Cuphead (XB1) Review

Ken McKown

Animation domination.

Very few games with a development cycle as long as Cuphead turn out great. Having made appearances at multiple E3s, this indie title has been on the world’s radar for far too long. As it turns out though, the developers at Studio MDHR have pulled it off. Boasting some of the most unique and impressive animation ever crafted, Cuphead is a sight to behold. Toss in the pitch-perfect controls and rewarding difficulty and this is one title that deserves to be played by all.

Cuphead’s hook is that it mimics the style of 1930s cartoons. Every animation is exaggerated and detailed. It is truly a sight to behold. Every enemy is unique and each boss fight (of which there are many) is stunning to see. The crackling sound overtones and vaseline filter on the screen only add to the charm. Also let’s not forget that soundtrack. The presentation in Cuphead is truly second-to-none.

MSRP: $19.99
Platforms: XB1 (reviewed), PC
Price I’d Pay: $19.99

Originally pitched as a boss rush style game, Cuphead’s roots shine through. Most of the game involves taking down mammoth bosses that switch forms and patterns as the fight goes on. These boss fights are just as much ‘levels’ as anything else. There is even a progress meter that appears upon death. The best part is no two bosses are similar. After tackling a set of boxing frogs, I was then off to the skies shmup style. There is never a dull moment.

While the premise is simple it’s the execution that ties it all together. Cuphead employs standard mechanics. What makes them work is their pinpoint accuracy. I know it is cliché in the gaming world, but when I died in Cuphead, I knew it was my fault. The game just feels polished. Controls are tight. Yes this is a challenging game, but it is never unfair.

This leads to the best gaming loop possible. Even when I died over, and over, and over; I always wanted to jump back in immediately. I felt like I was improving and I knew one more try and I could defeat that boss. For those that want to progress there is a simple mode for all bosses. The game lets players know upfront though, beating any boss on this mode will nullify the end game. All bosses must be defeated on normal difficulty in order to see the final area. Thems the breaks.

Boss fights are the majority of the game, but there is more. There are classic side-scrolling stages mixed in. These serve to earn coins which can be spent on new abilities. Cuphead can equip two shot types, one EX move, and a buff. Each comes with benefits as well as downsides. For example there is one that gives players an extra hit point. The downside is that all attacks do less damage. Each shot type is unique as well. There is a homing missile that negates aiming, as well as a boomerang shot that does more damage on the way back. This means shooting behind is more effective.

There is a lot hidden under the surface in this game, tons of hidden items, Easter eggs, and ways to enjoy the game. I love the little touches such as the pond that tells me how many times I have died. It is all presented in such a fashion I couldn’t help but adore it.

Co-op is also available and it actually creates more chaos than it helps. Local is the only option, which is disappointing. Players can resurrect their fallen comrade by parrying their ghost soul. Yes the parry option is in here. Any item on screen that is pink can be parried. The sheer amount of depth buried in this game is truly impressive.

Cuphead is a rare case where the long development cycle didn’t ruin the final product. This game matches its incredible look with stellar game play. In the sea of games releasing this year Cuphead stands tall as one of the best. There is little reason to skip this gem, it even comes with an outstanding value price and plenty of replay. Don’t sleep on Cuphead. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to listen to the soundtrack one more time.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Good

  • Gorgeous animation
  • Pinpoint controls
  • Deep mechanics
  • Extremely satisfying

Bad

  • Some cheap deaths
9.5

Excellent

Ken McKown
Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.
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