Everything you’ve heard about Cuphead is right. It’s a tough side-scrolling shooter with ruthless boss fights that require quick-fire actions and reactions. Think too long, and you won’t stand a chance against the game’s fiercest enemies. Battles may only last three minutes, but they’ll feel much longer if you know you can only take three shots before you have to start again. As you make your way through bullets, smaller enemies, and traps while simultaneously trying to damage your primary target, overthrowing Cuphead’s imposing bosses is both a monumental and rewarding task. This is our Cuphead Review.
Cuphead Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Macintosh operating systems
- Developer: Studio MDHR, Studio MDHR Entertainment Inc
- Editor: Jared Moldenhauer
- Release Date: September 29, 2017
Cuphead’s cartoon aesthetic is endlessly popping with color and expression in contrast to what one previously saw in a video game on this scale. And now that it’s available on Nintendo Switch, you can take a closer look at the artwork and admire it in the palm of your hand. The wide variety of characters and settings ensures a consistent delight as you move from one stage to another, with all the explanatory signs of granular film and basic production techniques.
Cel-shading means one thing to many people, but Cuphead creates the look of hand-drawn cell animation. A world map sets the tone for your adventure. Like a Cup thing that gambled with the devil, now you have to collect the debts of the devil’s other acquaintances – the game’s bosses. In addition to the one-on-one battles, you also have a few opportunities to run and shoot through less demanding platforms. This helps break the action and gives you a chance to collect coins that can be cashed for “weapons” and passive buffs.
Coins are scarce and can only be collected once, so farming to gain an advantage is out of the question. These stages cannot be compared to Cuphead’s main attractions, but they do add valuable content. The mix of ammunition for your gun – characteristic fire from their fingers – includes a spread shot, a charge blast, and a boomerang round. There are six in total, and each comes with a secondary attack that is tied to a meter that fills in when you successfully fire shots at enemies.
You can also earn a meter by parrying projectiles and enemies, a task that needs you to jump towards an enemy and then tap again at the right time before impact. These vary from a fireball and a ring of harmful gems to a burst of large, short-range arrows. You also have a super art, which can only be fired when your entire meter is full, as opposed to spending part of that meter to fire the secondary attack from your weapon. The only thing that stands out here is that if your meter is full, you can’t launch a secondary attack– you’re clumsily forced to unleash your super art, which isn’t always desirable.
Given that you’re able to equip two weapons at the same time, the variety of loadouts you can equip makes for flexibility on your part. While you may benefit from carrying a specific set of weapons in some boss battles – say, using tracer rounds to grab small enemies swarming overhead. You can still carry what you want in combat, as long as you have the confidence and knowledge to take on the challenge ahead of you.
Learning the bosses’ attack pattern is often half the battle, and it’s typical to run through a fight several times until you see anything that might get in your way. Each boss battle consists of multiple stages or forms. Bosses change shape, position, and behavior with each new phase. And within a particular period, you’ll be able to see as many as four different attacks, although it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll see them all in the next battles. When bosses start mixing multiple attacks at once, the potential for different deadly combos keeps you going, no matter how familiar you are with the ongoing battle.
The fear of the unexpected is part of what makes Cuphead such an exciting game, beyond the frantic moment to moment tension. You’ve only got three hits per stage through default–you get a fourth if you exchange a charm that also weakens your firepower. But if the only question in your head is: “In what order do the boss’s attacks appear,” the battles become less attractive after the twelfth attempt. It’s at these times that you begin to identify a few places where Cuphead can keep you a little better informed of your progress and abilities.
You can never say exactly how close you are to death – or a phase change, for that matter – bosses. At best, you can see a plotline of the battle after death, to loosely gauge your relative progress. With defeat in mind, you may wonder if you have the right tools for the job with you. Beyond revisiting old battles, which is trickier than it should be if you’re crossing the map slowly and can’t travel fast, there’s no right way to get familiar with new weapons. And, unfortunately, there’s no way to tell exactly how much damage one weapon does compare to another. Vague descriptions are all you get.
Cuphead also supports the local co-op for two players, but it’s pretty clear that this makes life harder for you and your partner. Despite the complicated chaos that you only have to deal with in battle, it’s much harder to distinguish your surroundings, and it’s much easier to escape if you add another character and more projectiles on the screen. You do have a small window of time to revive a fallen comrade by parrying their ghost, but it’s only a few seconds as he floats to the top of the screen before disappearing for the rest of the fight.
Cuphead Review: Conclusion
Cuphead has come a long time, and it is great to see that it lives up to its original promises across all platforms. It’s beautiful to look at, and with a pitch-perfect soundtrack, it flawlessly captures the era that its developers revisited so clearly. It’s also an intense action game that doesn’t take punches. It could benefit from a few adjustments, and two-player co-op doesn’t feel like the valuable addition you could imagine, but Cuphead remains a rare, unique game that stands out.
Cuphead has come a long time, and it is great to see that it lives up to its original promises across all platforms.