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Cuphead Review (Xbox One)

October 4, 2017 | Posted by Stewart Lange
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Cuphead Review (Xbox One)  

For those of you who read my weekly column the Gaming Rs (RIGHT HERE on 411mania), you’ll be familiar with the story of a video game reviewer who found the difficulty of Cuphead ever so slightly high. Unfortunately, the problems were during the tutorial level where running, jumping and shooting at nothing proved to be difficult enough. Perhaps this was kind mercy on the poor soul, as what was about to come would have caused a great deal of stress and anguish for our poor reviewer. It’s absolutely for the best that he didn’t face the challenges ahead. Cuphead warns you, “Don’t Deal With The Devil” and well, you absolutely shouldn’t. This game is evidence as to why not.

The game begins with a short cartoon, explaining why the heroes Cuphead and Mughead have sold their soul to the devil and what they have to do to redeem themselves. This sets up what is left of the storyline but truth be told, there doesn’t seem to be much of one present throughout the game unless I’ve not been good enough to really see more of it yet, of course. If you hadn’t realised it yet, or have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Cuphead is hard. Dark Souls hard. Maybe even harder. Let me explain.

A side scrolling platformer, Cuphead is akin to the classic bullet hell games of the NES era, but it’s so much more than that. The lovingly designed levels and characters bring an added charm that those games don’t have, but it’s much more than an aesthetic difference. In bullet-hell, things get overwhelming and almost hopelessly challenging but at no point in Cuphead do you ever really feel out of control. Every movement, jump and shot is yours alone and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the games fault, or death by the architects. It’s entirely on you. As hard as this game is, at no point does it ever feel cheap and it’s that quality that I found made it just so likeable.

Well, that and the art style. As you’ll be able to see just from the image at the top of this review, Cuphead is based on the cartoons of the 1930s and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Every single part of the game is oozing with style, from the characters that are somehow instantly recognisable with their big eyes and hypnotic movement; to the grainy effects on screen that will make you forget you’re playing on a big TV instead of an old 8mm projector. Even the soundtrack is lifted straight from a pre-war music hall, with piano soaring above the manic action, keeping you on your toes as the action intensifies. It truly needs to be seen to believed, as you could be completely forgiven for mistaking out of context screenshots from the game as genuine old cartoons and that is what makes it so special. My only real suggestion for the visual style would be a secondary mode where it’s all in black and white like Steamboat Willie? It’d make it harder, but it’d certainly look gorgeous.

It’s at this point that I’ll need to direct some constructive criticism Cupheads way. Now, I know the whole point of the game is to make it really hard, but I’m concerned it may actually be too challenging straight from the off for a lot of gamers. The boss battles do have difficulty options, but even on simple these are extremely challenging. The run and gun platforming levels have no such option, although with perseverance are completely doable after a few goes. Unfortunately, as good as the game looks or even plays, I do feel like this could have been an even bigger hit if there was a difficulty tier. Argue as you will, but ridiculously hard just isn’t for everyone and I think in the case of Cuphead, it could be the difference between it being considered a genuine game of the year candidate for a lot of people. That isn’t to say I want it to be easier, or even that I consider it too hard. I just hope the difficulty doesn’t play a part in people not playing an incredible title.

Given that Cuphead is exclusive to Xbox One and Steam, the difficulty isn’t going to be the only thing that people will find alienating about the game, but if you have any patience and the means to play this, you absolutely should. The controls are fully customisable, which I’ll concede helped me substantially. Changing the shoot button onto my left trigger made worlds of difference and I found the game easier just by making a simple change like that, so if you have this and you’re struggling, play about with the controls. Stick with it. If you are considering buying this, don’t do it if you give up easily. Cuphead may be the most challenging games of the year but given the fact I was up off my sofa punching the air after completing just the first level, let alone the others, it’s also looking to be the most rewarding. Not bad considering it’s also one of the most beautiful.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Cuphead drops you right in at the deep end and that is going to put off a lot of gamers, which is really the only bad thing I can say about what is otherwise a gorgeous, addictive and extremely satisfying experience.

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Cuphead, Stewart Lange