By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
By the time “Cuphead” was released, the world had already known it was coming for three years. The title was initially unveiled at a Microsoft press conference at E3 in 2014. Upon announcement, many gamers – myself included – were ready to play it.
This game did not even need to try very hard to market itself. All you had to do was look at it and you were intrigued. The 1930’s era cartoon style with bright colors and creative design.
It was finally released on September 29 for Xbox One, Windows, and Steam for $19.99, a more reasonable price for college students compared to other big titles out there today.
Casual gamers should be warned about this game, however. Upon release, initial reviewers had mixed opinions on “Cuphead,” however most of them agreed on one thing: this game is challenging. Fans of older franchises like “Gunstar Heroes” and “Ghosts n’ Goblins” will feel right at home here. Video game veterans from the 80’s and 90’s will recognize the difficulty for better or worse.
You play as protagonist Cuphead who lives with his brother Mugman on Inkwell Isle. The brothers live under the protection of Elder Kettle. One day, Cuphead and his brother decide to visit the Devil’s Casino against their Elder’s wishes. Soon after arriving, the brothers find themselves on a winning streak, that is until the Devil himself arrives and ups the stakes. The brothers roll snake eyes and the Devil demands that they give up their souls as payment. However, after begging for mercy, the Devil decides to strike a deal with them: if Cuphead and his brother can collect the contracts of others on Inkwell Isle who have lost their souls, he may let them go.
The game is a run and gun platformer, similar to “Mega Man” both in controls and difficulty. You can run, jump, shoot, parry, and use a special ability. These abilities can be purchased at shops for coins and only one ability can be used per stage. You are free to wander through an overworld and choose which stage you want to play, though later areas can only be accessed after beating certain stages.
Most stages consist of only a boss fight, though most bosses progress through various forms as the fight goes on. There are also linear levels called “run and guns” where you must reach the end and collect coins when possible. At the end of a “run and gun” or boss level, you are given a letter ranking based on how long you took, how many hit points you lost, and other factors.
Cuphead has an unlimited number of lives, so you can keep on retrying levels if you die, and you will most certainly die several times. What is both frustrating and addictive is that when you die, you are shown how close you were to the end of the battle/level. It should also be noted that if you’re struggling to beat a certain boss, have a friend come over since this game has a two-player co-op mode where the second player can take the role of Mugman.
To fit the retro style of the game, the music was composed by Kristofer Maddigan. The soundtrack features almost three hours of songs recorded live by a 13-piece big band, a 10-piece ragtime ensemble, a solo pianist, a vocalist, a tap dancer, and a few others.
So, while “Cuphead” is not a game for everyone, there are certainly elements that everyone will find noteworthy. The unique design and soundtrack are well-executed, though the game becomes repetitive quickly. The gradually-ramping difficulty may frustrate players as well, but old-school gamers will appreciate the challenge. I recommend this game to the NES-era video game veterans, those who are seeking a challenge, and anyone who is looking for something unique in a game market that has become heavily homogenous.