One of the strangest games to be announced at Microsoft’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) conference in 2014 was “Cuphead.” An Xbox exclusive side-scrolling retro-cartoon inspired indie game released by two brothers as their first game.
“Cuphead” is a retro game in every meaning of the word. Its art style is the single most striking part of the game. The game is a made as a love letter to 80’s and 90’s kids who grew up watching old timey Disney movies while playing side scrolling run and gun games. The developers, StudioMDHR, made up of the two brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, even stated that they themselves grew up watching old cartoons on compilation VHS tapes and late at night reruns.
While the art style is obviously incredibly retro inspired, the gameplay is as well. One of the most popular genre of 90’s gaming was the side scrolling run and gun game. The gameplay is incredibly simple while also being very difficult but enjoyable to play. The player needs to move the titular character, Cuphead, from left to right on the screen with a small gun as their only weapon. This gameplay, while simple and fun, is also deceptively difficult, with many players taking to social media with their frustrations.
The art style of the game, being as beautiful as it is, also runs at 60 frames per second, making it look incredibly fluid and sharp. This graphical choice and fidelity allows players to trace the path of every bullet and projectile coming at their characters. The art style also allows for any single still screenshot of the game to look like it is taken straight out of a 1930’s hand painted cartoon, like the old Disney Mickey Mouse cartoons.
The story of “Cuphead” is fairly simple, as is to be expected by its genre and inspirations. Side scrolling games are not usually known for rich and heavy stories like you would find in a “Grand Theft Auto” or “Life is Strange.” Instead, the motivations of characters in this genre of games is usually as simple as “save the princess!” or “stop Dracula!”.
The story of “Cuphead” simply resolves around the titular Cuphead and his brother, Mugman. Cuphead and Mugman sneak into a casino and eventually make a deal with the devil for their souls. They eventually lose to the Devil, who says that if they are able to collect the contracts other residents of their land owe him then he will let them go. The player then must battle many bosses to receive their soul contracts for the devil. The developers purposefully made the story a bit different than the standard “damsel in distress” trope, making the main problem of the game a problem brought along by Cuphead himself.
“Cuphead” released on Sep. 29, 2017, over three years after it was initially revealed to massive praise and sales from players and critics alike. The game received a 9.5 out of 10 from gaming magazine Destructoid, 5 stars from GamesRadar, and an 87/100 from Metacritic. These scores are very impressive for such a small game, especially being a small studio’s first attempt at developing a video game.
The game has 30 bosses, and also has post-release support coming in the form of expansion packs, each with ten to fifteen more bosses each.
In a gaming environment full of triple-A massive budget video games all with similar playstyles and graphics, Cuphead stands out as an original and beautiful game hidden in the woodwork.