I love Action games, let’s start by that. I also love Run N’ Gun games, one of my favorites being the Metal Slug series. So, when Cuphead was announced, I literally lost my everything and wanted to play it from the get go. This was around the time I began writing as a journalist for another outlet called Gamerspack. I still look at that piece with watery eyes of pride, believe it or not.
Cuphead’s Aesthetic brings you back to the 30’s
I’ll start the review by saying that Cuphead must be one of the most influential works of art I’ve seen. I love the amount of effort, love and care that Studio MDHR has put into the graphics. The aesthetic value of this game alone should be a great selling point for many people. This also applies to the soundtrack, because I love how great the game is in terms of the music you listen to.
Cuphead seems like a game from 81 years ago. Not because it’s bad, but because it imitates the aesthetic of the 30’s animation days so well. You will never see a game that’s been drawn so well, or animated incredibly for that matter. It does feel like I’m playing through a Max Fleischer short.
The music of the game keeps things active and moving, the jazzy beats and even salsa music gets your blood pumping while you shoot deadly water to your enemies. At first, I thought I would be bored by it. However, it turns out that the game’s music is pretty good, I could stare at the Title Screen while listening to that sweet quartet singing Cuphead’s theme song.
The King Dice theme song is one of the best Jazz songs I have heard in a while. Its composition is incredible and makes you stay in stages just to hear the soundtrack. The tutorial stage music is also worth listening to because the piano is used so well. There is also Run & Gun Stage 1 and Boopy Le Grande’s theme. Every song in the game brings the best aspects of 30’s animation magnificently.
Story: Don’t Deal With the Devil
Cuphead’s gameplay can be summed up as a game that has 2 different kinds of stages. The Run & gun stages which is basically being swarmed by enemies from almost every angle and the objective is to get to the end of the stage. And The Boss Stages, which are the meat of the game because you’ll be fighting various boss fights that enter different phases and exhibit various behaviors.
The story of Cuphead is about how the main character of the game named Cuphead finds himself in a pickle alongside his companion Mugman. The two were innocent fellas’ that did nearly no wrong. However, they entered King Dice’s Casino and started betting. Thanks to their outstanding luck, they almost won the riches of the Casino.
Enter The Devil, King Dice’s boss and very evil looking guy. The Devil offers Cuphead one more dice roll game. If he wins, He keeps the Casino for himself. Should he lose and The Devil will take his and Mugman’s souls. Mugman knew this wouldn’t end well, but despite his warnings. Cuphead participates and loses the bet. Asking for another method of repayment, The Devil sends Cuphead and Mugman off to get Soul Contracts of his debtors. Which lead to Run & Gun stages and Boss fight stages.
Gameplay: Run & Gun and Destroy Sluggers
The Run & Gun stages are sidescrolling platformers with the Run & Gun challenge sprinkled into them. I feel that the two connect pretty well and that the amount of challenge you get for each stage is just right. There are a few problems that come to mind when it comes to these stages however. Mainly the fact that you don’t get as many Run & Gun stages as you might like. In fact, you only get 2 per world.
This makes me feel like the Run & Gun stages were more of an afterthought than anything. I would’ve loved it if we kept every boss with their own Run & Gun stage. However, that kind of dream would require the main character to have 6 HP from the get go because, admittedly. It would be hard for the casual player to get through a lot of the stages.
The Boss Stages are pretty much the game you’ll be playing 80% of the time, for better and for worse. Boss fights themselves are all about learning patterns. Even though it feels at first that the enemies are unfair, you’ll notice that a lot of the attacks the bosses do have a windup to them. Boopy Le Grande for example, he always moves back a little bit before throwing a punch or his face at you.
It’s not that hard to notice the patterns bosses have. However, this doesn’t make the game less challenging. Because you also have to continuously shoot at the enemies until you get a Knockout. The best way you can do this is by paying attention to your surroundings and leading the attack.
Downsides: The Lackluster Parry system.
Cuphead is a challenging game that deserves respect by many. However, I don’t find it to be as difficult as many Youtubers have led me to believe. However, there is still some challenge that requires mechanical and reflexive skills in order to beat it. With that said, I don’t think the game’s difficulty will be good for any player who likes simple and easy games.
There’s also the Parry system, which is one of my major turnoffs about the game. See, the game counts your HP, Super Abilities and Time to give you a ranking. However, to get the best rank you need to get 3 parries or more successfully. You make a parry when you hit the jump button at the same time as you hit a Pink colored projectile.
I’m sorry, but I think the parries could’ve been integrated better as a core mechanic. Allow the players to parry every single incoming attack. Much like with Okinawa Rush, make the challenge be how well your timing is to parry the attacks. Instead of having to search for that pink projectile in order to go and parry it and more often than not. Lose 1 HP because you got hit by something else that you didn’t see coming because you were focusing on the pink projectile.
However, these are some minor complaints compared to the amount of love I have to Cuphead and its core mechanics. With powerups that can give you different sorts of projectiles, this game gives you ample time to experiment with all sorts of wacky combinations. The replay value is off the charts with the amount of stuff you can buy and experiment with.
Conclusions: The best starting point for Run & Gun players.
Cuphead is a challenge. However, I’d say that the challenge amounts to playing Metal Slug 7’s Combat Training mode with Fio. You’ll get a Heavy Machine Gun from the get go and it has unlimited ammo. So, it becomes a game of holding the button to kill most enemies. However, you can’t be too reckless or you’ll end up dead and will have to start all over again.
I also want to talk about how incredibly well the game plays. With a few exceptions, Cuphead controls beautifully in a 2D environment with an analog stick. There are a few times where the game doesn’t register my inputs or has me doing parries and getting damaged at the same time. However, these occasions are a few and far between and minor inconveniences that at worst can make you lose 1 HP.
With that said, I recommend this game to people who want to give the Run & Gun platformer genre a shot. This is going to be a great introduction experience for players of this sort of game. And it will be a great learning experience for gamers that want to become better at shooters in general. Even when a blackout happened on my house and I had to play the game all over again, I didn’t care because at no point am I ever bored with Cuphead’s challenge.
- Addictive Gameplay
- A great starting point for Run & Gun beginners
- An incredible challenge to overcome
- No DLC nor Microtransactions in sight
- An excellent throwback to animation in the 30s
- The Parry system could be implemented better
- There aren't that many Run & Gun stages
- Bosses become easier when you learn their patterns