Cuphead Combines Eye Candy and Brutal Difficulty

Cuphead: Don't Deal with the Devil

Studio MDHR

Cuphead is one of the most unique games to grace us with its anticipated release recently. Despite delays and a complicated development processes, it delivered on its promises; a mix of unforgiving difficulty and eye candy, this game is both beautiful and frustrating. It is not for the faint of heart, and some gamers may end up curled up in a corner.

Drawing inspiration from 1930s animation, Cuphead looks like a Saturday-morning cartoon you might watch . . . on a tube television. Grainy overlay and crackling film-reel sounds greet you on the loading screens. The main menu shows our hero, Cuphead, and his brother, Mugman, back to back with a chorus of voices singing, barbershop style.

Mugman and Cuphead versus a large, smiling cigar

Cuphead and Mugman taking on one of the game’s many bosses. Studio MDHR

Getting started, you are presented with the best tutorial ever created: a simple stage that bluntly tells you how the controls work, and that’s it. No annoying boss battle that takes 30 minutes. After that you are greeted with a gorgeous overworld map. You can freely walk to each stage, but some areas will not open until you beat certain levels, of which there are two types—boss battles and “run and gun.” Run-and-gun levels follow a traditional scrolling platform format in which you have to reach the end by dodging the litter of enemies that covers your screen. You do have a weapon: bursts of laser beams that come out of your thumb. However, it doesn’t really help in these areas; the thing you really need to succeed is precise timing with your jumps. The only advantage you have is that Cuphead has 3 hit points; if you get hit once, you get a second chance before you have to restart.

The core of Cuphead is the boss battles. They are meticulously thought out, and it’s a real treat to see how well planned out they are. Each one is a memorable experience, partly because of how beautiful the animation is, and partly because of how many times you will try to beat the boss before succeeding. I had to take a break and turn off the game completely sometimes because of how frustrated I was. It’s brutally unfair—sometimes it isn’t clear what will hurt you, and sometimes there is so much on the screen it’s hard to keep up with Cuphead. When do you beat a boss, finally, there is a wave of satisfaction that hits you.

Cuphead and Mugman fly through a small desert town

Our heroes fight their way through one of the plane boss fights. Studio MDHR

Another great feature that this game has is couch co-op. There are so many games with a co-op mode that seems incomplete, but this is one of the best co-op modes I have played in a long time. Second player plays as Mugman, who has the same abilities and resources as Cuphead, so you are equal to player one instead of playing a support role.

Cuphead isn’t without its problems. There are a couple of glitches that haven’t been patched yet; sometimes the game will freeze completely when there are too many enemies on the screen, and when you lose a life, your controller will vibrate nonstop until you lose another one. On the game-design side, the difficulties punish the player. There are two difficulties, simple and regular. If you choose simple, the boss battles are much easier, but you can’t gain access to the next area—you have to beat each boss on regular to proceed. I think this is unfair considering how difficult the game is. If sometime wants to play through it casually, they should be able to. This game may be simply too hard for some, and being punished for lack of skill can leave a bad taste.

Mugman runs towards a shining Cuphead

Cuphead using one of his “supers,” abilities to give the player an advantage. Studio MDHR

Despite those minor issues, Cuphead is a unique concept that has been executed with love and care. A lot of hard work was put into creating a game that is so heavy handed in aesthetic. It is an absolute delight just watching a person play this game. It is one of the hardest games I have ever played in a long time; it doesn’t lack a challenge. Cuphead is an absolute darling and is worth your time.

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