Cuphead Review. Best Game of 1936

When Cuphead was announced at E3 2014, everyone from the press to the players was fascinated. The most beautiful hand-drawn graphics, great music, fantasy, gushing like a fountain from every frame. Gameplay! Hardcore! Everything looked so fabulous that at first the trailer could be mistaken for a fictional one. Well, you know, like with Machete , which was originally a parody video.

But all this turned out to be not a dream and not a cruel prank. Cuphead is more than real. Non-existent platformers do not know how to cause as much suffering as the adventures of two mug brothers.

Launch trailer.

Cup in sheep’s clothing

Let’s say right away: do not let the cartoon graphics and cute protagonists fool you. Cuphead is a ruthless run-and-gun platformer with local co-op in the spirit of Contra , Gunstar Heroes  and Metal Slug  with a touch of Mega Man . Therefore, one should not expect innovations or revolutions in the genre from him. The game knows what it wants to be: a computer analogue of an arcade machine of the eighties, which would rather deplete all your supplies of trifles than let it go through. And she does it very well.

Even the main menu is made in the tradition of the old Disney . For some reason, the classic “Snow White” comes to mind.

The plot is simple, but funny. Two acrobatic brothers, Cuphead and Magman, got lost while walking around the neighborhood and ended up in a casino. After they hit a big jackpot, they were noticed by the owner of the gambling establishment – the Devil himself! Not giving a damn about the fact that playing in your own casino is a gross violation of business ethics, the Devil invited the brothers to play dice. Naturally, on their souls.

Of course, the heroes lost: they were not taught in childhood not to make a bet with the devils. Now, in order to save their souls, they will have to find all the debtors of the Devil and shake them out of debt with interest. Dodgers include boxer frogs, an evil humanoid daisy, a flying astrologer, and a train full of ghosts.

The devil in Cuphead prefers vintage gambling.

There is an assumption that the developers of the game, StudioMDHR , sold their souls to the Devil a long time ago. We have no other explanation for how great Cuphead looks and feels.

Animated pictures

Let’s not pretend to be snobs: the graphics in the game are stunning . Everything from characters to animations and backdrops is inspired by classic 30s cartoons. “Popeye the Sailor”, “Betty Boop”, the early adventures of Mickey Mouse – a sophisticated person will not only notice where certain visual solutions came from in Cuphead, but also find a lot of Easter eggs that refer to the cult animation.

Cuphead never forgets to pull up his pants before thrashing. A detailed fellow, you will not say anything.

Moreover, Cuphead is animated completely on paper – like a real cartoon. The computer was used only for coloring sketches – life in the drawn people was breathed into the hands of an animator, a pencil and thousands of sketched sheets of paper. It’s scary to imagine how laborious this process was, because there are almost thirty bosses in the game, not to mention the levels, effects, small details and other little things that complement the picture. Here’s an explanation for the fact that the game has been in development for seventeen (!) Years, starting from the earliest prototypes.

The developers outlined their goal in a very simple way: they wanted to create a game the way it was supposed to be done in 1930. Therefore, Cuphead trumps not only with the picture: every component works to strengthen the retro atmosphere. Stylized menus, “film” filter on the image, emulation of 24 frames per second, the title theme performed by a quartet of hairdressers …

Oh, and the music! The soundtrack consists entirely of jazz compositions recorded with a real jazz band: from lively, but melodic and rich tracks, the heart rejoices. Not to mention the fact that the melody is perfectly superimposed on what is happening on the screen. In short, authenticity is taken seriously here, and this makes the experience from the game unforgettable.

The mustachioed King Dice is still a scoundrel, but he grabbed the musical theme that he needed. I just want to snap my fingers to the rhythm.

Without any modesty, Cuphead’s design is a true achievement in interactive art. The developers from StudioMDHR explain this specific style for several reasons. Firstly, the Moldenhaer brothers, the main designers of the game, grew up on vintage cartoons from Max Fleischer’s studio . Secondly, developers believe that old-fashioned paper animation is unfairly forgotten in our digital age. Thirdly, this visual style untied the hands of game designers and allowed them to create whatever they could think of. And the gameplay clearly shows that StudioMDHR’s creativity had no boundaries.

