Cuphead (2017)

Cuphead is a game that was shown for about 3 seconds in a montage of other games coming out at E3 years ago, out of that 3 seconds of footage, a collective gasp of excitement was claimed by everyone who saw it. It was one of the most unique looking video games that anyone has ever seen. Actually it barely looked like a video game. Years later after multiple delays, it’s finally out for us to actually see what Cuphead is. And what is it?... It’s one of the best run and gun/Boss Rush games ever created. Think of a more cartoony contra and you have a rough idea of what Cuphead is all about. It’s about 80% bosses with 15% Run and Gun levels to break up the monotony of just killing bosses. Then the other 5% is a littering of a hub world, shops and a mini-game of sorts to help save  a ghost by swatting other ghosts away as they try to capture it. Cuphead seems like no other game I have ever played before, but also has a sense of familiarity to it as well. Maybe it is partially because the artstyle of the game is so reminiscent of memories of sitting in front of a TV and having The King Of Cartoons play old public domain Fleischer studio animated cartoons on a Saturday morning. Maybe it reminds me a bit of hunkered down in my room with my cousin stealing lives from each other as we try to conquer the first couple of levels of Contra. Whatever it is, it is both old and new at the same time.

Cuphead’s greatest achievement (in my mind) is not the way it looks, although it nails it perfectly. But it is the way it has gotten me into a Boss Rush game that is more hardcore than the visuals lead you to believe. For the majority of the game, I was enthralled with how amazingly complex the bosses were, with multiple phases that each require a new approach on how to conquer them. Nothing, up until a giant robot boss, ever seemed “unfair”. Everything was always a planned and thought-out attack on me and nothing seemed random. Sure, when restarting a boss would change up the formations in a way to keep it from being super predictable, but again, everything seemed fair. Up until the robot boss.

The huge Robot boss is one of the few bosses that actually take place as a side-scrolling shoot ‘em up level, which again breaks up the game a bit to make it more than just a “ending of a Mega Man game”. The boss itself is multi-tiered with you focusing on three separate parts of his body that are trying to kill you. Once that is done, it now breaks down and spawns different attacks… but one in particular, which is a deathbomb that seeks you out until it is blown up.Not only does it take away a life point, but also blows up and creates a large area that shocks you too, which can be large enough to actually hurt you again, costing you 2 out of your 3 hitpoints, and this is also one of the longest bosses in the game too. So that one heatseeking bomb is the real only issue that I have with the game.

The run and gun levels really do feel like a breath of fresh air to break up the boss rush mode and also to allow you the chance to pick up coins to spend in the store. The store will offer upgrades and new weapon types that can be only changed out in the hub world, so if a certain strategy doesn’t work on a boss, you can back out and change up your weapons and skills to try and attack him differently. Which is really nice, but I found most of the upgrades and weapons didn’t really affect my playstyle and I could easily just keep the original weapon with a secondary Charge shot and every boss would succumb to my sheer will and talent.

Cuphead is a game that can be enjoyed by anyone, if it is too hard for you to play, you can surely enjoy the aesthetic and the beautiful animation this game has to offer at least. I waited years for this game and after hearing it was a hardcore boss rush game, I was a bit disappointed, but after playing it, it easily tops my games that I played this year and holds a special place in my heart as a Hardcore game done right. It’s not too hard, but challenging in all the right ways. When you finally defeat a boss, it is a sense of accomplishment and joy that I don’t get with something like Dark Souls, where I felt the boss battles were mostly cheap and annoying.