A few seconds of an ID@Xbox trailer reel back at E3 2014 was all it took to start building hype for a small Canadian indie game that finally saw release this year on PC and Xbox One. It's easy to see why as the visuals Cuphead sports have an immediate impact. A style that not only looks like a 1930s cartoon, but the production process probably has more in common with a 1930s cartoon than a modern video game as each frame has been painstakingly hand-drawn and animated.
Over the course of multiple preview events and game shows in the years that followed on the reveal, we witnessed first hand just how addictive the arcade gameplay was. The way each level and boss has been designed with immaculate care and attention that harken to the dawn of video games, it made us think of Mega Man, Gunstar Heroes, and Contra.
Cuphead is an incredible achievement, the imagination and craftsmanship that has gone into creating it cannot be overstated. It's a tour de force and it proves that there's much left to explore when it comes to this medium. It's got that slightly mean and edgy feel of those early cartoons, when things were a bit more rough around the edges, and some would argue, more artistic and fun.
It's difficult to move past the initial impression that the audiovisual package delivers (the game is scored with era-appropriate tunes), but there's also something to be said about the gameplay. It's an old-school offering where you need to learn patterns, time your attacks, and pray to a higher power as the more bullet hellish moments arrive. The more random bits will make you frustrated, but for the most part, you'll know exactly why you failed and what you need to improve. To this effect, the meter that lets you know far you got is a genius move as it really underlines the game's one more try nature.
Cuphead is an unrelenting game. One were you'll need to grasp not just the skills to overcome the challenges, but also make the correct strategic approaches when it comes to the meta. But more than anything it is the bosses that you'll remember. The ones that had you tearing your hair out.
On that note... Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste. That's right, the Devil was our most challenging foe with his final form a right pain in the ass requiring great timing and precision. Our favourite bosses (sorry, Beelzebub, we hate you far too much) were the Frogs (Ribby and Croaks), Queen Bee (Rumor Honeybottoms), and the Dragon (Grim Matchsticks). Special mention also goes to Beppi the Clown. But the real strength of Cuphead is that almost everyone we talk to has different favourites and different ones they hate (a result of repeated ass whoopings, no doubt). Overall, it just speaks volumes about the quality that's here and this is one of those games that will no doubt entertain gamers decades from now with its wits, charm, and challenge.
Sometimes games that stand out for their visuals only provide you with a skin-deep experience, one that simply doesn't stick, but that's not at all the case with Cuphead. It's a tremendous accomplishment not only in terms of its visuals, humour and charm but also in its mechanics and gameplay.