What progress has come! Cars are now driving on the ceiling.

Ready? WALLOP!

Cuphead is two-thirds boss fights. To get to the final battle and save the brothers from bondage in the clutches of the Devil is possible only by defeating every single one of the previous opponents, so get ready: the trip will be difficult, but delightfully addictive. Boss Battles are the star of the show and the main attraction of the game.

If the graphics are full of colors and details, then from the point of view of game mechanics Cuphead is simple and elegant: nothing more. The player can shoot in eight directions, combine this with running and jumping, duck and dash to avoid impacts or reach the desired platforms. Some battles take place in the air: there the hero is transferred to a cute airplane, and the game turns into a traditional shoot-em-up (or cute-em-up).

Just look at this charm. A smile from ear to ear appears by itself.

The toolkit is not too extensive, so you have to master it perfectly: showdown with bosses is a multi-level, incredibly inventive challenge. StudioMDHR is putting into circulation a whole freak show mechanic: vertical and horizontal platforming, threat management, shooting accuracy tests, race against time, multitasking tests, the ability to adapt … There are so many nuances that it will not work to indicate one as “central” … And while you have only three or four hit points. Three mistakes and you’re knocked out. Hello, start of the fight.

The author of the CrowbCat channel has collected streamer reactions to the complexity of Cuphead in one unforgettable video.

The game is not ashamed of its complexity – it prides itself on it as a must-have for the gaming experience the developers have in mind. It is worth solving one problem, and you will immediately be thrown into the following: all bosses have several phases, and with each new phase, the alignment changes dramatically. New conditions, threats, patterns, tasks – sometimes a battlefield! We hope you are doing well with your memory and reflexes, because opponents love to use their attacks in a random order. This is not always fair (it is physically impossible to escape from some bundles of attacks), but it will not work just to memorize the sequence of blows – you always need to be ready.

Each battle is presented as an independent “cartoon” with you and the boss in the main roles.

Making life difficult for gamers, StudioMDHR did not forget about the main thing: bosses not only hit hard, but also look great and are memorable. Sometimes you want to play further just to see what other trick the enemy throws out. Enemies manage to be cute, funny, beautiful and creepy at the same time – just like the old cartoons of the same Disney. True, sometimes all the ingenuity of local graphics even harms the fights. When a mess is going on on the screen, the eyes sometimes get lost in dozens of details: you want to look at everything at once (because it’s beautiful), and this reduces your concentration and you start to miss very simple strokes.

In a game that almost entirely consists of fights with bosses, the developers somehow managed to make almost all adversaries equally interesting, unusual and difficult. For a game dev, this is not an easy achievement, even apart from the impressive style, and with it the game turns into a holiday for an esthete.

Serves you right, Serpent Gorynych!

Alas, the same flattering things can not be said about the run-and-gun levels – “respite” between bosses. They have received much less attention, and although they also did not remain without interesting chips, it is obvious that they were inserted into the game at the last moment. If desired, you can skip them altogether.

But, as they say, you cannot get everything at once. Plus, the relative dullness of traditional levels makes boss fights even more appreciated.

And everything was conceived for their sake.

You still need to get to the battlefields, walking through the sweetest, but empty world. Sometimes you can talk to someone, but no more.

More screenshots from Cuphead

More Cuphead Videos, Streams and Trailers

Cuphead is not breaking the rules of the industry, pioneering a new trend, or reinventing the wheel. It’s “just” a great game. And it was created not in order to once again surpass competitors in the number of polygons and the size of the open world, but for the pleasure of the game itself.

That’s what games are all about – just to be fun. The debut project of the StudioMDHR team reminded the whole world of this, and at the same time also launched a real renaissance of retro animation. Cuphead is a small game with a big heart. Exactly the way we expected it.

 

by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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