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The Comenian

‘Cuphead’ Review

A Sip of Hell
Photo Courtesy of Steam.
Photo Courtesy of Steam.

Cuphead is, in many ways, a triumph when it comes to the passion that goes into making games. The developers, sticking to their theme of 1930s animation, opted to hand-draw every frame of this game, creating a game that perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of old cartoons. That alone should tell you that Cuphead is a game worth your time, even if it’s just to appreciate the sheer amount of work that went into crafting this gem. However, what seems like a cute game about two anthropomorphic cups trying to escape the grasp of The Devil hides a much harder, much less forgiving hell.

This game is challenging. Like, REALLY challenging.

After a deal with The Devil goes wrong, Cuphead and his brother Mugman are forced to collect the soul contracts of characters around their home of Inkwell Isle. However, these characters aren’t willing to part with their souls so easily. In order to secure them, you’re going to have to fight, and these fights aren’t easy.

Cuphead contains boss fight after boss fight, where you run-n-gun in a 2D environment. These bosses all have unique patterns and attacks, forcing you to trial and error your way through them. You will die a lot. By switching up weapons and gear though, you’re bound to prevail, although not after wanting to throw your controller in rage.

The game is built on failing. You aren’t going to beat a boss on your first try. The game wants you to learn from each death, and grow from it. Although, some of the reactions to dying are really funny. You might yell at the screen and want to give up, which is exactly what the developers want. The game is designed around giving you a satisfying win after wanting to go insane.

There are a few levels sprinkled throughout the game, which force you to reach a goal. Rather than fighting bosses, these levels require more platforming than usual and require you to be precise with your movement. These levels are also where you can find coins to purchase new upgrades for Cuphead and Mugman.

The weapons in Cuphead open up new possibilities within gameplay. Some give you stronger attacks with less range, while others give you weaker attacks but make up for it by locking onto opponents. The charms, on the other hand, enhance your gameplay. One will give you the ability to become immune to damage while dashing, whereas another will give you some more health. You can only equip one though, so choose a charm that best fits the boss!

You can also unlock special abilities by completing legendary chalice challenges on each island. These abilities only trigger when you have a full special bar, which you fill up by attacking enemies. The specials can make you invincible for a short while, direct a massive beam at bad guys, and even summon a giant ghost to attack.

Cuphead also contains DLC in the form of a new island and a new playable character, Ms. Chalice. She’s a spirit who wants to get her real body back. Thus, she joins Cuphead and Mugman as they collect ingredients to bake the magical wondertart with the help of Chef Saltbaker. This DLC contains a few new boss fights while also allowing you to swap into Ms. Chalice. 

Chalice plays much differently from Cuphead and Mugman. She gets a double jump and automatic parry, whereas Cuphead and Mugman only had one jump and had to manually parry attacks. The caveat is that Ms. Chalice cannot equip a charm. She can swap weapons, but charms are a no-go. Don’t think she’s easy mode because the lack of a charm can make her a handicap in some instances.

I’ll be honest, I had a lot more fun with the bosses in the DLC than in the main game. The main game’s bosses are still a joy of course, it’s just that I feel like the DLC had a lot more time in the oven which led to better overall design.

I know I mentioned it before, but this game looks stunning. The smooth animations coupled with the art form make this one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. The game even features an old grainy filter, which seems like it might be distracting, but ends up enhancing the game.

The music is also fantastic. The jazzy tunes perfectly encapsulate the feeling of the 20s, and each boss has their own theme. You won’t get bored listening to these tracks, I can guarantee that.

That all being said, I do have one problem with the game.

My issue with Cuphead comes from the inconsistencies with its boss fights. Some bosses in the first area are harder than they have any right being, whereas some in the later areas are mindlessly easy. When playing, this isn’t a bad thing (because you need a break from getting constantly demolished), but when looking back, it feels almost unfair. That’s not to say that the easier bosses are easy; it’s just that it might’ve made more sense to put them earlier while you’re still learning the game. This progression would’ve made more sense.

Cuphead is hard. You’ll rage and want to give up, but the satisfaction you feel after sticking it to a boss is unmatched. I’d really only recommend this game to those who have experience playing with games since it requires very precise movement that takes time to comprehend. Other than that, though, the smooth gameplay coupled with an immaculate art design make this game a modern classic.

Score: 8.5/10

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    fatimahFeb 20, 2024 at 1:23 pm

    I adored Cuphead when it first came out, the soundtrack is still so fun to listen to especially when studying. I haven’t played the DLC yet but now I might, great review :]