Ever since it was first announced in 2014, Cuphead has been grabbing the attention of gamers all over the world. With charming characters, rock-solid run and gun action, an excellent upbeat jazz soundtrack, and an incredible ’30s cartoon animation style lovingly (and painstakingly) hand-drawn frame-by-frame, Cuphead is an unqualified success, a masterfully crafted game, and an absolute essential for any Switch owner with the mettle for some old-school platforming action.
Cuphead, which was originally released for Xbox One in late September of 2017, is an indie run and gun action platformer created by the small, family-owned development team, Studio MDHR. Cuphead marks the first game ever created by the studio, and it won the team a number of awards including Best Independent Game, Best Debut Game, Outstanding Achievement in Animation, Art Direction, and Original Music, and many more from the DICE Awards, The Game Awards, the BAFTAs, and more.
If it seems like I’m laying it on a bit thick, I am. There are very few run and gun action games being released in the modern era, and none of them have the stylish, addictive quality of Cuphead. Studio MDHR has created a modern classic which encourages players to enjoy themselves in a wacky world filled with strange bosses, crazy weapons, and delightfully modern twists on retro game mechanics. Moreover, I have played Cuphead on Xbox One, PC, and now Switch, and I can tell you the Switch version is the best one yet. It looks and performs just as well, loads a bit faster on Switch than Xbox One X, and it is playable on the go.
In the opening cinematic Cuphead and his brother Mugman lose a bet with The Devil. In order to escape The Devil’s wrath, the pair set off to collect on his debts, but those in debt to the prince of darkness won’t go down without a fight. From a gameplay perspective, Cuphead is split between set-piece boss fights and Run & Gun levels. Boss fights are stand-alone, so there is no need to slog your way through a long platforming level just for a crack at a boss. Simply walk up to the boss area on the world map, select your difficulty, and the fight begins.
Each boss has several phases, during which they will change forms, introduce additional environmental hazards, and even bring new hostile enemies onto the screen. Surviving until the end can be challenging, but boss attacks follow a series of patterns (similar to boss fights in games like Mega Man, etc.), so once you familiarize yourself with them, winning becomes much easier.
Additionally, a progress bar is revealed whenever you die, so you’ll always know just how close you were to the next boss phase, and approximately how close the boss was to defeat. This, combined with the faster-than-Xbox load times, meant I often found myself thinking, “Just one more try. I can do it this time.”
To defeat the toughest bosses in the game, you’ll need a wide variety of Charms, Shots, and Supers, and this is where Run & Gun levels, Ms. Chalice, and Porkrind come in. Collect gold coins in Run & Gun levels and spend them at Porkrind’s shop (pictured above) to gain powerful new abilities and weapons. Several short mausoleum defense levels scattered around the world map task players with defending a friendly young lady, Ms. Chalice, against waves of ghosts, which must be taken out with quick parries. Completing those mausoleum levels will free Ms. Chalice from a macabre prison, and she’ll grant the player powerful new Super abilities in return.
With shots that home on enemies or fly like boomerangs, supers that deal massive damage or confer invulnerability, and Charms which automatically parry attacks, grant dash invincibility, or give extra health, there is plenty of customization to be had.
Although Cuphead does represent a challenge when compared with many modern games, it rewards experimentation with equippable abilities, and it rewards patient observation. Stick with it, don’t give up, and bring a friend to help out and revive you, and you’ll make it through. Additionally, while you do need to complete each boss fight on Normal difficulty to access to last two boss fights in the game, Easy mode cuts out the most difficult boss phases, making it ideal for players who want a more forgiving experience, or those who simply want to practice a bit before diving into Normal mode.
With a wide variety of boss fights, frantic Run & Gun levels, beautiful art, catchy music, couch co-op, and an incredibly affordable price tag, you simply cannot go wrong with Cuphead.
NOTE: The future of Cuphead is bright, indeed, as Studio MDHR has confirmed a DLC pack is coming. Called “Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course,” it will allow players to assume the role of Ms. Chalice as a third protagonist (in addition to Cuphead and Mugman) and will add new bosses, abilities, and supers to the game. Players who purchase the DLC will also be able to use Ms. Chalice, and all the new abilities, in the original game.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Studio MDHR
Developers – Studio MDHR
Release Date – April 18, 2019
Price – $20.00
Genre – Action, Arcade, Platformer
Players – 1-2 (split-screen, simultaneous)
Size – 3.3 GB
Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.
Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.
In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.
He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!
Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita