PolyNerdic Review: Cuphead

Normally I operate on the basic principle that I should not review a game until I’ve finished it.

Personally I feel that I cannot truly speak about what a game is and what I thought of my experiences with it until I’ve seen everything the game has to offer.

Once in a while a game comes along that proves itself the exception to that rule.  Sometimes I find myself desperate to tell anyone who will listen about a game, maybe the game is simply too long for a timely review, the game is too broken to finish or too good to delay spreading the word.

Cuphead is one of those exceptional games that warrants a provisional review, a review based on the roughly 45% I’ve seen coupled with the knowledge that what I have yet to see will be even tougher than what is behind me will likely take me forever to beat.

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Cuphead is a sadistically difficult video game.

The moment I fired up this game I fell in love with its 1930s cartoon inspired art design.  From the animation style to level specific music to constant patter of Cuphead’s finger gun, the whole look and feel of the game has me enamored.  Even as I smash my head against incredibly difficult boss fights and punishing platforming I keep coming back for more.

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Run & Gun levels are a chaotic mix of platforming and combat.

There are two types of levels in Cuphead, Run & Gun and Boss Fights.

The Run & Gun levels are side scrolling areas with plenty of platform jumping and combat.  I’ve heard it described as being akin to a 1930s cartoon version of Contra.  As you make your way through the levels there are coins to collect that can be spent on upgrades such as spread or homing shots or an extra hit point (at the cost of damage).  These levels are tough and chaotic require accurate shooting, precise jumping, nimble dashing and an understanding of what the level is going to throw at you.

Needless to say there is a heavy amount of trial and error before you can “get” the levels and even then you’ll have to try again and again to get it “perfect”.

The same can be said of the games many, many boss encounters.

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Boss fights are difficult at best and utterly hellish at worst….but always fun.

The meat of the game’s three worlds are the boss fights.

These boss fights, much like the platforming levels, require pattern recognition, timing and sometimes luck to survive.

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Boss fights come in two varieties: platforming and aerial.

Each boss has a series of forms that change as the battle progresses.  You may start out fighting a woman/plane hybrid but over the course of the fight you’ll fight a large cloudy bull, an archer and a giant moon faced woman that launches projectiles and UFOS.  Many bosses also have randomized elements to their fixed patterns.  One battle ends with a giant slot machine that has three or so attacks during the “damage phase” that are chosen when you activate the arm.  Another battle starts with a “genie” that opens a chest from which one of three types of projectiles come: very easily dodged blades, somewhat easily dodged cat sarcophagi that spawn smaller cat projectiles or difficult to dodge jewels and treasures.  This is where luck comes in as many times I only defeated a boss because I received the “easy” variations of it’s attacks, making it to the final portion with one or two hit points left (the game only gives you three to work with).

The battles are intense in varying degrees and are often frustrating but always rewarding when you land the knockout blow.

As for story, Cuphead’s is minimalistic but suitably strange for the era of cartoon it is paying homage to.

The titular character and his pal Mugman got in over their heads at the Devil’s casino.  They plead for their souls and strike a deal that sends them out to collect the contracts on the souls of other debtors.

Yes, you and your pottery headed buddy are playing as the Devil’s personal bounty hunters, taking on plant folk, candy ladies, blobs and flying dragons who owe the Devil.

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Some contracts are more satisfying than others.

 

Final Verdict: 9 out of 10.  Cuphead is a nearly flawless and incredibly difficult game that isn’t for everyone.  I happen to enjoy the experience of smashing against the brick walls that the individual levels represent again and again until I beat them.  The feeling of satisfaction that comes from finally besting a tough enemy carries me through this game but it may not do so for everyone.

I also put a PolyNerdic Play Test up a few weeks ago, you can watch it below if you missed it before.

-Shad (@PolyNerdic)

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