Cuphead is a Run and Gun independent video game developed by Studio MDHR. It was released in 2017 and is available on Xbox One, PC, Mac, and the Nintendo Switch. In the game, Cuphead and his brother Mugman enter The Devil’s Casino. While on a winning streak playing Craps, The Devil offers to raise the stakes for the two. If they win one more roll, they win all the money in the casino. Otherwise, the devil gets their souls if they lose. Cuphead rolls snake eyes and loses. As Cuphead and Mugman beg for their souls, the devil makes a deal with them. Go and collect the “soul contracts” from runaway debtors, and he might let them keep theirs.
The following article contains spoilers from this point on.
This was one game that I was following since it was announced in 2014. It looked really ambitious that a company was trying to make a video game with a hand-drawn animation style. We had games like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace before, but those game were primary FMV or Full Motion Video. Games that you press the joystick/controller or button in the correct direction and at the right time to progress in the story. While released on Xbox One and PC for almost two years now, I purposely stayed away from this game due to achievements might being a nightmare to collect. I do have a bad habit of trying to complete video games and get achievements for my gamerscore on Xbox live. I try to complete at least 70-80% of a game’s achievements at least, but it usually hit or miss goal I achieve. When it was announced in March of 2018 that Cuphead was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I smiled with relief and had felt really happy about the announcement. I could play the game without worry about the anxiety and frustration of unlocking achievements. I usually wait till a video game is on sale before I buy it, but I made a big exception for this game. It’s only $20, which is a fair price for this game.
I really like this game. Everything about the game feels like I’m controlling a cartoon from the 1930s. It controls great and is easy to pick up, play, and enjoy. But it is not an easy game at all. There is a reason that this Run and gun game is in the “bullet hell” category. You are frequently shot at in this game with, sometimes, a tiny window or area to dodge attacks. There are familiar patterns you can learn and erratic patterns that make you move either at the last minute or run into the enemy fire unintentionally. It a game that’s hard and frustrating, but it’s not a rage inducing game I’d quit and never pick up again. I surprisingly kept a cool head while playing the game. Most likely because I knew each time after I failed, I knew how far I had gotten to defeating that boss. If you get killed by your foe, you get a progress meter of how far you got before you beat them. This is a surprisingly good motivator of how close that you are to defeating your foe and wanting to defeat them.
The game visuals are the big draw for this game. The creators of the game wanted us to feel like we were watching a 1930’s cartoon. Everything in the game looks like it’s hand drawn and even has a grainy look and feel. There is a considerable influence of the “rubber hose style” of animation. Rubber hose animation is term arms, and sometimes legs are simple flowing curves without articulation. If you need a modern day equivalent, think of something like the animated cartoon Adventure Time. The visuals and the sound definitely hit their mark. I feel like I was playing a 1930s cartoon. Taking inspiration from Max Fleisher and Walt Disney style animation from the 1930s but more towards the Max Fleischer style of animation if you set the game in black and white. The name is even a near perfect character name of what someone would name them in the 1930s. Names like Sally Stageplay, Goopy Le Grande, Cagney Carnation and Werner Werman with name alliteration; Hilda Berg, Cala Maria, whose names are plays on Hindenburg and Calamari. Even the story could pass for the 1930s. A couple of cups lose their soul to the devil and save to save them by collecting other souls from debtors ranging from vegetables, humans, genies, giant birds, and even a train. It sounds like a surreal cartoon story that could have been created.
Another significant aspect of the game is the music. The music is composed by Kristofer Maddigan and really gives it an extra punch of that 1930s cartoon feel. The music style and theme range from Barbershop, Big Band, and Jazz Music. There is a lot of excellent music to listen to. The sound effects are something that sounds authentic as they were made up in a sound studio for the 1930s. The creators did go an extra mile to make it seem like this video game could have existed in the 1930s, and it shows.
There are three Inkwell Islands and the final level Inkwell Hell. You start on Inkwell Island one and must work your way to Inkwell Hell where King Dice and The Devil wait. You can’t progress from each Inkwell Islands until you defeat the boss of each section on the island and get their soul contracts. The game starts out very linear, but beating a debtor or two opens up a new part of the island. You can even revisit each boss and try to increase your grade. Inkwell island one and two does have a secret path that only allows you to get to the next section of the island sooner. It would have been nice to have free range in these islands, but it’s okay as it doesn’t take much to open up the whole island once you defeat a boss or level.
Each boss that you fight in the game starts out simple enough. But as the battle goes on, the debtor will change shape, and their attack patterns become more difficult. You are really kept on your toes with each boss. Since you don’t have a health meter for the boss, you don’t know when they are going to go through a transformation. It can get nerve-wracking as you feverishly try to be the boss if you’re down to your last hit point, but once you get that knockout to appear on the screen, nothing is more satisfying that you took them down. You are graded after you beat a boss with how many hit points you have left, the number of special attacks you used, and how many parries you performed. The grades rank from C being the lowest to A+ being the highest. There is an S-Rank if you complete all of the requirements in the course on Expert.
