Giant Bomb Review

71 Comments

Cuphead Review

5
  • XONE
  • PC

Come for the beautiful art, stay because you smashed all your controllers.

Cuphead’s original reveal in an E3 2014 Xbox sizzle reel of indie games was only seconds long, but that was enough to sell me on its potential. Take one look at the game in motion, and you’ll see why. Cuphead combines brutal, precision platforming action with an exceptionally well realized artistic style to create one of the most enjoyable video game experiences I’ve ever had.

Cuphead and Mugman getting to the root of the issue.
Cuphead and Mugman getting to the root of the issue.

Cuphead is an action-platformer in the style of games like Gunstar Heroes. Your basic abilities will have you running, shooting, and dashing around to dodge projectiles and enemies while damaging foes. Most of the game’s levels are static boss fights. These fights, when done correctly, are short and typically range from 90 seconds to three minutes. The key phrase here is “done correctly,” because the fun of Cuphead comes from its punishing difficulty.

Rather than upgrading your character with loot and deep skill trees, getting good at Cuphead is all about mastering the relatively simple controls. The most “technical” the game gets is when it comes to its unique parry system. Any pink object in the world, from enemies, to projectiles, to the nose on a vicious roller coaster, can be parried, or double-jumped off of, in other words--keeping you safe and adding a bar to your super meter. It’s a system that is easy to learn and helpful for beating bosses more quickly early on, and becomes vital for survival in later levels of the game.

In addition to standard pea shooter, Cuphead also has five weapons, that can be unlocked by collecting currency. Each of the weapons has their own advantages and disadvantages, and any two can be brought into each level and swapped with the push of a button. These weapons include a homing shot that deals reduced damage, a spread shot with short range, and my personal favorite a charge shot in the style of Mega Man. You can also equip one passive charm, which can give you abilities like a gradually increasing super meter or an invincible and invisible dash.

Where Cuphead truly sets itself apart from other similar games is in its art style. Cuphead looks, sounds like, and most importantly feels like you’re playing a 1930s American cartoon, specifically in the style of early Disney. The titular character, as well as his accomplice Mugman, even both resemble Mickey Mouse himself.

Goopy LeGrande. Gone but not forgotten.
Goopy LeGrande. Gone but not forgotten.

That’s not to say that the game is just a cheap rip-off, though. Each of the bosses feels truly inspired. The very first boss is a prime example of what to expect. At first, Goopy LeGrande is just a villainous slime whose only form of attack is to jump on you or form into a fist and lunge at you. He grows angry, and halfway through the battle takes a pill that makes him larger. He’s faster, bigger, and more dangerous. After dealing with this second form, the slime “dies,” and his third and final form--the giant vengeful tombstone of Goopy LeGrande--drops on the field and attempts to crush Cuphead, because that’s all he ever knew in life. Every boss almost tells a story just through its transformations. I’m still blown away when I see footage of all the bosses, even the most frustrating ones who were responsible for dozens of my deaths and hours of gameplay wasted.

These fixed-perspective boss fights make up a little more than half the game. The other playable levels of Cuphead are airborne shooters and “run-and-gun” levels. The plane battles play like boss fights from shoot-em-ups, using the same basic controls (parrying, super moves) of the platforming levels, but instead of swapping to a second weapon you can turn into a more mobile mini-plane. These levels can be some of the most difficult in the game, as the focus is much more on precise movement than usual. Run-and-gun levels play like the boss fights, but with a focus on dealing with smaller enemies and platforming. They feel like they could be longer, but are so dense with amazing art and enemy design that I had fun replaying them multiple times just to improve my rank.

Mr. King Dice, aka your worst nightmare.
Mr. King Dice, aka your worst nightmare.

Despite its inviting art style, Cuphead is not a game for everyone. It’s extremely difficult, and you might not think that the definition of fun is playing the same levels over and over again. There is also one major issue in the parry system. People with certain types of colorblindness may not be able to know at first glance which items are pink and can be parried. There are boss fights where it is almost mandatory that you do some parrying, and the fact that there is no colorblind mode may make it difficult for these people to beat the game. It feels like most video games have implemented colorblind modes, even when it is not imperative, so the lack of one in Cuphead stands out.

If you’re the type of person who derives joy from angrily banging your head into a boss over and over until you can perfectly defeat it in the most glorious 90 seconds you will ever experience, then Cuphead is the total package. The tight gameplay, accompanied by an incredibly well-realized aesthetic, makes for a truly unforgettable gameplay experience.

71 Comments

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wunder_

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wunder_ • 

King Dice was way better than the Devil

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Solh0und

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Edited By Solh0und • 

Congrats Ben on your first 5 star review.

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SaberLion

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SaberLion • 

Looking forward to Ben fighting for this on GOTY

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hassun

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hassun • 

I'm happy to hear that, despite all its visual splendor, they managed to keep the controls tight and the gameplay engaging. Personally I can get kind of bored with gameplay that revolves mostly around pattern recognition and repetitive execution but the total package and attractive price did convince me to buy the game.

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Homelessbird

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Homelessbird • 

Super dope they sold a million of this thing

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ajamafalous

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mynthon

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mynthon • 

My favorite game this year. I don't have any sort of reverence for the old Disney cartoons but this sure looks fantastic.

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DrJonez

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DrJonez • 

Cuphead is the coolest looking game I'll never play :/

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Ravelle

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Edited By Ravelle • 

@drjonez said:

Cuphead is the coolest looking game I'll never play :/

You should play it. ;D

@mynthon said:

My favorite game this year. I don't have any sort of reverence for the old Disney cartoons but this sure looks fantastic.

Besides the white gloves, the game resembles more Popeye than disney cartoons.

