Video-Game Review: Cuphead


All 19 bosses in Cuphead could theoretically be beaten in just a few minutes, but good luck with that

Story by Jorge Soares-Paulino, Editor in Chief

I don’t typically consider myself a violent man – in fact, I’ve been told I can be quite peaceful at times – but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to smash my TV in with a sledgehammer after playing StudioMDHR’s Cuphead. Cuphead is a 2D platforming game in the same vein as classics such as Super Mario Bros. and Metroid, and, as I soon found out after playing through the initial tutorial level, it does not pull any punches. Every level is more difficult than the last, but the game’s enticing visuals and entirely-too-catchy soundtrack keep pulling you in and push you to retry that part you’re stuck on no matter how many times you die. And you’re gonna die, a whole lot.

In Cuphead, you play as the titular cup-human hybrid Cuphead (and his brother Mugman if you’re playing multiplayer) who must hunt down the Devil’s debtors after losing a bet in the Devil’s casino. In all honesty, the game’s story loses importance pretty quickly – the main appeal here is everything else. The entirety of Cuphead is a throwback to the old-timey cartoons of the 1930’s – the art style is bubbly and cheery but almost too cheery to the point that it’s creepy, the soundtrack consists solely of quick swing jazz tunes that guarantee much foot-tapping, and the character designs are straight out of Popeye. Simply put, Cuphead has a certain unique charm and style that is hard to find in many games nowadays – and this charm is persistent through every one of its 25 or so levels. Now, this may not seem like a particularly high number, but Cuphead extends its own length by being soul-crushingly difficult to play through.

Being the 2D platformer that it is, you’d expect Cuphead’s gameplay to be a series of levels in which you jump over things and shoot other things (usually at the same time) while progressing through the stage to reach the end. And this holds true…  for roughly a quarter of the levels. The other 75% of the time, you’re fighting bosses – “bosses” meaning really big and unique bad guys, and “fighting” meaning running around in circles struggling to shoot them while they merciless reign death from every direction. If I haven’t made it clear so far, StudioMDHR has taken very careful steps to ensure that Cuphead is very, very hard. The bosses that you’ll have to fight are relentless, and unless you’re an expert when it comes to strategizing on the spot, you’ll probably have to replay levels numerous times before gaining a grasp on the bosses’ maneuvers and attacks so that you can eventually out-maneuver and out-attack them. But while in most games a difficulty this extreme would be tedious and annoying, Cuphead draws the player in through key details such as revealing how close you were to defeating the boss once you die, and being able to replay levels instantly and infinitely so you can try however many times to your heart’s content.

I haven’t simultaneously loved and hated a game as much as I did StudioMDHR’s Cuphead in a long time. Its brutal gameplay and unforgiving boss battles are equally countered by the distinctive style and memorable soundtrack, providing an experience that’ll make you go through all five stages of grief every time you play through a level.

Final Rating: