Combo the evocative and cartoonish art style of Max Fleischer (creator of Betty Boop and Popeye) and Super Meat Boy's sadist gameplay, and you will have this:Cuphead, a new 'run and gun' title developed by the indie studio Studio MDHR.
The game - which we had a chance to try during a Microsoft event at GDC in San Francisco - joins the ID@BOX program, which supports independent development studios and allows them to develop their titles for Microsoft's console.
Of course Cuphead immediately caught our attention at GDC. Although we did not know anything about that game before, we decided to pick up the controller and try it out, partly thanks to our personal interest in all things animation, and partly due to curiosity over the huge line of people queued up at Studio MDHR's booth.
What we discovered was not to be fooled by its delicious and attractive art-style: Cuphead is ruthless from the off.
The concept draws from the vintage short animated movies from which it draws inspiration: the main character Cuphead has lost a bet with the Devil and is forced to wander this appealing game world, defeating ever-more complex bosses to try and repay its debt.
As with the narrative, gameplay is similarly simple: it's a 2D shooter with eight-way directional fire, and a pressing need to dodge enemy bullet cascades. Contra much?
We barely have time to settle in before being immediately flooded by bullet waves, and need to immediately grasp our enemy attack patterns in order to escape certain death (we've only three life hearts to our name).
At least like Super Meat Boy, we've infinite lives to keep trying. And between bosses, exploration of the world yields secret areas, just like the classic RPG action-adventures.
The high difficulty is, along with that art style, the game's most attractive feature. The GDC demo only offered four levels, but no-one that we saw during our time there managed to get past the third one. If you're a fan of punishing games, Cuphead could keep you occupied for a long time to come.
And even if you don't consider yourself a fanatic of the genre, Cuphead is worth the look. The visuals are halfway between the Disney's Silly Symphonies and Max Fleischer's short animated movies.The devs have even layered a grainy film effect over the gameplay to really give it that classic feel.
The developers also told us the game will include a cooperative multiplayer mode for two players, who can try and deal with the various bosses that'll try and stop us in our tracks.
We can't wait to play the game again, although at the moment we still have no official release date,only a "vague 2015". Hopefully it's sooner rather than later.
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