+Astoundingly well done audio and visual designs leading to a truly authentic experience
+Boss levels are never the same with bosses each featuring their own mechanics as their fights proceed
+Customizable controls are a delight to have and offer players a way to build the games control scheme to match what they prefer.
-Insanely difficult no matter what difficulty you choose a mission on
-Controls without customizing are a nuisance and do not play in the favor of the player.
When I first heard about Studio MDHR’s Cuphead it wasn’t off to a good start. Rather, the journalist involved at the time wasn’t off to a good start. So I tuned in, watched the video and realized his struggles weren’t going to be as nail-bitingly bad as my own. Regardless, to state, the rumors surrounding the games difficulty are real and the game is absolutely one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.
In truth, this is by far one of the most punishing games I’ve ever played. Transitioning from the likes of titles such as Warframe and Forza 7, I’ve had a tough time readjusting to the side-scrolling chaos that is Cuphead. It’s a game that has since relentlessly beat me upside the head only to roll me down a burning mountain while covered in tar. Needless to say, this 1930s-style animated world is a delight and it’s one that has been meticulously crafted to fit the art style Studio MDHR has chosen. It’s one that is rich in color, near pitch perfect if you will and even serves as a delight to fans wanting a marvelous experience.
But more importantly, lets get down to discussing performance. Since our review is on an Xbox One with an Xbox One Elite Controller, so lets take a peek at what’s under the hood.
Lets Talk Graphics and Performance
In a recent change to really hammer out what a game is about and how well it’s developed, we’ve started by tearing a game down bit by bit and ultimately seeing what kind of fleshy bits are beneath the surface. Due to the nature of one such game that requires a minimal of an Nvidia GTX 670 on PC, we decided to take this in account when staring down at the Xbox One and seeing just how well it performs.
Much to our surprise, Cuphead manages to hold up quite well. Frame rates never once dipped below their 60 FPS mark, nor did they ever even show a stutter even during the games most intensive moments. Even as the game serves as an homage to all things classically animated, it can be hard to ensure a solid performance with some rendering tools and it seems Studio MDHR did a fine job.
Because of how smooth it runs – no dynamic resolution enabled or required – Cuphead is a marvelous game. It’s watercolor style backgrounds absolutely pop to life no matter what type of screen you are on. Accent this with a classic touch of “color bleed” and film grain crackling and you have one of the most authentic experiences around. But that does bring up a specific topic. Character designs. Do they stick true to the era that inspired the game?
Much to our surprise, they actually do and they do so quite well. So much so that you’d almost wonder if Sailor Jerry himself had helped bring this game to life. After all, the octopus inspired boss herself seems like something the man created himself. Every character, every animation and every ounce of the game feels like a labor of love by Studio MDHR. Even the games shop keep named Porkrind feels like someone Porky Pig may have known back during his heyday.
Even bosses are distinctively different from one another, but as stated, none of them variate from the accentuated style of art. Long story short, the art style is masterfully well done. So-much-so that MDHR should be recognized because of it and even given a round of applause when said and done. But even with the art style being prominently well done, what about audio? Does the audio even deliver as much as an immersive experience as the graphics, animations and performance?
Lets talk about that amazingly well done audio.
When it comes to audio, Studio MDHR knocks it out of the ballpark. Never once did anything feel off when it came to Cuphead and the audio design they’ve implemented. Whether it’s the soft whistling of an enemy explosive, the sounds of enemies flenching at each of Cuphead’s shots hitting an enemy, igniting a soft ‘pop” type sound.
What’s even more astonishing is everything sounds as if it fits. The narrator’s voice even sounds dated, something you’d see in animated cartoons coming from the 40’s or 50’s. Let alone does this level of authenticity match the graphics and animations, it’s quite the joy to see when in action. Luckily for us, the soundtrack itself is a delight and something quite enjoyable on its own.
For fans of music, the soft crescendo of jazz-like songs are quite welcome and do differ from today’s more metal-meets-electronic-eccentric scores. Even though the audio quality itself is superb, it doesn’t go without stating that some sounds do come in to soft and can be rather hard for players to hear. Sometimes it almost doesn’t sound like Cuphead’s shots fired don’t affect those enemies before him, making one almost wonder if they will hit or if they have even hit at all.
While audio is quite enjoyable we do have to look at something a bit more important. Gameplay.
Bouncing, shooting, dodging, and platform galore – Lets talk gameplay.
Gameplay is interesting on its own. The game takes from multiple genres, combines them into one and brings them to a masterfully well crafted experience. Starting out, players are given a chance to look at the world via an overworld. In this overworld players can talk with random strangers ranging from a coin-looking gentlemen, Porkrind, a character designed around being a pig and even other unique little fella’s.
