Over the past couple of years, I can’t think of many games that have as interesting of an arc as Cuphead. Initially, it was simply that Xbox One and PC exclusive that had the unique art style, a fact that was enough to get it plenty of attention, ultimately finding success despite being notoriously difficult. Cuphead proved so successful that it got multiple figures, including some really interesting Funko Pop! toys, among a wide array of other knickknacks and even an upcoming Netflix series. Over time Studio MDHR has released the popular title on Nintendo Switch and Tesla cars, with the developer holding true to their promise that the delightfully difficult run-and-gun action game will never release on PlayStation 4 until now. After years of waiting and tons of success, was Cuphead worth waiting for or it just nice to look at?
Similar to older games, Cuphead makes the wise move is telling a rather simple story. The Devil opens a casino in town that eventually attracts the pair of Cuphead and Mugman. They bet their souls on a game of Craps but due to an unfortunate roll of snake eyes, they lose. Not wanting to lose their souls, they agree to collect a wide variety of debts on behalf of the Devil in exchange for not losing their souls. This starts you on the path of dealing with a wide array of powerful and crafty foes to deal with.
While Cuphead is predominately viewed as something of a boss rush title, that isn’t entirely accurate. There are stages that have rather rudimentary platforming and rather basic foes, peppered in to give players a sense of progression between bosses that act as something of a wall. These stages are, quite honestly, forgettable but can have some unique elements or help you learn timing against the main attraction, boss fights.
Much to the credit of Cuphead, most of the bosses manage to offer a different and unique take on the core concept. For those unfamiliar, you largely stand around and shoot at some oddly cartoonish enemy that does something to force you to move or react. Often times the challenge isn’t dodging attacks or hitting the boss, it’s trying to do too many things at the same time. As a result, bosses are less difficult and more about memorization. Once you have the timing down, it comes down to what you want to do, it just comes down to getting to that point.
Where players tend to have the most success is focusing less on dealing constant and consistent damage, pushing bosses to the most difficult phases, and instead focus on staying alive. Goopy Le Grande, one of the tutorial bosses, unsurprisingly highlights this idea. This fight is surprisingly easy as long as you pay attention to position and focus more on dodging, oftentimes forcing players to play defensively over offensively. This tactic will work well for newcomers but it shouldn’t be viewed as an end game tactic.
When everything is said and done, a skilled player can complete a stage rather quickly. Proficient players suggest the title can be finished in roughly an hour, a feat newcomers simply won’t be able to manage, but every boss gives players a reason to return. For example, to S rank a boss you need to not only minimize damage and defeat it quickly, you need to parry red attacks. Often times these attacks increase your likelihood of taking damage, along with changing your tactics. As a result, it makes for a fun challenge and a lot to consider besides simply finishing the level. There are also higher and lower difficulty versions that, if nothing else, offer everyone something, though those playing on Simple won’t be able to finish the last two fights.
Gameplay aside, it’s important to understand the amount of time and effort that went into crafting this experience. Every stage has such attention to detail and holds true to the cartoonish roots Cuphead hopes to capture. It’s one experience where a lot of love went into crafting it and easily an amazing looking game in its own rights.
Cuphead Review – Verdict
Seemingly simple gameplay and delightful art aside, Cuphead manages to balance challenge and difficulty fairly well. Most fights honestly come down to learning the mechanics and figuring out what works for you, over trying your luck. It’s the type of thing anyone could realistically do given enough time, making it accessible, even if you’ll lose from time to time. As a result, it’s hard to deny Cuphead is a fantastic game and a worthwhile experience. Good enough to make it worth the wait and something PlayStation players should strongly consider, even if you’re not typically the type of person interested in difficult games.
[Editor’s Note: Cuphead was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]