Cuphead is one of the most impressive games I have ever played.

That statement may seem a little bit broad, but I genuinely mean it. Every aspect of Cuphead from it’s presentation, to it’s music and it’s incredibly fun, addicting and throw-your-controller-at-the-wall difficult gameplay really impressed me. The amount of hard-work and passion that went into this game absolutely boggles my mind and MDHR studios should be incredibly proud of the gem that they have produced here.

Before Cuphead came out, the game already received a lot of well-earned attention because of it’s incredibly unique visual style, that being the style of classic 1930s animation from the era of early Disney, Betty Boop and Max Fleischer. Now there have been many games in the past that have also paid homage to that specific era of animation like Epic Mickey or Bendy and the Ink Machine, but the thing that made Cuphead so special was that it was being so faithful to that original style of animation, almost as if the entire game could have come out of that era. Immediately, people were excited. And when the game finally came out, that excitement turned into unyielding praise; people ADORED this game. And now, after having completed the game, I adore it too. Like I said, this game properly impressed me. But to get into why, let’s first start with the story.

The game starts with a nice little storybook sequence, similar to classic Disney Films like Snow White, that tells the story of Cuphead and Mugman, two brothers who live on Inkwell Isle under the care of the Elder Kettle. One day, the two brothers wander off and find themselves in a fancy casino run by the devil himself and after getting too cocky with their gambling, they end up in debt to the Prince of Darkness who subsequently demands them to collect the soul contracts of his other debtors otherwise THEIR souls will be the ones he collects. And so, Cuphead and Mugman set off on their journey to defeat the runaway debtors so they can give all their souls to Satan! Yeah, the plot for this game is a lot darker than its cutesy cartoony images would have you believe, but that is still strangely appropriate. Cartoons in the Fleischer era of animation could be dark, many of them involving imagery of ghosts, hell and the devil as well. It just goes to show how much care and detail the creators put into making the style of the game as authentic as possible, and that attitude is present throughout the entire game.

I can’t say it enough, Cuphead’s visuals are outstanding. Every character in the game is hand drawn using traditional animation techniques instead of it being animated digitally like most modern cartoons, which in turn makes the game seem so much more lively and expressive as well as being incredibly faithful to that era of animation history. I cannot wrap my head around how much time and patience it must have taken to animate all the frames present in this game by hand, and the animators deserve all the praise they’re given. But it isn’t just the animation that makes Cuphead’s presentation fantastic; it’s also the details in how it goes about showing the animation. Everything from the classic film grain being filtered over the entire game (even the loading screens), the scratchy low-quality audio, the traditional painted backgrounds and every level starting with an opening card that would come before those old cartoons. Cuphead tries its absolute best to not just look vintage, but feel vintage and it pulls it off wonderfully.

This is also reflected in the game’s soundtrack, which is also fantastic. All the songs in the game harken back to the swinging jazz music that would be playing over 1930s cartoons, and it’s emulated pretty faithfully as all the music in the game was performed by a live studio giving it even more of a vintage vibe. My only gripe with the music is that sometimes, because every one of the songs are jazz/swing type songs, they can blend into each other occasionally, (I couldn’t really recite some of the boss themes of the top of my head if you asked me), but even then all the tracks are beautifully composed and fit the tone of the game amazingly.

But while the presentation is incredible, if the gameplay itself doesn’t hold up to it then it may feel like the animation was wasted. Thankfully though, Cuphead is just as much fun to play as it is to look at.

At it’s core, Cuphead is a 2D run and gun platformer reminiscent of classic games like Contra and Gunstar Heroes. Cuphead himself can shoot bullets out of his finger to kill enemies, can fire in all sorts of directions and also has a dash move that can be used to help traverse a stage or to avoid an enemy’s attacks. He also has a parry manoeuvre that lets him bounce off any pink coloured object in a stage by pressing the jump button when meeting it, which is a mechanic that’s used throughout the game to allow the player to dodge enemy attacks, to create more challenging platforming segments or to let them build up the super meter. In the lower left-hand corner, you have a special meter that slowly fills up with cards the more you shoot enemies and perform parries. With this, you can either use one card to perform a heavy attack or you can fill up the super meter completely to perform a devastating attack that causes loads of damage.

And trust me, you’re going to need all of the attacks you can get for what this game throws at you. You see, Cuphead’s gameplay and level structure is unique for two reasons. One, Cuphead doesn’t have that many typical ‘head for the goal’ type levels. Instead, most of the game is comprised of boss fights against colourful and unique bosses, each of which with tons of character and charm thanks to the brilliant animation and the characters themselves all having distinct designs and personalities, my two favourites being the Flower boss fight, Cagney Carnation, because of how creative and flowing his movement is and the Mermaid boss fight, Cala Maria, because of how her design changes throughout the fight and how she harkens back to Betty Boop’s design. (Also, she’s cute as heck, don’t judge me).

And two, as stated before, Cuphead is difficult.

It is VERY difficult.

If you aren’t OK with games that require 100% of your concentration and skills in order to beat, then Cuphead isn’t for you. Bosses and stages can be absolutely ruthless when they want to be and the game isn’t afraid to punish you and even make fun of you if you don’t bring your A-game. Bosses and enemies all have various forms of attacking and multiple different phases which at times can seem unfair as bosses will occasionally pull powerful attacks out of nowhere with little chance to predict them, but never to the point where the boss feels impossible or that you can’t do it. To add onto this, whenever you die in Cuphead it shows you how close you were to beating the boss as well as the boss themselves mocking you with a quote, almost as if the game is teasing you to try again. If you could just dodge that last attack, you’ll beat it perfectly right? This is the kind of mentality Cuphead gives you the entire time you’re playing, which in turn makes the game itself incredibly addictive.

This isn’t even mentioning the particular biplane boss fights, where the game switches from a 2D run and gun platformer to a bullet hell shooter similar to classic arcade games like Gradius. These levels may seem a bit jarring at first, considering that you’re switching to a completely different gameplay style, but as the game goes on you get used to it and you start to see how much of a refreshing change of pace they are from the regular levels. And don’t think these levels will be a break from the soul-crushing difficulty, because if anything it’s amplified in these levels with some of the most brutal attacks in the whole game and much more range for the attacks to move now you’re in the air and not on the ground, giving all new ways for the bosses to tear you apart.

And ultimately, whether you enjoy having those bosses tear you apart or not, is going to determine if you’re going to like Cuphead. It isn’t a game for everyone and I can see many people just giving up on the game a few hours in because how hard it is despite the animation and overall presentation being so gorgeous. And while I can completely understand if this game alienates some people, that still doesn’t make Cuphead any less of a brilliant accomplishment.

Cuphead may not be for everyone, but it’s still an absolute marvel in game design and presentation. It isn’t perfect, and sometimes the game can be a bit too unfair for its own good, but the attention to detail and amount of effort went into the presentation is an incredible sight to behold and the difficulty as well as the variety in levels and bosses make it so you never get bored while playing.
I highly recommend Cuphead as a game that, if you give it enough time and patience, will engage you all the way to the end…

…Even if the reason you’re engaged is because you through your controller out the window.

I give Cuphead a 9 out of 10.