After being set to launch in 2014 in it’s announcement at Microsoft’s E3 conference, the video game Cuphead, by developer and publisher SudioMDHR, was released on Sept. 29 this year.
Inspired by cartoon art styles of the 1930s, developers and brothers Jared and Chad Moldenhauer created Cuphead. The side-scrolling run and gun game is playable exclusively on Xbox and on PC.
In the town of Inkwell lives Cuphead and his brother Mugman. When the pair gamble at the Devil’s casino and are on a winning streak, the Devil himself arrives and raises the gambling stakes with their souls. They lose of course, but the Devil gives them a chance to save themselves by collecting contracts of other individuals who’ve lost their souls in order to save their own.
“We wanted to avoid the classic save the world/princess and make the story/theme feel more comparable to 1930s cartoons,” said Chad, in an interview with Joystiq.“This is why it is about Cuphead’s deep seated inability to stay out of trouble versus a hero destined to overcome a pre existing obstacle. Even though he creates his own problems you can’t help but root for his success.”
If you ever need a refresher on the story of Cuphead, the start menu will do the job in song as Cuphead and Mugman bounce to the tune.
Although the game is a visual beauty, there will come a time when you find yourself not paying as much attention to the art of the game and instead busying yourself with the hectic non-stop activity going on screen, attempting not to lose all your health points and visiting the old familiar “You Died!” screen.
The world of Cuphead has three worlds and a bonus stage. In these worlds, you can play through different game modes. Each of these modes have two difficulty settings, Regular and Simple. For those wanting an easier run-through of the game’s modes, Simple is the route you’re looking for. But in order to save Cuphead and Mugman’s souls, as well as collect contracts, you’ll have to grit your teeth and play through Cuphead’s Regular difficulty.
Besides the differences in difficulty, the boss’s behavior will change. They may gain an extra phase you weren’t familiar with (something I learned first hand). If you fail a level, the screen will display just how close you got to completing the level after the “You Died!” screen.
Cuphead has three gameplay modes.
Run ‘n’ gun, a sidescrolling platformer, is one where you travel through a stage while overcoming the many different enemy types.
Another mode is a straight-up boss battle. Cuphead’s roster of boss battle enemy-types are not only creative, but fun and challenging. Getting into the rhythm of the game and constructing different strategies in order to defeat those bosses are an enjoyable part of Cuphead’s gameplay experience. When you think you might have the boss down for the count, they might enter a different phase that causes you to adjust your strategy on how to defeat them.
The last mode, and my personal favorite, is the platforming battle. This mode, in a way, combines both of the other modes into one. You have a boss to fight while dealing with differing lesser enemy types.
If you choose to, you can play Cuphead as the titular character. If you want to play with a friend, you can play couch co-op with your friend playing as Mugman. If you lose all your HP, your partner can parry your ghost as it floats off screen to bring you back. Fair warning, the game has no save points for levels. A perfect run of the levels are the only way to complete them. Playing co-op divvies up the work you have to do and by no means will it make clearing the levels any easier. If anything it adds to the business on screen as you try to complete the levels.
What this adds to gaming
It’s refreshing to have a video game that isn’t another annual first-person shooter game, or a story-driven game. Cuphead adds ingenuity in the art style, creative stages, and music to gaming.
Each animation is hand-drawn. There were no rotations of character models or compression of pixels to show motion. The developers of Cuphead drew each animation of Cuphead. This dedication to a game is not the only aspect that the developers of Cuphead go through in order to give gamers a full experience of their vision.
“The truth is that we started Cuphead as a three person team, just working on the weekend,” Chad told gamesradar. “With such a small team we knew to keep our scope; there were just a few bosses and a couple of weapons and everything was just less insane. We demoed Cuphead at E3 2015 and the response was mind blowing.”
In order to get the game developed, the Moldenhauers made huge sacrifices.
“We realized that there were a lot of people out there that wanted what we were doing,” Chad said. “My brother and I quit our jobs, remortgaged our houses and began expanding our team. THis was our chance to actually deliver the game we wanted to make all along, rather than the cut-scope game we originally planned with a three person team.”
Cuphead’s platformer aspects, cool hand drawn designs and swinging music brings me back to the days of playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. With most games being only online for any co-op play, it’s nice to know that couch co-op isn’t dead. Playing video games with people sitting right next to you is something sorely missed in games.
The journey of the development is a testament to the stakes that developers go through just to have their games go “gold.” A video game going gold is a development term meaning that game is finished and ready to be put on discs to be sold. With the passing years since it’s E3 announcement, the game’s release seemed less and less likely.