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aflo51

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Lamneth

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Lamneth • 

This game at 144fps is something else.

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nycnewyork

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nycnewyork • 

Looking forward to Ben fighting for this on GOTY

I am waiting the the 5 hour blood bath that will be the GOTY podcast. this year is nuts.

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dialthedude

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MocBucket62

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MocBucket62 • 

Looking forward to Ben fighting for this on GOTY

Yeah, I'm expecting Cuphead to at least crack the top 10 of 2017.

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2Mello

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2Mello • 

I think the locking off of content if a player only completes bosses on 'simple mode' is worth mentioning in the review. Makes you wonder if it's worth including an easier mode at all if you're planning to lock content away from those who use it. I know this has gotten plenty (some would say way too much) talk elsewhere.

It's a really fantastic video game. But you should be down for repetition and perfect execution.

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PercyChuggs

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nycnewyork

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Inresurrection

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Edited By Inresurrection • 

@nycnewyork: Oh man, the GOTY stuff this year is going to be so much fun.

The fact that this game even exists and is doing so well makes me so fucking happy. I hope I get to play it some day.

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DrJonez

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DrJonez • 

@aflo51: Not enough skill or patience to deal with the difficulty level :P

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csl316

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Edited By csl316 • 

It really is that good. The boss design is tuned to near perfection, in a way I haven't really thought about since Contra: Hard Corps.

Thank God it's not just a fancy art style.

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Picky_Bugger

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Picky_Bugger • 

@hassun: The controls are fantastic, I've had absolutely no issue with them except that pressing jump while ducking which makes you fall through a platform. I died so many times fighting the dragon on world 2 because you are standing on clouds and you fall to your death.

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JimiPeppr

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Edited By JimiPeppr • 

I like this game too.

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Applegong

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Edited By Applegong • 

I think this game will be once in a decade type of standard bearer. There will be nothing like it in a long long while. Sure there will be imitators, but not reaching the level of sublime that this does.

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asherrd

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asherrd • 

Cuphead and Mugman are god damn 5 star men.

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Slab64

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Slab64 • 

Did you know that Mugman is considered a "funny animal"

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emtee

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emtee • 

"but instead of swapping to a second weapon you can turn into a more mobile mini-plane"

Pretty sure you can use a second weapon in the plane levels, it's your dash button that turns you smaller.

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Delitist

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Edited By Delitist • 

I'm looking for Cuphead Review, not Review: Cuphead. Great article regardless, Ben.

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LPockets

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LPockets • 

[Run-and-gun levels] feel like they could be longer

*starts to get PTSD*

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peachesrcool

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LPockets

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wunder_

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Subscryber

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Subscryber • 

@wunder_: I beat the Devil on my second try. King Dice took me like 10 tries. Honestly, I didn't think any of it was very difficult once I realized how OP charge shot was. Beat the game in five hours on regular. Was kind of disappointed with the difficulty, to be honest.

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ilserpente

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ilserpente • 

I enjoyed this game quite a lot. I was a little bummed out that the run and gun levels weren't all that great, the parry levels felt completely unnecessary (I finished all three of them without getting hit on the first try), and it only took me about 6.5 hours to 100% my first playthrough. I may go back and try hard mode. This game scratched the same itch that Furi did. It's probably 4/5 for me.

Also, more people should play Furi.

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Kartoshka

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DrZing

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DrZing • 

Isn't the art style more like Happy Harmonies from Harman and Ising? I remember the old Boomerang cable channel used to run those once in a while, and some of the content was really amazing, such as extreme racism, promoting smoking, etc.

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coma1138

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PowerBombYo

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Picky_Bugger

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Picky_Bugger • 

@lpockets: oh yeah but it's been a real problem for me in this. Wish I could rebind it to LB which im not using for anything.

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DasaKamov

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DasaKamov • 

@drzing: given that "Happy Harmonies" were a response to Disney's "Silly Symphonies", I would say it all comes down to "toMAYto" vs "toMAHto".

@2Mello: This isn't all that different from the many, many games of yesteryear which gated content behind the concepts of "beat the game on the Higher Difficulty to see the *true ending*" or "New Game +" modes, though.

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EngineNo9

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EngineNo9 • 

Definitely not one for me. I guess I'm one of those "carebears" that wish there was a Kirby-style mode to just enjoy the visuals and style.

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glots

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glots • 

Didn't expect this game to be a smash hit, sure 'am glad that it seems to be one!

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GrizzlyButts

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GrizzlyButts • 

Well written and much appreciated review. Thanks

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Luchalma

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Luchalma • 

Love all of these reviews coming from you, Ben. This game seems right up my alley.

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Raggnaroc

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Raggnaroc • 

Great job Ben and fantastic review.

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machinerebel

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LeslieMagnafuzz

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Edited By LeslieMagnafuzz • 

Great review, Ben! Can't wait to continue playing this - I'm only on the Hilda Burg air battle (so goddamn cool!), but already completely blown away by what I'm seeing on my screen. Game's got STYYYYYLE for days.

The first boss for me was The Root Pack yo.

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BrunoTheThird

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Edited By BrunoTheThird • 

I think Cuphead is the best looking game of all time.

Even in my fave looking games list which includes: Comix Zone, Tearaway, Skullgirls, Dragonball FighterZ, Valkyria Chronicles, Epic Yarn, Rez, and Thumper, this game totally wins.

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Do_The_Manta_Ray

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Onemanarmyy

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Onemanarmyy • 

This might be one of the most beautiful games ever made.

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LethalKi11ler

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LethalKi11ler • 

Best looking game I've ever seen, that art style is perfect. Hopeful for a PS4 or Mac version!

Good review!