Review: Cuphead is needlessly difficult

Cuphead is a throwback to the classic run and gun action games and features a dramatically different look than any game you’ve played this year. This 1930s style, 2D...

Cuphead is a throwback to the classic run and gun action games and features a dramatically different look than any game you’ve played this year. This 1930s style, 2D animation side scroller is created using techniques similar to the hand-drawn cel animation with watercolour backgrounds of the era, combined with a crazy jazz soundtrack. All of these elements come together for an incredibly successful asthetic that feels fresh and unique.

When you play Cuphead, you need to be prepared to die, a lot. While its easy to think of Cuphead as a casual game you’ll pick up and play for 5 minutes here and there, in reality, the game is hard and requires a high level of determination to persist through the pain to feel the satisfaction of winning when you finally work out the correct sequence.

That’s ultimately how this game is played. Trial and error, work out how the game is programmed to sequence enemies and bosses. Once you have, you’ll be able to success and because its hard, when you finally do, its incredibly rewarding.

Already after just a week on the market, Cuphead has sold more than million copies, so clearly people were hyped by the game.

Gameplay

You play as Cuphead or Mugman (in single player or local co-op) unlocking new areas of the map as you complete different levels. You’ll also want to grab as much gold as you can during the levels (another challenge while you’re desperately trying not to die.

This gold can be taken to the Shop to exchange for weapon upgrades which make the game substantially more interesting and seem slightly more possible as you up your firepower. It was definitely a breakthrough when I realised you could hold down the fire button and amo limits weren’t a consideration.

Traversing your way through strange worlds, you’ll also learn powerful super moves to help you avoid the enemy attacks. The levels themselves are incredibly diverse and while difficult, are something you just can’t help but admire as a piece of art. Combined with the music and film grain, you feel immersed in a different time and not since Bioshock have I really felt that in a modern game. When you break down the visuals, there’s layer after layer of level backgrounds, objects you can stand on, jump to, as well as the enemy sequences and animation loops, there really are thousands of small elements that a required to create an experience like this. For this, the developers should be applauded.

In terms of that difficulty, there’s really only two options, hard and harder. Technically the selection ahead of each level is Simple or Regular, but seriously, they’re both hard. If you have an addictive personality, chances are you’ll take this difficulty as a challenge and won’t put down the game until you succeed.

 

Price & Availability

Cuphead is available for just A$29.95, pretty rare for a new game in 2017. As an Xbox Play Anywhere title, I found myself often picking it up on the Xbox and the PC, which adds to the playability and ultimately the value for money.

but there’s only one way to play and that’s with a controller. It is technically possible to play on the keyboard, but he control scheme is so broken, that the controller is the only practical way to play.

 

Overall

The developers of Cuphead, Studio MDHR made a decision about the difficulty that I think they’ll end up regretting. As beautifully designed as this game is, I think the easy mode should be easy for kids or casual gamers to pickup and have some success at. This was the art of something like Super Mario Bros when I was growing up. When a game is too difficult, its far too easy for gamers to be turned off and leave the game for other titles.

If you’re a hardcore gamer, then I think its hard to imagine this graphic style really appeals to you if you’re fresh out PUBG or Forza 7. Essentially this all boils down to a relatively small target market who’ll spend significant time in this game. The early sales figures are certainly promising, but sales are not the wholy grail for modern games. Its the monthly active user numbers that really demonstrate ongoing success. I suspect this game will fade fast in the ultra-competitive gaming market.

At the end of the day, the game is $30, which is far easier to stomach if you only get 10 hours out of it than a normal $100+ price tag. I’d actually love to play this game on the Nintendo Switch, as the casual nature of picking it up from the coffee table and playing a level during the ad break would be a great fit in my life. For now at least, its just Xbox and PC.

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Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis.