Looking like it came straight from the imagination of a young Walt Disney, Cuphead is an extraordinarily fresh take on a modern video game. And yet, it is also a throwback to a time of 20 cent coin (or quarters if you are reading this in North America) hungry arcade games, where the only road to success was through expensive persistence.
Thankfully, here on the Xbox One however, we don’t need to feed coins into a slot to “try again”. Instead we just need to be smart, observant, and maintain discipline to get the job done.
For all intents and purposes, Cuphead is a game of boss-battles and frenetic platforming levels that will occasionally, almost, have you tossing that controller through the window. Breathe, relax, learn, and try again is the secret. There are some very imaginative constructs, with the levels, all drawn from 30’s animation art and audio. We enjoyed the shooty-plane levels with bullet hell shmup inspiration.
Controls are slick, which they need to be in such a difficult game; particularly punishing, however, is the timing of the interact-parry move. You will either hit the timing and enable a double jump or other interactions with the environment, or simply take damage. And sometimes the perfection of not losing health unless absolutely unavoidable is the difference between success, or seemingly endless failure.
Cuphead and Mugman diced with devil and lost, and now must regain their souls. Seemingly at the expense of ours. Cuphead can be infuriating at times, but golly gee-whiz Pluto, it’s a hoot to play.
Boss battles do not always play out the same, and there is often no indication of damage inflicted beyond the change in attack patterns, or dying and noting how close you were to victory, thus aiding the restart.
There is co-op play, where your friend can be resurrected via a successful parry before their ghost disappears off screen, though at the time of writing we were unable to coax a friend into playing this with us. Possibly due to our frazzled features and torn out locks of hair from attempting the single player game.
This is a modern game and equally a throwback, eight decades in artistic design, and three decades in difficulty. No soppy checkpointing every two minutes here, no F5 quicksaves for the faint-hearted.
You want to play Cuphead? Well, clear you head, crack your knuckles, make sure the walls and windows are coated in controller-dampening coverings and attack those levels, again and again. Good luck!