If you’ve been drawn towards Cuphead’s beautiful 1930s cartoon visuals and slick jazz background score, get ready to expect one of the most unforgiving games that you can purchase.
Purchase being a strong factor. If you can’t handle painstakingly difficult boss battles and level design, turn back. Though we’d still urge you to test your mettle and buy it irrespective. After all, what good is a game if it can’t make you rage quit every now and then yet pull you back to give it another shot, and Cuphead is brilliant at that.
It’s no surprise that Cuphead is beautiful and visually stunning. It’s one of the most memorable games I have ever played. It borrows and builds on the art of 1930s cartoons. There is so much attention to detail here that you can clearly see the effort put into it. The use of traditional techniques like cel animation, water color background and original jazz recordings give it a feel that evokes a childhood memory.
You play as Cuphead or Mugman in single or local co-op mode. The story starts with you (Cuphead) losing a deal with the devil. Funnily enough it’s a bit dark, considering the joyful color pallet and the cartoonish theme. To save your own own soul, you go around doing the devil's dirty work of collecting debtor souls. Almost like a soul reaper. But it's far from that.
Cuphead himself is very responsive and the controls are perfect. If you’re using an Xbox controller, mapping the shoot button to the right trigger is a better option and more finger friendly.
Thrice the fun, twice the terror
There are three game modes. Run and gun is like Contra where you move from left to right always shooting, avoiding and zipping past enemies popping up from every possible direction. It serves as a breather between boss battles and might feel like a cakewalk compared to the frustratingly difficult boss battles but in all honesty it's not very easy either. It’s also for collecting necessary coins to buy new powers and abilities. All of which are a variation of shooting, dashing, ultimate ability, powered shot, parry and health. Basically everything. Each power and ability offers something new and can be really helpful after you understand a boss’ attack pattern and level structure. Quitting a boss battle just to change your loadout is a bit of a nuisance but nothing that will take away the maniacal urge to defeat a boss.
The second type of game mode is bullet hell shooting. Dodging and manoeuvring through enemy fire patterns and shooting them down to move ahead. It will test your concentration and skill on finger numbing levels. The third and the best one is the platformer boss battles. Each boss battle feels new and is surprisingly entertaining. At many times I would just want to get past the stages to see what weird and exciting things the boss does. I wasn’t disappointed to say the least. Those weird yet beautifully done animations and expressions had me hooked right from the start. I was really excited and surprised when the boss morphs into something really unexpected and that’s what Cuphead builds very well on. It stays true to the 1930s cartoons.
Those zany movements and creative expressions give every boss a certain personality even without having to explain much.
Cuphead is unforgiving from the get-go. Your health points are numbered that reduce with each hit. Which means you have to manage to defeat a boss without taking more than the numbered hits. Yup, that’s super challenging. There are no checkpoints or no health potions. If you die, you start from scratch. You can buy powerups that give extra health but that reduces your attack power.
Don’t worry though, there’s a method to the madness. Boss battles are a constant test of your concentration and how well can you judge each stage during a boss battles. All of them comprise of multiple stages after which the bosses behave and attack differently. Becoming more and more intense towards the end.
Understanding the attack patterns and Boss’ next move is very essential to winning. Mixing and understanding which powers to keep in your loadout is important as well. Many times the screen is cluttered with different types of attacks from different directions, requiring you to always learn and adapt. This constantly needs more concentration than you’d normally put into a game.
I have died more than 10 times in every boss battle to finally complete it. Thankfully the retry menu is quick and easy to start back again, this time well versed with the boss’ attacks. Though some of them have multiple ways and tricks to attack so each stage feels slightly different from your previous encounter. But it also feels unfair ‘cause some attacks might seem overpowering while others feel a bit easier. This might change how you feel about the current battle but it no way will it kill the fun of playing them.
Cuphead is a series of challenging boss battles that made me scream in frustration but also feel very confident about my victory. There was a constant love and hate relation with the game but I eventually settled for love. So much so that at some instances I found myself enjoying the beautiful jazz background score and just admiring how beautiful the game looked. Even after winning a boss battle, I would quickly focus on the boss’ simple yet amazing death animation. The difficulty of the game just made every victory way sweeter, after a darn long time I’ve played a game that made me push this hard and made me feel better about myself after each victory.
While in-game, the enemy movements sometimes were so accurate and distinct like the original old school cartoons that I couldn’t help but smile in joy.
While you might feel the urge to buy the game just by looking at the trailer and a few screenshots. It’s no where close to how it plays. Its gameplay is so unforgiving that anyone who is not used to regular gaming sessions can find themselves put in a spot. Usually a challenge ground to test your finger dexterity and concentration.
I had my friend watch me play the game while building a solid excitement for him but soon after I handed the controller to him, he couldn’t manage it. Breaking his reality and making him disinterested in a matter of minutes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game, spending ₹565 on Steam is not a deal breaker. So it rightly deserves a sweet spot in your gaming library. Bear in mind it’s not for everyone but we’d still want you to give it a try. Maybe you can play one boss battle in your spare time, there’s no rush here.