If I had to sum up Cuphead in so many words, I would say that it is a beautifully crafted boss-rush style game that harkens back to 1930s era rubber hose animation. With that, however, this game is difficult, like… really difficult. You will spend hours upon hours fighting just a single boss, but once you get into the groove of the gameplay it becomes extremely rewarding. Honestly speaking though, the difficulty of each boss just makes it so you get to hear the absolute masterclass of a soundtrack Studio MDHR came up with much more than you otherwise would! I can say so many great things about this game, but I do have a couple of fairly minor problems with it, most if not all of which have already been addressed by the developer. I feel I need to address these minor issues with the game out of transparency, and for the sake of painting a fuller picture of the developer’s responsiveness towards the game and community. The developers behind Cuphead created a gorgeous experience, and are actively working to make it as amazing, gorgeous, and completely full of personality as the cartoons it is trying to emulate.
Speaking of cartoons, the people behind Studio MDHR loved them! They loved them so much so in fact, that they felt dedicated enough to animate everything in this game using hand-drawn animation. According to behind-the-scenes footage, they animated every single character and element at 24 frames per second, using pen and paper. After this, they would take each and every single frame and paint them digitally, as they did not notice a difference between that and actually coloring in the physical frames. This work was intensive, with a total of 50,000 hand-drawn frames needed for this game, according to Intel. This workload paid off in the end, earning the studio a Guinness World Record Record for “Most Hand-Drawn Frames of Animation in a Video Game Production,” as well as being one of the reasons this game is so enjoyable! It isn’t the only reason this game is amazing though.
If I had to point out another amazing aspect of this game, it would have to be the music. Fitting in seamlessly with the gameplay, the music sets the scene in this game perfectly. The music doesn’t just work with the game though, they are absolutely stunning pieces all on their own! The music is so good I am listening to the soundtrack as I write this review! From beautiful and calm pieces like the background music to Inkwell Isle One to the jammy and jazzy tunes found in the boss fights, such as Clip Joint Calamity playing whilst fighting Ribby and Croaks. The team here didn’t spare any effort when creating the music either, as they got together an entire jazz orchestra to create the music. Composer Kristofer Maddigan did an outstanding job creating the music, as it not only encapsulates the music and feel of the time but also keeps pace with the fast-paced and action-packed gameplay!
On the topic of gameplay, it is an absolute blast, albeit an absolutely brutally difficult one. People need to brace themselves for the amount of time they will spend on this game. These bosses are intense, and some are much, much worse than others. An example of this disparity in difficulty would be between the Goopy le Grande fight and the Grim Matchstick fight. With the first fight, you are on the ground fighting a blue blob that will hop up and down, as well as throw a massive attack you are able to duck. After this, the blob gets bigger and throws a much easier punch to dodge. Lastly, the blob will try to smash you in an extremely predictable pattern. Compare this to the Grim Matchstick fight, where you are being chased through the sky on randomly generated clouds. They will cough fireballs at you, as well as shoot some rays from their eyes (for some reason). After this, the dragon will move to the other side of the screen, and make it so you have to dodge mini fireballs that jump at you from the bottom of the screen. After this, the dragon will sprout three heads, all of which couch fireballs at you, as well as shoot screen-wide fire blasts. This is just one example of the disparity, but that doesn’t change the fact you feel extremely rewarded after beating each of them!
This does bring me to my last point, though. The game still has its flaws, the biggest one of which for me is the RNG in some of the bosses. As mentioned before, the clouds you must jump on during the Grim Matchstick fight are randomly generated on the screen. This has an issue with it, however. Sometimes the clouds that are generated are completely impossible to reach without losing a life. This also is an issue with the Baroness Von Bon Bon fight. The mini-bosses you have to fight before actually reaching the Baroness vary greatly in difficulty. From a gumball machine, that rains gumballs that are fairly easy to dodge, to a muffin that will inevitably squash you and take at least one of your lives. These problems have been balanced over time by the developers though, making them not nearly as unpredictable and luck-based as they were before. Other than this one issue, the other problems are extremely minor, like skipped boss animations.
Cuphead is a one-of-a-kind experience. I think everyone should try at least once, even if only to experience the personality and style of the game. Chad and Jared Moldenhauer put their houses on the line to make this game a reality, and it paid off! Like the quartet at the opening screen says: “Cuphead and his pal Mugman, they like to roll the dice…” Considering all of these factors, and the circumstances behind the creation of Cuphead, I have to give it a rating of 4.7 stars.
Written By Trey Tymensen, Lethbridge College
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