Cuphead: Don’t Deal With the Devil, or just Cuphead for short, has received quite a bit of attention since it’s E3 2015 trailer. However, this game has been a lifetime in the making. The head creators of Cuphead are two brothers who grew up playing games like Gunstar Heroes, Contra, Super Mario, Thunderforce, and other such games of the past. They always dreamed of making a game and, finally, in 2010 they got their chance. Cuphead began on a small scale; the original rendition of the game was only going to have a Mega Man style choice of eight bosses. This game was a passion project turned mainstream. It didn't truly take off until 2014 where they released the first teaser trailer for the game. Microsoft saw the game and decided to back the development and that is when the first E3 trailer happened on July 15, 2015. The main draw of the game? It’s incredible art style.
First thing anyone notices about Cuphead is the art style. It is all hand-drawn and animated 1930’s cartoon style. It immediately brings to mind the old Disney, Betty Boop, and Popeye cartoons. This era had a style known as “Rubber Hosing”, where the characters could stretch and manipulate their bodies in order to do things like transform into ordinary everyday objects. It gave the old cartoons a surreal and unnatural look about them. This aesthetic is perfectly used in Cuphead as it gives the game a beautiful look to it, but also lends to the creativity of the enemies and the world. For instance, you may start the game battling a rogue group of vegetables, then be fighting a haunted train. Every boss feels unique and has a distinct style about them. This helps to bring character to each boss, almost like you can gauge each of their personalities mid fight.
Second thing to notice is the gameplay. The game is a Run-and-Gun Platforming Shooter, and at times a Side Scrolling Shooter. It can all be played cooperatively with the second playable character being Cuphead’s brother Mugman. Players are given all the tools they will need to Shoot, Jump, Dash and Parry as they make it through the games 20+ bosses. With that being said, this game is a Boss Rush first and foremost. If you were hoping for a more straightforward platformer you may be a bit disappointed. However, the bosses are so varied and so unique in a gameplay standpoint that there is little room to get bored. That does not mean there are not platforming stages. There are six platforming levels and three special levels that I will not spoil here. These are mainly breaks from the bosses, but they were a ton of fun in their own right. These levels are the main way you can get the power-ups or different weapons. In these platforming levels you can find coins that are spent in the shop. The game gives you plenty of options for weapons and “charms”. Charms are a permanent upgrade for Cuphead and Mugman. Whether it is the Smoke Bomb that allows the player to dash and not take damage, or Coffee that will continuously fill the super gauge. These assist the player through the game, and trust me, you will need it. Any player starting out will notice that this game is challenging. You will die a considerable amount of times before the end, but that is okay. The game is made so that players will want to come back time and time again, getting better each time. It is a kind of Dark Souls approach, you may fail the first couple of times, but the game pushes you to get back into the fight.
Music and Sound Design
Lastly, the music is all original Jazz and other such styles that would not be amiss in 1930’s. The music is excellent and I will often find myself humming a song later in the day after a gaming session. It’s frantic and gets you pumped up for battle, while other tunes will be calm during the story elements or eerie when needed. It’s all perfect and sits among some of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history. The sound design works well, but nothing stood out to me besides the few in game voices. These are recorded in that muffled/scratchy old style, that again draws you into the 30’s era.
This brings us to the obvious question, should you buy it? I would immediately say yes, but it is easy to see how this game would not be for everyone. However, with that being said, it’s a great package at only $20 and Cuphead is easily worth that price just on the art style alone. I was still sometimes in awe while playing the game as if I was watching a high quality cartoon. It is stylish, addictive, and honestly was a blast to play from start to finish!