If you were a gamer in the early 90’s, you know how difficult playing some of the NES and SNES games could be. Not only were some of the 2D platformers brutally tough back in the day, but they offered limited lives, no save functionality and continue usually meant ‘start over from the beginning’. Platforming games today have gotten a lot easier and you can’t blame the developer for wanting to reach out to a larger audience. If you are a gamer that wants to test your reflexes, muscle memory and patience, then we suggest you give Cuphead a shot. The game is brutally difficult, requires you to memorise your enemies moves and visually, the game looks like a good ol’ Mickey Mouse or Popeye Cartoon.
Cuphead is a unique game, even though it works on tried and tested platforming mechanics. Before we get into what makes Cuphead great, let’s get the worst out of the way.
Loading times: When you die in a platforming level or a boss battle, the respawn is almost instant and that is a very good thing. However, if you want to exit the level and go to the world map, or want to start a new stage from the world map, the loading times are appalling. It takes more than 40 seconds and sometimes (read: most of the time) this can be quite frustrating. Why’s that? Because of the loadouts, more on that below.
Inability to change your loadout when you are in a level: Yes! This is a big deal. For example, you need to press the jump button twice to parry certain moves. You get a special ability that lets you parry some moves with a single jump, but this needs to be ‘enabled’. If you enter a boss fight and forgot to enable this move, you will have to exit to the world map, enable the move and jump back in. You’ll be doing this a lot since a lot of bosses require trial and error with the arsenal of weapons and abilities at your disposal. This gets even more frustrating with the loading times we mentioned above.
No ending when played on easy mode: There are two difficulty options in the game: Simple and Regular. When playing on the Simple mode, a lot of attacks from bosses are removed and sometimes entire stages of a fight are omitted. However, you also don’t get to collect souls from boss battles in Simple mode either, which is needed to actually reach the finale. So you will have to play the game on Regular to play the finale. But Cuphead isn’t all bad.
Coming to the crux of the gameplay, honestly, it isn’t extremely difficult. It is challenging but once you get the hang of the game, it more about recognising the nuances of the bosses before each attack and choosing the right equipment to take them on. Each boss telegraphs their moves, giving you a small window of opportunity to prepare for their attack. You will play each boss battle multiple times (we took about 15-20 tries per boss before getting it right) and after you’ve defeated the boss you realize that the entire affair took just 3 to 7 minutes long.
One annoying thing about the controls is that they aren’t very well mapped by default (at least, according to us anyway). Once we remapped the controls, the game instantly became a whole lot easier. We mapped the controls to the following and we highly recommend you do the same, if like us you felt the same about the default mapping.
A — JUMP
X — SHOOT
RIGHT BUMPER — LOCK
RIGHT TRIGGER — EX SHOT (CHARGED SHOT) (B IN THE DEFAULT LAYOUT)
LEFT BUMPER — DASH (Y IN THE DEFAULT LAYOUT)
LEFT TRIGGER — SWITCH WEAPON
Overall, Cuphead has more than 17 bosses to tackle and about 6 platforming levels to get through. Another recommendation is that you collect all the coins in the platforming levels as they are the currency you will need to unlock new weapons and special abilities. You can only equip two guns, one special attack and one special ability. This isn’t much of a limitation, but like we said earlier, it’s frustrating when you have to exit the battle and go back to the world map to change your loadout.
Coming to the visuals, the game looks fantastic. Cuphead runs at a locked 60fps and despite the resolution on the Xbox One S, the effects of the game make it look like the old cartoons we watched growing up. The background feels separated from the animation on screen (just like in the old cartoons) adding to the fidelity of the era the game is based on.
When you are on the world map, it looks it looks like you are walking across a painting and the interactive elements stand out. Similarly, the backdrop of each level feels like it’s hand drawn whereas every interactive platform, enemy or projectile is animated. This is a lot like Tom and Jerry where the backdrop of the house feels static whereas the kitchen utensils Tom and Jerry use to attack each other are vibrant and stand out.
When it comes to the boss battles, it looks like the devs were given complete liberty to do whatever they wanted. For example, in one boss battle, you are shooting at two frogs, after a while, they each take up positions on either side of the screen. One throws projectiles at you while the other turns into a fan and blows you towards the other. After that, the two of them combine to become a slot machine and throw coins at you. Apart from coins, they throw drums at you, and there are three variations of the drums that you need to avoid. And this is just ONE of the 17 boss battles. There are boss battles where you fly a plane and shoot bullets and for some reason, these levels remind of the NES game, Felix the Cat.
The visual fidelity of the game and its ability to surprise you with each boss battle is marvellous. We’ll avoid describing any more boss battles as it will ruin the element of surprise.
Coming to the sound, we’re reminded of Sh Boom by The Chords, but on steroids. Retro fast-paced Jazz dominated the game giving you an adrenalin rush during gameplay. Trumpets and saxophones are the highlights and it perfectly complements the fast-paced nature of Cuphead. Add to it the plings and plongs of your weapon and you have a symphony worthy of a good audio setup.
Cuphead also boasts of two-player local co-op and the enemies become almost twice as tough when you play with a friend. Playing co-op brings a lot of action on screen and the way the game holds up is a marvel to the tech that is powering it. The game is based on the Unity Engine so yes, its visual fidelity, stability in framerate is commendable.
Cuphead – Verdict
To conclude we’d like to say that Cuphead is a bitter-sweet experience. It’s like having an argument with a significant other, you know you can’t win, but you love it all the same. You will awe and marvel at the imagination and visuals powering the game and yet fling your controller in frustration. If the cons of loading time and configuring the weapons and power loadout can be fixed then Cuphead is a fantastic investment for old-school gamers and newcomers alike. But alas, until then, the experience is hampered and leaves you quite frustrated. If you want to take a walk through this journey then the Simple mode should do you fine, but Cuphead is enjoyed better on the Regular mode. Our advice is to go through the game in Simple mode first, collect all the goodies and powerups, and then brace yourself for the Regular mode to unlock the ending.
|Developer: Studio MDHR
Publisher: Studio MDHR
Platform: Xbox One and PC
Price: Rs. 1324 (Microsoft online store India); Rs. 565 (Steam)
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Sameer "Psycho Mantis" Mitha
I live for gaming and technology is my muse. When I am not busy playing with gadgets or video games I delve into the world of fantasy novels.