Well, Cuphead and his pal Mugman
They like to roll the dice.
By chance they came ‘pon Devil’s game
And gosh, they paid the price, paid the price…
That little jingle ostensibly tells you everything you need to know before jumping into Cuphead, the action platformer extravaganza. After losing a bet, Cuphead and his brother Mugman are sent to literally do the devil’s work, collecting the Soul Contracts of other Inkwell inhabitants that haven’t paid their dues. Just from the single image above, Cuphead’s uniqueness quickly becomes apparent, even to those unfamiliar with the medium. The game’s aesthetics religiously capture that 1930s style of visuals and animation we’ve come to love and adore. It’s hard to put into words just how endearing this game is when in motion, so this time I recorded a short gameplay demonstration.
Carnival Kerfuffle occurs about halfway through the game. Watching the boss evolve and shuffle between so many distinct, vivid animations is truly a sight to behold. Despite it being a video game, every component of the world meshes together to make what could easily be part of a classic Disney short. While most of the levels are boss fights like the one above, there are a couple run-and-gun levels stitched in to change up the pacing.
As you can probably see, Cuphead’s cute aesthetics are in direct opposition to its own difficulty. You WILL die… Lots. But the game is never unfair. After each death, a progress meter appears to show you how close (or far) you were from victory. This feedback makes it easy for the player to track their inevitable progress throughout Inkwell’s many perils.
From beginning to end, Cuphead offers an immaculate blend of visuals, gameplay, and originality. I never found myself bored or frustrated. And let’s not forget the sound design… The tunes scattered about Inkwell will have you humming and snapping your fingers louder than the last time you listened to Hakuna Matata.
This isn’t a formal review, so I’m not ending with a score this time. Trust me, you’ll be hearing about Cuphead again in my Game of the Year write-up.