‘Cuphead’ delivers stunning visuals, difficulty

Andrew Shermoen

“Cuphead,” also known as the game with so much charm that despite its main goal of ripping your heart out and crushing it between its unforgiving hands you still want to thank it for the experience.

You play as Cuphead, the eponymous lead character and gambling addicted young lad with a particularly odd cranium. After one too many dice rolls, Cuphead (and his brother Mugman who is controlled in the game’s co-op mode) become indebted to the Devil himself. 

In order to avoid selling their immortal souls, they opt to collect on the contracts of all of the Devil’s other debtors instead. Cuphead embarks on a perilous journey to locate the monsters who must pay the ultimate price, and hopefully Cuphead can acquire the strength to beat the master of trickery himself.

“Cuphead” is built around extensive and incredibly varied boss fights. The general gameplay loop is simple: pick a boss, shoot, jump, dash and parry until your fingers bleed.

If you want to succeed in “Cuphead,” you’ll need to seriously master every aspect of Cuphead’s kit. These bosses are hard, but they are fair. When you fail, you know it’s your fault and not just an overpowered boss.

 Each boss battle is packed with new, exciting and varied combat that keeps you always guessing and learning to develop new strategies to help you defeat the more than 20 bosses that make up the game’s central loop.

Outside of the normal boss battles, the game also has multiple platforming, run n’ gun levels as you have to progress through increasingly difficult levels heavily saturated with enemies and dangerous obstacles. These levels are just as varied, difficult and fun as the boss battles, but lack the cinematic appeal of the superior boss fights.

No matter which part of the game you’re in, the big draw of “Cuphead” is, of course, its absolutely beautiful visuals based on classic 1930s cartoons. Every frame of the game was meticulously hand-drawn, its overworld for navigating which levels to tackle is painted in watercolor with a measured hand. Every frame of animation is beautiful and packed with joie de vivre.

The overall difficulty of “Cuphead” often makes for a frustrating experience, but the game never reaches the point of being truly infuriating due its charming character designs, beautiful animation, breathtaking jazz score and impressive attention to detail. Even when you’re struggling, you can’t help but have fun.

“Cuphead” isn’t perfect, though. The game’s artistic design oftentimes gets in the way of accurately communicating the presence of items that deal damage to you. Parts of the unique scenery of “Cuphead” get placed in the foreground of the game screen, which often obstructs your view of attacks that would otherwise be easily avoidable.

Colorfully vibrant, fantastically difficult and infectiously fun, “Cuphead” is a definite must-play for this year. That being said, “Cuphead” is an intimidating experience not only because of its difficulty, but because a large portion of the game’s fandom will bully those who aren’t experts at the game. Don’t let them affect your experience, though. Throw yourself into the game and enjoy the whimsical ride.