Cuphead's beauty can only be described as going back in time and watching the classic 1930 cartoons like the original Steamboat Willie, and Play Safe. Its stunning art design is what you would watch if you had to go and research these classic toons. Everything about Cuphead has been immaculately crafted from its animations, bosses, locations, and even that darn loading screen that has this old-school sound playing over it as if you were watching a silent film. The crackling of the muted speakers and the lint stuck on the projector lens as the show played. It is all very well put together. The entire package is a jewel when it comes to its art direction.
Cuphead follows the story of, well, Cuphead and Mugman as they make a deal with the devil himself after losing a bet to him. In order to pay back the money they owe him for the bet, they are tasked with tracking down other “things” that owe him money too. The thing is, each of these things lives in their own domain across the stunning worlds of Cuphead. Every time Cuphead enters their area, they obviously want to kill him,
Each boss was divided into various phases of battle and as you deal damage to them, they would either transform or change their attack pattern to challenge your skills. An aeroplane that becomes a cloud that shoots stars that tracks you before turning into a freakishly frightening moon that takes up half the screen. A clown that turns into a balloon that shoots out other balloons and then turns into a carousel to try and kill you. It was all very exciting to see what boss I was facing next and how it would challenge me and teach me.
Yes, Cuphead is extremely hard and at times I was raging like crazy, but every time I died, I then changed my approach to the fight and learnt the boss' attack pattern even more. Cuphead can jump, dash, flick pink items to get a super meter, and use that super meter to deal damage, but other than that he feels weak and defenceless. It kind of feels as though he should not be on this quest but has to, so in a way it makes sense for the game's overall story, but in terms of gameplay, it is a downfall.
An average boss fight would see me die a couple dozen times before finally killing the boss. Sometimes the game's hitboxes would feel rather broken in which as I would totally be out of a bullet's view but yet I would still get hit. Cuphead only has three hearts and after you lose one there is no way to get it back at all during a fight. Its three hits and you're out. This meant that if I stupidly lost a heart in the early battle I would simply restart the fight to avoid the stress of trying to complete it with only two hits left.
Cuphead also has a platforming aspects to it which are far and few between. Thess handful of levels saw me running from the start to the end trying to survive all the dozens of irritating enemies who were trying to kill me. I had to use Cuphead's abilities just as I would in the boss fights, but also take into account the environment and how dangerous it was. These levels were just as hard, but at least they were more rewarding than the boss fights.
Where Cuphead fails to impress is in its reward system. The game uses coins to purchase new abilities and traits for Cuphead that includes a stronger bullet, or a weaker one at the cost of an extra heart, and other cool abilities like an invisible dash and different super moves. Basically, these are vital to the game's progression and feeling stronger.
The issue here is that these coins are only obtained in these few run and gun levels and not from bosses. So while you are dying over and over again in these fights, there is nothing to work towards, and if you buy the wrong upgrades then you are screwed. It would have been much better to rework the game's currency and maybe offer coins at least for these boss fights.
The game is also completely playable in co-op which may work for some, but not for me. Playing alone let me focus on Cuphead and the sheer amount of chaos on screen at times, but add in another player and it is a hot mess. Mugman simply has a red stripe instead of a blue one so it is hard to keep track of them when the bosses get busy and tough. It is a load fun with a friend though as Cuphead can save Mugman by jumping into his floating ghost and vice versa, and the rush to get to it before it floats away is always a gag.
Cuphead is an excellent game that misses the mark when it comes to being challenged for rewards. Gaming needs something to work towards like deaths meaning learning from them and overcoming a challenge means moving on and being rewarded with new gear and items. Cuphead's deaths mean frustration, and overcoming the challenge means sometimes an Xbox One achievement. Hardly enough to keep you going. It also comes across as if the game often kills you with broken hitboxes and an overall frustrating lack of a polished combat system.