Cuphead had fans before anyone had the chance to play it. How do you temper mass wild expectations?
I’ll start by telling you what the game’s all about. Then I’ll descend into why I’m not a huge fan of this particular type of platform game; before I attempt to reconcile the rabid contractions whipping around in my mind. You might have to bear with me on this one.
The story is a simple one. Cuphead enrols in a soul collection scheme after being fooled by the devil. Does the gameplay match such fetching looks? Please shrug and read on.
There is no getting around Cuphead’s beautiful 1930’s aesthetic. It sold the game before anyone touched it. Much less discussed is the fantastic era appropriate music. The years of visual and audio hype are warranted. After a short introduction you’re thrown into the stunning overworld map an’ you’ll waddle towards the main event… a series of tough boss battles.
The bosses are bright and inventive and the magic is watching how it all plays out. You see, the bosses go through several stages of “bastard” and the tension ratchets up throughout each encounter. This is a game for those wanting a solid challenge. It’s not all bosses though, as short run an’ gun levels make an appearance with an emphasis on coin collecting… which is bloody handy as you’ll need a few upgrades to survive. My favourite being the the smoke dash that renders you invulnerable… no really, it will save a life.
I’m hugely conflicted on whether the game is fair or not. Originally I considered breaking out the classic term “tough but fair”, but the more I played it… the less that applies. Please enjoy the following short video, it might help explain things. It was my third attempt at the level and the first time I came across the end of level boss.
A game that requires perfect timing, memorisation and repetition welcomes bugs and ever-so-slightly off-timing. Nope… that doesn’t sound great does it? For the most part, everything works fine. But every now and then the patterns converge into certain doom and you’re never quite sure if you screwed up, of if it’s the game. One of the very worst encounters was a boss not taking any damage in its final form. Why won’t this bloody cake take any damage! Oh you total and utter bastard, of course it’s a bug.
But beyond technical oddities there’s something stronger at work. Something that truly stops me from enjoying the game. I no longer glean any pleasure from memorising patterns in a reactive manner. I find little joy in the design of the game. In the past you’d have the fun platform levels with the ability to pick up hearts. Little bit of tense failure, just about scraping through. Managing to tackle the end of level boss. With the multi-tiered bastardry that is Cuphead’s encounters… ya know, the type of bosses usually reserved for the very end of the game. I’m missing out on the fun of scraping through. You know when you start a level and get hit, so you immediately restart because you know it’s not worth continuing. You know you’ve already failed because you need to ace the “easy” bit of the level, and to slog through would be a waste of time. Urgh. Isn’t that the worst feeling? Even worse is when you finally overcome that boss to a feeling of nothing. No sense of achievement. I just happened to get the right pattern, without any shenanigans, that one time.
Much like Cuphead selling his soul, this could be regarded as a dark peek into how I calculate fun. I realise I could be in the minority here and this could well be an age thing. I’ve played and lived through these games the first time round and I’d rather not revisit them. You can try your hand at simple difficulty but you won’t collect any souls. Meaning you won’t make any progress and you’re cut off from that lovely, lovely content. If you were a kid with limited funds and a love for platform games, this will keep you occupied for a good spell. That desire to perfect a level, to do it faster, to show off. It’s all there. It’s someone’s perfect game.
Less perfect is 2 player mode, whilst perfectly adequate, makes it doubly hard to see what you’re doing. If you’re going to tackle the bosses with a partner, make sure your jumps are synchronised.
I was excited to play Cuphead and I’m mildly upset that it’s coming across like I’m slamming the game. I really hope this review was helpful in some way. Remember, you’re a very different person and we can’t all think the same. Love you and goodbye.
A hugely successful game that I couldn’t enjoy because of its very nature.
Cuphead is a beautiful timesink that I’ve no time for.
Welcome to the Joey Jo Jo opinion
This type of game was fun when I was 9 and no one was going to buy me more games until I’d definitely “finished” the ones I had. That’s why everyone has certain games they know inside out. I’m looking at you, Sonic the Hedgehog and Alex Kidd in Miracle World. I think if you are 9 now, there’s no reason for you to stick with this. I’d love to watch a 9 year old play it now, I would enjoy it as a bystander.
Even if I play it on “simple”, I can’t finish the game as it doesn’t count. You don’t collect the souls if you play it on “simple”. What if I just want to enjoy the animation and music? I actually like the soundtrack and obviously the animation is a joy. Yet, I feel no reason to grind it out. Continuous soul crushing boss battles? Nah… that’s not fun to me.