It’s a sunny day on what seems to be an ordinary Monday morning. The sounds of the busy Seattle streets accompanied by the sweet smell of grime and cheap cologne exuding from the mixtape peddlers reminds a sleep deprived man that his Monday morning commute is drawing to a close. I scrub the leftover optical soot discarded by the dreaded man of sand and march towards Belltown when I realize that today isn’t an ordinary day. Today was not only the final day of PAX, but was also the day I’d finally get to play a game I have waited so long for. The game that has sent me on a roller coaster ride since it’s announcement. The last game of 2017 that actually interested me:
For those living in the dark plane of ignorance:
Cuphead is a classic run and gun action game heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio are painstakingly created with the same techniques of the era, i.e. traditional hand drawn cel animation, watercolor backgrounds, and original jazz recordings. Play as Cuphead or Mugman (in single player or local co-op) as you traverse strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets while you try to pay your debt back to the devil!
First off I’d like to talk about a little thing that requires BIG text:
A lot of PAX demos are structured in different ways whether that be by a time frame, a set demo level with a tutorial, or the occasional free for all where devs let you have as much fun as you want with a completely unlocked game.
Cuphead‘s demo time was a bit unique as it seemed that the devs tailored your time limit based on how much of the game you were able to see during your playthrough, as well as opening up the map and all its bosses. Although the game was quite challenging I didn’t see many people leave without at least reaching a bosses third form. At one point the developers even let a man in his 80’s go a few extra rounds. This type of demo was really neat to me as it gives everyone the chance to experience what they’ll love about the game. The Cuphead booth had about 16 consoles set up with two controllers at each one, a smart move on Microsoft’s part. I’m not sure how often the line was capped during the Weekend but thankfully it moved pretty quickly on Monday. But enough about this let’s move on to what matters.
I’m gonna jump the gun early on here and say that Cuphead is everything I want in a game. It’s simple yet challenging (apparently too challenging for some journalists), fast paced but reserved when it needs to be, and is one hell of a good time. It’s a good mixture of platforming as well as run-and-gun gameplay; utilizing the strengths from each genre to their fullest while making sure they compliment each other to create a game that just feels, right.
Every aspect of gameplay compliments each other so well and really makes the game shine as a huge labor of love. For Example: your character has a ‘Parry Slap’ ability that can be activated in the air to nullify certain attacks and interact with certain items (identified by a pink glow); as well as revive your comrade when his soul heads towards the great pearly gates.
You do this by jumping and pressing A when the frames of your character meet the frames of the pink object, then viola, the attack is nullified and you also get some more air time. These parry slaps can be strung together in order to get over certain obstacles or convince your friend on the couch that you’re a really cool dude. I really enjoyed the co-op aspect of this mechanic as it emphasizes teamwork while adding some fun tension during boss fights.
There were quite a few times where my partner and I were yelling frantically because we couldn’t save each other in time. This attention to how mechanics interact with each other feels like a satisfying breath of fresh air that you just don’t see very often anymore. Hell. local Co-Op in general is pretty seldom these days, which is also another thing I loved about Cuphead.
The boss I picked was a cute but menacing zeppelin…lady? A zeppelin with legs fit for a trucker’s mudflaps. This boss seemed unique as it changed the gameplay from a side scrolling shoot em up to an airplane bullet hell. Thankfully I have put a good amount of time into the Touhou series and fared quite well against the flying pair of legs.
The quirkiness of this boss wasn’t exclusive, either. My roommate fought against a pair of pugilist toads and everything I saw from his play-through looked completely different.
Absolutely no concept or attack looked similar and every boss truly felt like its own thing. This concept is explored very well by giving each boss numerous forms.
My zeppelin lady went from legs, to a pair of angels, to a hellish crescent moon that scared the living day lights out of me. This short panic cost me my life, and the zeppelin woman turned moon went undefeated, ending my demo.
The devs manning the booth took notice of how close I got to the end, and let me try a few more times. Unfortunately I was still unable to best the flying blimp lady.
Although my skills were no match for this enemy I sure had fun trying my hardest. This is what separates Cuphead‘s game play from many games crowding the PAX show floor, fun.
The second side of Cuphead‘s coin is it’s amazing art and soundtrack, composed by Kris Maddigan. Both aspects draw inspiration from cartoons back in the 30’s with its 100% hand drawn animation cels, and catchy jazz jingles from the same period.
Every design from the protagonists to the bosses is so fresh and fun. The use of bright colors and chipper visuals contrasts very well with the scowl that your enemies sport so well. There was not a single second that I could contain my smile just from the sight of this game. I’ve included several pencil animation tests that Studio MDHR has posted via twitter in order to give you an idea of how much care was put into the process, and below you can find a snippet from the soundtrack.
I started this article with high praise and it only feels right that I end it on the same note. Cuphead truly is an amazing game and it is very obvious that Studio MDHR went above and beyond to create something that gamers will love. Although my time with it was fleeting, I think it’s safe to say that Studio MDHR has created something to truly be proud of and I feel come the 29th they’ll remind the whole world what makes video games art.
Until then, all I can say is: bravo.
Cuphead ‘Don’t Deal With the Devil’ releases September 29th for Xbox One and PC