Microsoft bringing one of their best exclusives of 2018 over to the Nintendo Switch might seem like a peculiar move, but it’s one that can only be seen as a good thing: it highlights their strong relationship with Nintendo and also allows gamers to experience the joys of Cuphead whilst on the go. I mean, we ALL want to partake in challenging boss-rush gameplay on our morning commutes, right?
Thankfully, developer StudioMDHR have done a great job with the port, with Cuphead proving to be just as challenging and fun as it was when it originally released. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the thumb-busting showdowns feel more at home on Nintendo’s console than they do on the Xbox One – even if the overwhelming nature of the game can be a little difficult to follow on the small screen at times.
Firstly, I think it’s imperative that I talk about Cuphead’s strongest point: its presentation. You know all those screenshots and videos that you’ve seen of the game where it actually manages to look just like a classic cartoon from the 30s? Well, it’s exactly the same in-game, with all of the action flowing perfectly and feeling exactly like you’re inside of an old Fleischer Studios or Disney animation. It’s just gushing with personality, whilst the film grain effect that’s layered over it all just adds to the authenticity. Honestly, it’s simply sublime – it really is one of the most impressive video games I’ve ever seen in motion.
Cuphead’s tale is based around the titular hero Cuphead and his brother Mugman, who after visiting the Devil’s Casino lose their souls in a bet. It’s not ideal, right? Fortunately, the Devil is a fine and fair fellow, and he promises the pair their souls back provided they can defeat the big bosses that owe him a debt. That’s no easy task though and, of course, the Devil always has a few tricks up his sleeve…
Gameplay is broken up into two sections: boss battles and run-and-gun platforming levels. The game was initially just a boss-rush experience, but after feedback StudioMDHR decided to add a bit more flesh to the game’s bones by giving players levels that felt more traditional. One thing remains consistent between both though, and that’s that they’re INCREDIBLY tough.
Boss battles are undoubtedly the highlight, with each one not only offering plenty of thrills-and-spills across their multiple phases but also proving to be an absolute blast to take down. There are nineteen bosses to battle in total and each one brings something different to the table, whether it’s the vicious flower Cagney Carnation and his deadly seeds, the pair of boxing frogs Ribby and Croaks, or the airborne Hilda Berg who you battle in a plane. With new phases that get introduced as the fight goes on and a wide range of attacks to send your way, they’ll really keep you on your toes as you look to pick your moment to strike and take them down.
They’re a heck of a lot of fun to battle, but let’s not forget that Cuphead is prolific for being a difficult game. There’s a learning curve in place and you’ll really have to study each boss’ moves and phases if you’re going to take them down. There will be times when you’re on top and on the cusp of victory though, only to find yourself killed by a move that’s seemingly come from nowhere and believe me, it can get frustrating. It’s the nature of the game though and it never feels unfair, with the player able to dust themselves off and try again straight away – albeit from the start of the showdown. The satisfaction of finally overcoming a tough boss though? You can’t top it.
The run-and-gun levels on the other hand don’t have the same appeal, though that’s not to say they’re not fun. They still look the part and do have some clever ideas thrown in, but they don’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen before and are guilty of being a touch unfair with some of the hazards they throw your way. It’s clear that more thought went into putting together the epic boss battles than it did putting together the platforming stages.
At least they give you coins to collect though, which are essential when it comes to upgrading Cuphead’s abilities and arsenal. You’re able to equip different weapons, attacks, and charms in the game, with each giving you something extra to improve your chance at success – it might be some additional health, a charge shot, a spreadshot, a smokebomb which allows you to dash without taking damage… there’s a heck of a lot to unlock. What I found was that certain weapons and charms would be more effective against different bosses too, so sometimes it’d be a case of mixing things up a bit to see what works best. Whatever approach you take, it’s clear there’s a lot of versatility on offer within Cuphead’s gameplay and that there’s a surprising amount of strategic thought required from the player if they’re going to survive.
There really is a lot to enjoy about Cuphead’s gameplay, but it’s some of the little details I appreciated the most. Things like the overworld which has characters to meet and secrets to uncover, the rankings at the end of battle that challenge you to better yourself, or just how responsive everything in the game feels – it’s clear that StudioMDHR put a lot of care and attention into ensuring that Cuphead is a unique experience that never stops being fun. Sure, gamers will see how titles like Megaman or Contra inspired it, but there’s no doubting that it is oozing in personality and has its own identity.
It’s just as fun to play in local co-op, with the second player taking on the role of Mugman. Sure, it can make everything feel overwhelmingly busy on-screen, but having that extra pair of hands to help take enemies down can make life easier. Also, if you’re quick enough you can revive each other when fallen, which is a massive advantage and can make some of the tougher boss battles a little less difficult.
It all feels great to play on the Nintendo Switch, with the graphics looking as vibrant as ever and the game performing well throughout. However, the hectic nature of the experience can make playing in portable mode a little difficult at times. There’s so much action going on at once and sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the bullets, baddies, and platforms that you’re bouncing between. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not impossible (I played through the entire game this way), but it can make things a little trickier.
Not only is Cuphead an utterly gorgeous game, but it’s also one that just so happens to be a blast to play. Sure, it can be tough, but when you vanquish one of the many colourful foes you take on in epic showdowns it’s incredibly satisfying, whilst the different items and weapons you can equip add a much-appreciated strategic touch to proceedings too. It’s just a finely crafted game that has clearly had a lot of love put into it.
Cuphead might be a surprise addition to the Nintendo Switch’s catalogue of games, but it’s certainly a fantastic one that gamers simply HAVE to play.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC