Cuphead was revealed a couple of years ago, I already fell in love. Finally, someone dared to do something new, someone dared to push their luck by creating something interesting and new. The developers of Cuphead didn’t have it easy, something that seems fitting for the game. Cuphead has been delayed a couple of times and fans were getting angry because of it. Now, the masterpiece has finally released on the digital market and it seems like all delays are suddenly forgiven. Cuphead isn’t just a game, it’s a pure piece of art.

A trip to Hell

The story of Cuphead is a simple one. In the game, you’ll meet both Cuphead and Mughead, partners in crime. Both are designed to resemble the glory days of cartoons back in the early 30ies. The style is really out of this world and makes the game stand out even more, but more on that later on. The story begins with Cuphead gambling his way to victory until he made a bet with the Devil, a bet he couldn’t win!

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The price? Cuphead’s soul! Of course, the little guy doesn’t agree and looks for a new deal. The new deal was created and Cuphead, together with Mughead, are forced to collect the souls of the creatures who still owe a debt to the Devil. As a true Repo Man, the two go on a crazy adventure to find those creatures. Needless to say, none of those will give you their souls because you look funny. If you want it, you’ll have to fight for it!

Fight after fight

Battling the creatures is the core of Cuphead. Any other game would label these creatures as boss fights but in Cuphead, they are your regular enemy you’ll need to defeat. In fact, Cuphead is all about defeating these ‘bosses’ while jumping over platforms from time to time to give the player some variation. First, let’s focus on the creatures.

It’s amazing how well these creatures were designed and gamers who’ve been playing for a couple of years will still be surprised by the level of difficulty. Cuphead is far from an easy game. If you want to gain victory, you’ll have to struggle. Discovering the pattern of attacks during a fight is crucial for winning. Keep in mind, however, that most bosses change their strategies multiple times during a fight, to keep the pace high. Learning and remembering when you’re able to inflict damage is the key here, fighting is often a process of trial & error.

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It’s something not everyone will enjoy but if you like a challenge, this game got you covered without a doubt. Cuphead is extremely hard at some points but most of the times, it’s fair. I rarely had the feeling the game was messing with me. If I died, it was because of I miscalculated a certain action. However, it does happen that you’re stuck in a situation where you couldn’t dodge or parry an attack due to the controls. These are the most frustrating moments and perhaps even the only issue of the entire game.

Besides this issue, the fights offer an insane amount of fun without ever losing the level of difficulty. You can select an easier difficulty level but if you want to harvest the soul of the creature, the game will force you to play it on the ‘right level of difficulty’. To make things even harder, you’ll never see the health of your opponent. Instead, when you die, you’ll see how far away you were from taking it down. Seems rather cruel, but it motivates you to continue and try again.

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But wait, there’s more!

As if these fights weren’t enough to justify Cuphead from being one of the most awesome games you’ll play this year, the developers also added some platforming sections. Those offer enough variation and fun but I couldn’t help but feel like these sections were a bit too long. Of course, this has nothing to see with the actual quality of them, it’s just that the fights themselves are so insanely fun that these platform sections were often a bit too long for me to keep me motivated. This happens on days where I just wanted to fight boss after boss. On other days, where I took things a little slower, I could really enjoy the platform sections as well.

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If you really take your time to look around, you’ll be amazed by the amount of details that went into this game. Everything just fits and everything is done to perfection. The levels you’ll walk around in are gorgeous so playing them will never feel like a drag.

Amazing atmosphere

I can’t stress it out enough, Cuphead is such a unique game thanks to its style. If you ever watched the Silly Symphonies cartoons of the early 30ies, you’ll know what to expect. The screenshots already look amazing but in combination with the strong animations and perfect soundtrack, Cuphead really is something out of this world. The style took the developers some time to perfectionize but in the end, it was worth the long wait. Without exaggerating, this is a piece of work where a lot of Disney animators would have been extremely jealous of when this would have released back in 1930. Even today I bet a lot of animators working in the gaming industry wonder how the team managed to pull this off. There’s no way around it, the team did something nobody managed to achieve before.

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A small issue

So, everything about Cuphead is perfect? Well, not everything. The issue worth mentioning is the way you control the game. Cuphead is a typical 2D-shooter where you control your character with a limited amount of buttons. This results in an easy game to pick up but a hard one to master. In Cuphead, the controls are very tight and the little guys respond to your input flawlessly, the problem lies with the free aiming. By pushing a shoulder button and by moving the right stick (which isn’t used otherwise), you’re able to freely aim. The problem here is that Cuphead can’t aim in 360° but is limited to a couple of directions. This is, most likely, done to increase the retro feel of the game but it’s a mechanism that results in some frustrations from time to time, a shame really since the game is very close to perfection.

Conclusion:

Cuphead was worth the long wait, there’s no doubt about it. It’s not just a game, it’s a piece of art and a love letter to classic cartoons. Just like art, it’s not for everybody. Cuphead is an extremely hard game and you’ll often have to fight the urge to throw your controller at your television screen. If you thought Dark Souls was hard, you clearly haven’t touched this one. Then again, there’s nothing like Cuphead on the market and that’s the biggest strength of the game. Where you would hate other games for this kind of difficulty level, you can’t help yourself to fall in love with Cuphead over and over again, forcing you to ‘try it again one more time’. It’s clear to say that this is a game every Xbox One (X) owner should have.

9.5/10

 

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.

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