Giant Bomb Review

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Cuphead Review

5
  • XONE

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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dgtlty

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Best Looking Game 2017 in the bag.

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Colonel_Pockets

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This is some nice work, Ben!

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mithhunter55

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@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.

Shoot and dash on the triggers is so good though.

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hippie_genocide

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@ravelle said:
@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.

Yeah, they're definitely going for the Fleischer Studios vibe (Betty Boop, Popeye, Bimbo The Dog), rather than old Disney. One cool nod in the game - Fleischer was originally named Inkwell Studios and the three worlds in the game are called Inkwell Isle I, II, and III.

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betabetamax

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Very much deserves the big ole 5.

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AV_Gamer

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Cuphead is a masterpiece, and I dare say worth the discussion of GOTY. I know it won't win, but the game does need to be given proper respect for having the potential to win. And I believe it will win some other categories, not just for this website but many others as well. In terms of difficulty, yes the game is challenging but doable. Its all about patterns and knowing when to act. It test human reflexes like many classic shooters. Cuphead is a breath of fresh air and a game that is further proving that art design goes a long way in games.

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Picky_Bugger

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@mithhunter55: They are.

My changes to the controls;

Left trigger - Shoot - So you can just hold it down

Right trigger - Dash - Upgraded dash

X - Switch weapons

B - Super

I nearly had an aneurysm watching the playdate when they were doing the control bit. How something so minor can make me feel so uncomfortable is crazy. Fire on the face button, madness.

This game is amazing, not as hard as I was expecting. I've only had trouble on the Dragon so far and that's because I was trying to stick with the spread shot. as it was the only weapon I'd used to that point.

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DekuShrub

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@solh0und: What about his 5 star review of Babysitting Mama?

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vhdblood

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vmehnert

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Just throwing my two cents in that I freaking love this game

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cheato

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Edited By cheato

Excellent review, Ben! Couldn't agree more--this game is fantastic. Really love the music too. It fits so well with the theme of the game.

While I found it challenging, it wasn't insanely difficult to at least beat on regular difficulty. (This coming from someone who's put in a lot of time into tough platformers over the years.) I'm sure going through all of the bosses obtaining a perfect rank on the increased difficulty is a different story though. Still considering if I'll go down that road...

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audiosnow

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'Disney'?! That's Fleischer, thank you very much!

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moonwalksa

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@saberlion said:

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.

2017 has been unbelievably good for games and honestly deserves a minimum of at least Top 20.

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Superharman

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Beat it on Normal last night. 100% agree with this review, I can't recall a boss fight more rewarding that King Dice as a culmination of all your skill coming into play.

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Gump

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Wow! I'm so happy you gave this game five stars, Ben. I beat it tonight and the last two bosses/stages were frustratingly difficult and, in some inexplicable way, enjoyable and fun. I can't believe a game as punitive as this one is so rewarding after all. It angered me that I'd die time and again but, somehow in the end, I got addicted to Cuphead. The eye-catching art style really draws you in and makes the whole experience worthwhile. By the way, great review! I read it entirely and couldn't agree more with you. Congratulations! Here's hoping that the developers make a sequel or create more content.

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sheabon

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When I read this review I heard Ben's voice narrating in my head. It was nice. Great review, Ben. Keep up the good work!

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Humanity

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I love the art but I’m not interested in the gameplay, and not because it’s too had or whatnot, but because it just looks monotonous. Shooting beautifully animated bosses that have no health bars and for the most part don’t even react to your attacks is just not appealing to me which is a shame because it sure does look beautiful. The best example I can give of a proper balance between beautiful visuals and engaging, system driven gameplay is Hyper Light Drifter.

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Dray2k

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Edited By Dray2k

Oh boy Cuphead sure deserves getting 5 stars.

@humanity: You should still consider buying it. If you're one of the type of people who feel that graphics and sound add to the whole and gameplay can be used to actually complement to the experience then even simple run-and-gun gameplay can feel good and in a way. Watching videos doesn't do the game justice in my opinion.

Imagine this game but with Vectrex-like vector graphics and I assume only a small amount of people would even notice this game. Though even by then actually playing it can make the game feel different.

Also the last paragraph that Ben wrote is spot on, the game doesn't look tight on videos but everything you do just feels tight. But if you don't really care about all of this at all you can still wait for a 40% discount, I'm sure this game may well worth picking for the gameplay alone if its that lowly priced.

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Paulmar

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My old roommate did some of the boss animations on this game. Watching the progress was always a treat.

I can confirm that Fleischer studios were the main influence. He was obsessed with those cartoons (in a good way).

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razzlerazzle

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I really hope this comes to the switch because DAMN is it gorgeous I just want to put my hands all over it.

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Kaneis

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Edited By Kaneis

Some of Ben's sentence structure could use a bit of editing for an easier flow; otherwise, great points made about a wonderful game.