PC releases aside, Cuphead was initially an Xbox One exclusive. Thanks to the growing relationship between Microsoft and Nintendo, however, the game has finally found its way to Nintendo Switch! Cuphead is known for its signature visuals and challenging enemies. As the game approaches a more casual audience on Nintendo Switch, there are important questions to ask: how does the game hold up, and does its high difficulty level detract from the experience?
Hence its title, Cuphead’s plot revolves around Cuphead and Mugman, a pair of young brothers who lose a bet with the Devil and are forced to repay their debt by collecting Soul Contracts from residents of the Inkwell Isles. The story isn’t anything too exciting by today’s standards, but it does call back to the darker tones seen in cartoons from the 1930s. The player’s goal, then, is to triumph against rogue debtors in the form of challenging boss battles; several additional platforming levels make appearances as well.
Visuals & Audio
When you look at Cuphead for the first time, you’ll immediately notices its distinct visual style reminiscent of early-era cartoons. Each character was drawn and animated by hand to pack in as much personality as possible, and it shows in the final product. Cuphead and Mugman have quirky in-battle animations that complement their designs and every boss is teeming with style and exaggerated movement.
Cuphead’s audio stands just as tall, and its music fits perfectly with the game’s overall aesthetic. Each track includes classic instruments, and some even add a subtle grain effect to complete the experience. Several vocal tracks have been included as well, and I found each one to be quite catchy! They’re just as (if not more) fitting as the instrumental pieces.
Cuphead certainly excels in its visual and audio departments, but none of that matters if there isn’t a good game underneath — and in this case, there is! As mentioned earlier, most of the game’s levels take the form of challenging boss encounters. Each opponent randomly selects from a pool of unique attacks: this means players can memorize their enemies’ movements, but won’t know what order they’re coming in. Cuphead is known for its difficulty, and yes, its bosses are difficult, but not in a way that feels unfair to the player. It’s almost impossible to defeat a boss on the first try, but each additional attempt makes you feel like you’re making progress as you figure out where to dodge and what to expect. A few opponents even take to the skies, enabling Cuphead and Mugman to pilot and attack via small airplanes. This helps break up the repetition by mixing up gameplay, and the game’s core mechanics remain intact when airborne.
The game’s controls are fairly simple. In addition to running and jumping, Cuphead can snap his fingers really fast to fire small projectiles at enemies. This serves as his primary method of attack, and bosses need to be hit by a lot of these before going down. After landing several shots and filling a card meter, Cuphead can use a powered-up attack or special technique. Additional weapons and techniques can be purchased from a shop (using in-game currency) to customize the characters. Cuphead can also parry pink projectiles to earn extra points or perform a dash (either on the ground or in the air) to avoid attacks. The controls are simple enough to easily remember, but not so simple that players feel helpless against tough bosses. For players who do feel helpless against tough bosses, a “simple mode” is available that tones down the difficulty a smidgen. That being said, simple mode does not make the game easy; bosses are still objectively challenging and will take players many tries to defeat.
Local multiplayer is also available, in which one player controls Cuphead and the other controls Mugman. Cooperative play is a definite bonus for this game, as players can team up and revive each other if they’re struck out by an attack. The Nintendo Switch version of Cuphead runs really well, too — I didn’t notice any slowdown during battles.
One of my few gripes with Cuphead is the eight-direction aiming system. Holding the R button allows you to aim projectiles in one of eight directions, but restricts your movement to a standstill. I personally found this rather difficult, as you often have to specifically position yourself; this may or may not be possible depending on the enemy you’re up against. Luckily, certain weapons automatically aim their projectiles, though they do need to be purchased from the in-game store.
Overall, Cuphead is a fantastic game with its own unique style. The controls are tight and responsive, the old-fashioned visuals are spectacular, and the game is just plain fun. If you’re into platforming or run-and-gun games, Cuphead is for you. If you’re the type of player who might get frustrated after losing Cuphead might not be for you. Personally, I don’t think the difficulty dampens the overall experience, as I found each loss motivating me to give the battle another shot.
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