To start missions, players will have to wonder off to a spot that includes one, usually indicated with a flag or a “mission difficulty” select that pops up when selected. But the mix of missions vary. Some will range from drastic multi-phased boss fights to simple platforming stages where enemies will dart across the level, collecting coins, and ultimately finding their way to the end to trigger an event that influences the overworld itself.
But what’s more interesting is the fact that parrying pink projectiles takes place throughout the course of the game. If players can initiate a parry just right, they can increase their special energy for a secondary attack. For Cuphead this can variate between the special attack select including a hefty blast attack that hits enemies multiple times or even shotgun like blasts in close range. Whatever your preferred style is, just remember, some loadouts are better than others for every encounter. What works on one boss may not work on another and vice versa.
Luckily for us there is an option to back out of the boss fight or stage if you lose, equip a new attack and even spend your coins. Just remember, purchases should be done with caution. You want to spend your money wisely and ensure that the ones you do purchase will benefit you more than the others.
However, what about bosses? Do they change their attacks, behaviors and tactics against players during each phase? The answer is surprisingly one of its own. Yes. Yes they do. Every boss feels like multiple stages in one. One, early in the game, shows this off by having players take on a duo of frogs. Starting out in their fight, the fight seems rather straight forward. One of the frogs throws ranged attack based punches, another spits fireflies, but something quickly changes after just a few minutes of Cuphead’s delivered blows.
The bosses change how they fight. The smaller more boxer looking one tucks himself up quickly into a ball before darting at the player. Once having done so, players are opted into a secondary fight, one where one of the frogs is on one side and the other on the other side. One blasting orbs at the player while the other attempts to blow them back into the orbs themselves. A third party of the fight should be seen shortly after where another fight ensues.
This one requires players to dodge, duck, dive, and even parry their way through it until they defeat the combined frogs that turned into a slot machine. Another fight includes Hilda Berg – a historical nod towards the Hindenburg – who enters the fray with entirely new mechanics.
This time around you’ll find yourself navigating her fight in a plane, utilizing different mechanics and a need for quick fingers and a steady hand. Her phases are unique, but never change the fact that players will have to avoid entirely new mechanics including her using her Taurus form to turn constellations into brutal attacks or her moon form that sees players her star themed attacks of death and destruction.
But even with the games overall mechanics that alter from stage to stage and boss to boss; Cuphead does have some rather problematic issues at its very core.
Even with wishing upon a shooting star, there are some issues that need addressed.
Lets face it. Cuphead is an amazing game, so amazing that it has quickly grown in popularity due to its brutal difficulty, but that is the problem. Its difficulty isn’t welcoming to everyone. Gamers that are unsuspecting to what the game is about may not find this experience enjoyable at all. While each stage does offer a slightly “easy” mode, it’s still hard and it is still rather unforgiving.
This difficulty scale is unprecedented in the modern era of gaming. While some of the worlds record holders have beat the game within the 20-30 minute mark, it doesn’t mean everyone will and it doesn’t mean the faint of heart will be able to truck their way through it easily. It’s brutal, it’s unforgiving, and it’s even sent myself into fits of rage that I’d never had during my time with the Dark Souls or even Soulsborne genre of games.
But another issue is the controls. The stock controls are ghastly. For fans of shooters, they aren’t easy to learn and they are even harder to master. Unless you have an Xbox One Elite Controller, like I do, the buttons in the stock game will need quickly altered to fit your preferences. For me this meant changing shooting to my RT (Right Trigger) while making my dodge button map to RB and my aim button LT. My alternate attack was mapped to “X” since I rarely used it due to the special attack having to be charged up.
While to some these remapped controls may not make sense, they did help me get around a bit easier, but it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. That still doesn’t help the fact the stock controls are a mess and contributed quite a bit to my overall frustrations. Even fans of the game have taken to the popular forum Reddit to suggest players do the exact same thing as I have.
Another issue is cooperative play. When on console we did find moments where the game would log out my guest, requiring them to put their Windows Live account on my console before logging in so that we may play. But that doesn’t take away from the games enjoyability, but it does highlight a minor frustration with the game.
Cuphead – Xbox One and PC
Developer: Studio MDHR
Publisher: Studio MDHR
Release Date: Now Available
While it’s hard not to state how painstakingly hard Cuphead is, it doesn’t mean that the game isn’t hard nor does it mean that the game should be ignored. In truth, Studio MDHR has seemingly put a lot of love, a lot of time, and a lot more thought into this game than most Triple-A games seem to receive in the current day. With bosses that appeal to players as multiple stages in one, each bringing their own unique approach to a fight, and ultimately a well thought out design; Cuphead certainly proves to be a diamond in the rough.
The question is – is the difficulty worth justifying the 20 dollar purchase? That’s for you to decide.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.