Cuphead Reviews

Titanium Dragon
Titanium Dragon
TSA Score for this game: 438
Posted on 27 December 17 at 13:03
This review has 2 positive votes and 0 negative votes. Please log in to vote.
Cuphead is a punishingly hard 2D platformer/shmup styled after cartoons from the early 1930s. Lovingly hand-drawn, this game is extremely stylish; the whole thing recalls cartoons of the 1930s, from the audio to the visuals to the fonts to the characters in the game. Every bit of this game is bursting with 1930s style; unlike “retro” video games, this is genuinely a game intended to look as if it was made in the 1930s.

At its core, Cuphead is a boss rush game. Most of the levels in the game take the form of some sort of multi-stage boss, which transforms itself into new forms as you fight your way through. There are no hit point indicators in this during the course of a match; you simply have to beat on the boss until it transforms into its next stage, with your hits only registering as brief flashes on the boss to indicate that your attack had indeed scored.

This gives the game a rather intimidating aesthetic, as the bosses are not easy; the game starts off with a couple of fairly simple bosses, but rapidly ramps up to much more difficult fare. By the end of the first world, you’ll be fighting bosses harder than what you see in most 2D platformer games; by the end of the second world, things are even harder.

But you will persevere; the game, while very difficult, also is designed to help you predict the enemy movements, which, while somewhat randomized, are telegraphed (albeit without much time to react in some cases) and can all be dodged. Every level can be beaten without taking a hit – and you’d better get good at dodging, as you only have three hit points.

The bosses operate on 1930s cartoon logic as well, and often involve both pun names and visual puns. The enemies change their attack patterns and often undergo physical transformations – often wild ones – as you fight your way through them. Unlike modern children’s cartoons, at times these could be fairly dark, and the bosses become increasingly intimidating in many cases as the game goes on, while simultaneously often maintaining their comedic air and recalling ideas from the early 20th century like mysticism, hypnotism, and old school circuses and amusement parks.

The game’s core gameplay is pretty simple – you can move around, angle the cursor to shoot at angles (including downwards), crouch and shoot, do an aerial dash, and “parry” pink objects, which absorbs them, bounces your character upwards, and charges your super meter. There are five stages to the super meter, and you have both a basic “super” attack which deals some extra damage and goes through enemies, and a more powerful one that consumes all five super meter stages and gives you a devastating super attack that can chew off about half of a boss stage’s hit points, makes you invincible, or boosts your attack power.

In addition to the boss stages, there are a relatively small number (about 2 per world) of levels that consist of running through a stage beating a series of enemies in a more standard side-scrolling type game. These levels themselves can be fairly challenging (though they’re generally breathers compared to the bosses) and they help mix up the gameplay by incorporating more standard 2D platformer elements.

Between the stages, you walk around in a “world map” type thing, where you can interact with a small number of NPCs, who will sometimes challenge you to do things and reward you with a coin, or going to the shop, where you can spend coins to buy new options for your characters. Some are new attack options – such as tracking shots that deal less damage, or the ability to charge up shots like Megaman at the cost of not being able to hold down the button to fire continuously – while others enhance your character in other ways, such as making you invincible during a dash, giving you an extra hit point at the cost of dealing less damage, or automatically parrying when you jump.

This game is fun, but not in the same way that something like Portal 2 is fun. Rather, this is a game which is fun because of its challenge and because the aesthetic pairs nicely with the gameplay. You are going to die if you play Cuphead. You are, in fact, going to die many hundreds of times before you get to the end and win your soul back from the Devil (gambling is bad, kids!). If you don’t like hard games – if you don’t like failing many times while learning the bosses patterns, so that you can finally succeed – you won’t like this game.

But if you like the idea of working hard to overcome a series of difficult mechanical challenges, this game is likely right up your alley. And while the game is very hard, it is ultimately fair in its difficulty. The charm of the game helps to make the challenge feel less miserable, and the fact that there is a constant goal hovering ahead of you, pulling you forward, makes it feel like you are, in fact, making progress, no matter how many times you fail.
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