A shortish review
There are some games you figure you’ll never play; maybe it’s a rarity, or too much of a time investment or maybe it’s a console exclusive and you aren’t ready to drop daft money to play an indie game (or you own a Mac…). With no Xbox One or PC, Cuphead was one of those games for me. Happily though, due to the current close relationship between Nintendo and Microsoft, Cuphead came to the Switch last week, and let me tell you, it’s one hell of a ride.
For those of you who have, like me, kind of ignored Cuphead under the assumption that you’ll never play it, Cuphead is the game that looks like a Fleischer/Disney cartoon from the 30’s but it plays like Gunstar Heroes. While there are a few platforming levels, the meat of the game, the big main course, are some of the most interesting and well-rounded bosses I’ve fought in a 2D game for ages.
The game opens with Cuphead and Mugman losing a pretty big bet with the Devil, so in order to repay their debt they need to hunt down others that owe the Beast and batter them until they sign over their souls. It’s a neat little idea and it sets up what is essentially a banging boss rush game.
So let’s talk about these bosses; charming, beautiful, frustrating, fair.
Each encounter allows you to try it out in an easier mode (although it won’t progress the story) to give you a taste of move sets and patterns, but the real game begins as soon as you try them on the normal setting. While the playable characters are perfectly charming and pretty iconic, the bosses are where you openly see the influence of some of the more surreal Fleischer cartoons. Early bosses like Djimmi the Great and Ribby and Croaks are unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a game before and although at first they seem impossible, every boss has a tipping point where suddenly everything clicks together.
In another neat twist, the bosses don’t get a health bar, but as you damage them they begin to cycle through their different stages and when you die, and you will die, you can see how close you’re getting to the end of the fight. It helps to keep you in the moment rather than constantly focusing on the health of the boss – something that I could probably use in Sekiro to be honest.
In case you’re getting absolutely bammed up by boss after boss, you can earn coins by completing the wee platforming levels and funnel them into different upgrades that can increase your health or gain invincibility while dodging. It’s a nice wee touch, but those levels are just as hard as the boss fights and sometimes harder, so I’ve only got like five coins and I frittered them away pretty quickly.
I’ve yet to play the game in co-op, so I can’t say whether it’s better or worse than the single-player experience, but I can say that my only real criticism of the game is the fucking name. I get that the main character is called Cuphead, but I can imagine the look of polite disinterest on people’s faces when you say what you’re playing right now.
My mother-in-law, Shirley: So, what are you playing on your Nintendo?
Me, her son-in-law: I’m playing this newish game called Cuphead. It’s a shooting game that looks like cartoons from the 30’s.
The mother of the love of my life: Would anyone like more lasagne?
So maybe I shouldn’t have been playing it during dinner, but still, I think the name is the problem. Yes, I’m fine, thanks for asking.