By HARRY FISHER
In September 2017, the independent game development team Studio MDHR blew the minds of gamers and animation fans everywhere when they released their first game, “Cuphead.” After almost two years of being an Xbox One and PC exclusive, “Cuphead” has finally made the jump to the Nintendo Switch, giving more gamers access to it than ever before. The game combines the old-school “shoot-em-up” style of games like “Contra” and “Metal Slug” with hand-drawn animation in the style of classic 1930’s cartoons like Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop.
The game’s story revolves around Cuphead and his brother Mugman, who gamble against the Devil in his casino and lose, at the cost of their souls. He offers them a deal, telling them that if they gather up the soul contracts of his other debtors, he’ll consider sparing them. Their mentor, the Elder Kettle, gives them some potions that give them super powers, and they set off to battle against all the people in the land of Inkwell Isle who owe the Devil a debt.
The thing that immediately sticks out about the game is its visual style. The hand-drawn animation is absolutely astounding, and it perfectly captures that bouncy, energetic look of 1930’s cartoons. Cuphead and Mugman have great character designs very reminiscent of old-school Mickey Mouse. As for the other characters in the game, they all look unique, as if each of them came from a different cartoon, but they all still fit perfectly within the world of the game.
Since all the characters you fight are people who made deals with the Devil in exchange for crazy powers, naturally they all have delightfully outrageous concepts and designs, like a candy princess with an army of living desserts or a pair of frogs with boxing gloves who morph into a slot machine. The outrageousness of the game’s characters only adds to its charm, and even the jazzy soundtrack serves to make the game feel like a product of the 1930s.
Gameplay-wise, the game is essentially a series of boss fights. In each world, the player will have a handful of characters to defeat, and the world can’t be passed until all the boss characters are defeated. You can take on the game by yourself as either Cuphead or Mugman, but a second player can also join in as they other character.
In each level, the players will battle a boss with a variety of projectiles that the two cups can fire from their fingers. New weapons and other useful powers can be unlocked by collecting coins and purchasing them in a shop, and super moves can be obtained by beating certain bonus levels in the game’s overworld.
These upgrades are essential, because this game is brutally hard. The player is only given three health points, and you lose one every time you take a hit, so beating a stage requires focus, determination and a willingness to keep dying over and over again until you know a boss’s attacks by heart. Not to mention that every boss has multiple phases with many different attacks, so the game will certainly keep you on your toes.
With two players, it’s even harder. Not only do the bosses take more damage to compensate for two players, but both players have to keep track of each other, giving them each one more thing to focus on in addition to the projectiles flying around on-screen. However, players can revive each other when they die if they act fast enough, and playing this game with another person will ultimately take some of the edge off of its soul-crushing difficulty.
Since the Switch is the most versatile game system ever made in terms of controls, there are now a variety of ways you can play “Cuphead.” You can play it the standard way, with two Joy Cons placed in a controller or held separately, or you can play the game in handheld mode with the Joy Cons on the side of the screen. Also, since the Switch is portable, you can now play the game on-the-go, and even have two-player sessions with each player using a single Joy Con. The game already has great controls that you can customize any way you like, but the fact that you can now play it on-the-go with any control style you want only enhances the experience.
Despite its brutal difficulty, Cuphead is a game that I would recommend to anyone. Its great controls make it easy to pick up and play, and you will quickly find that you will want to keep playing no matter how many times you die, just to see what form of insanity you’re going to have to fight next. Additionally, all versions of the game are being given an update with brand new features and animations, making now the perfect time to start playing this amazing throwback to the golden age of animation.