You get three hits before you are killed. You have unlimited lives in the game. You have a standard bullet to start, and you can also parry pink or enemies attacks. You do this by jumping and hitting the parry button as you are on top of the pink object. As you defeat enemies or hit the bosses with your attacks, you can build up a super meter, represented by a card on the bottom of the screen. You can have up to five cards built up at one time. You can purchase power-ups, or charms as they are called in the game from Porkgrind’s Emporium. The coins that you collect in the run and gun levels can be used to purchase these items. They can be weapons like a spread fire or chaser and other power-ups like more hits before you are killed or an auto parry where your first pink object you jump on is a parry. This all helps to balance the game out considerably. Where one gun and ability would work well with one boss, another weapon and ability would work better with another.
Besides the boss battles, there are several run and gun stages. They provide some more variety to the game and a challenge that can match the difficulty of the boss battles as well. There are also coins that you can collect to buy power-ups at One thing that I wished was available was a flying stage. The only time you are flying is in the boss battle. The run and gun stages are excellent and challenging. It would have been fun to have a scrolling flying level in the game. There are coins that you can collect in the stages that you can use to purchase power up. There is also a challenge that if you beat all of the run and gun levels in the game without firing a shot, you can get a P ranking or Pacifist Rank. As of this article, I haven’t beaten one level with this requirement yet.
After beating the debtors and make it to Inkwell Hell, you have to fight King Dice, before fighting The Devil. This is different from the other boss battles as you could have to fight up to nine other enemies at most, or three at the least. It’s an homage to a level in the game Gunstar Heroes as this played out similarly. King dice release a dice you can parry and move on the board with up to three. You don’t get a health refill after you beat King Dice minion, but some spaces have a heart that will give you an extra hit point. It’s the most tricky part of the game. One thing I wasn’t warned about is the board can be randomized each time you play it. So the first time you expect a heart to with a minion, it won’t be there the next time you play but on another minion that might be more difficult. This is the most challenging part of the game, I thought. If you die, you start back at the beginning of the board. There is a start over space with sucks cause it can send you back to the beginning of the board. However, defeated enemies won’t come back, so you don’t have to worry about fighting time again.
There are also 3 Superpower attacks that you can learn and acquire in the game. These are attacks you can use once you fill your super meter with all five cards. On each island is a mausoleum and you must protect an urn from pink ghosts trying to get to the urn. After you defeat a set amount of ghosts, you free the spirit of the Legendary Chalice. She gives you one of three different Super Arts or special attacks. Each attack or ability is either an energy beam firing liquid from the head of the player horizontally, temporary invulnerability for a few seconds or giant ghost, a ghost counterpart of yourself spinning around and damages your opponent as it turns around. Currently, my favorite is an energy beam and invulnerability as I have yet to master that last attack. There is another special attack you get with the flying section of the game.
There are other special attacks you get when fighting a boss on the flying stages. With one card you launch a linear missile at you enemy. At five cards, you get to turn into a superbomb. You can charge at your enemy and attack them literally head-on attack. Upon impact and a BOOM animatic, you gain temporary invincibility.
You can purchase power-ups, or charms as they are called in the game from Porkgrind’s Emporium. The coins that you collect in the run and gun levels can be used to purchase these items. They can be weapons like a spread fire or chaser and other power-ups like more hits before you are killed or. Each gun is fun to use, and it’s great to figure out with combination will work the best. The two that I like to use is the Spread and roundabout as they seem to be the best weapons in the game for me. I can knock out most of the boss in the game with these items.
I feel that everything is excellent with the game, I’m just perplexed with some of the story aspects in the game. One thing I wondered about while playing was why the bosses you were fighting were in debt with the devil, to begin with? You aren’t given any context as to why you are going after them, just the announcer saying a pre phrased line and followed up with go. The premise of the game doesn’t need to have elaborate backstories for each character that you fight, and I get that. I just can’t help but wonder what these characters who you are fighting with did to cause them to sell their souls go into debt with the devil. I can understand the more logical ones, like Sally Stageplay (become a famous theater actress), The root pack (big vegetables probably to win at a county fair), and Rumor Honeybottoms (to be a queen bee). But then you get some characters that I just can’t understand what they sold their souls for. Werner Werman traded his soul for a tank in a can of Soup? Wally Warbles wanted to be bigger than his birdhouse? To the point, he could be crushing his son to death? Captain Brineybeard wanted a living ship? I’m don’t even know what Goopy Le Grande was also going for. I’m not that upset, and I’m trying not to nitpick with this point, I’m using trying to wrap my head around what these characters could have sold their souls for and caused them to be in debt.
Also when you get to Inkwell Island Two Elder Kettle, the watchful guardian of Cuphead and Mugman will tell you to do the right thing when you reach the devil. Would the right thing be to hand over the contracts to the devil? These debtors obviously owed the devil, so it’s only right for Cuphead and Mugman to give the devil the soul contracts. I question who that’s not the proper ending and bad ending. I know that the devil is the final boss, and the right thing is to free the boss from the devil’s debt. I just wonder why this all is.
Hopefully next time I’ll have The Delicious Course DLC content played through and actually have beaten all the Expert by then. If you got anything else for me, you could leave a comment below.
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