Nintendo Switch fans rejoiced when, during a Nindie Direct earlier this year, Cuphead was finally confirmed to be coming to our favorite portable platform. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are familiar with the nightmares and stories of horror from Cuphead veterans. The game is notoriously difficult and unforgiving, and some battles can be repeated ad nauseum for hours before you finally perfect the techniques. But if you’re able to set aside your rage, get a good grip on your Pro Controller, and power through try after try, you will be lucky enough to dive into one of the prettiest and most unique games of this generation, and maybe ever.
Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 18, 2019
Game Purchased for the Purpose of This Review
Cuphead is not rich in narrative. You play an anthropomorphic cup (and his brother, a mug) with a gambling problem who made a deal with the devil. To fulfill your end, you have to collect the souls of a pack of bosses strewn throughout a retro-vibed world. This is the extent of the lore to this game, but luckily, the story is not the main draw. In fact, it is not even in the list of top five draws to this game.
Chief among the praises for this game are its stunning visuals. Cuphead hearkens to a time of 1930s-era cartoons, and each element of this game was hand-drawn with a classic cel animation technique. The backgrounds are beautiful original watercolors that would feel at home in an old Mickey Mouse cartoon. The style and animation of each character and enemy feels perfectly genuine to the period. I laughed playing this game in a handful of situations due to the absurd, over-the-top animations of bosses, whisking me away to memories of watching Looney Toons on my couch as a child.
Original jazz pieces comprise the score and are performed flawlessly. Each piece matches the tone of the level and never feels like an afterthought. The occasional voice-over work is nearly perfect as well, with just the right amount of vocal distortion to match the grittiness of a 1930’s recording. It is nearly unheard of for me to seek out a game’s OST following my time with it. Cuphead is one of those rare instances.
As mentioned prior, the difficulty of Cuphead is where this game shines. I am a huge fan of difficult games, and consider myself above average at platformers. Rarely does frustration get the best of me in video games. Cuphead managed to make me sweat in a couple of instances, but usually still felt fair. Only the occasional bad luck and RNG made me feel cheated of an otherwise good run. The difficulty in Cuphead is real and palpable and not for everybody. Levels do offer an “easy” option before you begin, but note the quotation marks – though easier than the standard setting, easy mode still requires a healthy amount of concentration and persistence to complete each stage.
The Nintendo Switch port of Cuphead is nearly flawless and runs perfectly. At any given moment, there can be a seemingly endless amount of assets on the screen at once, whether it is feathers from an angry bird flying at you or the tendrils of an enraged sunflower. Even with the visual complexity and overwhelming action, I experienced no stutters or drop in framerate, either in docked or handheld mode. Colors are slightly brighter in the Switch port compared to Xbox One and Windows, but do not feel overly saturated. Controls are quick and snappy, and the Nintendo Switch almost feels like the platform this game was meant to be on from the very beginning.
Recently, so many games have released on the Nintendo Switch that I’ve had trouble keeping up with them. Despite the quality of these games, I kept making and finding time for Cuphead. My nights have been filled with pleasant, beautiful dreams of dying over and over again to dragons and roller coasters, and I wake up feeling like I could give them just one more attempt. I feel comfortable saying that Cuphead is the best bullet-hell shooter I’ve ever played, not to mention the most beautiful. Developer StudioMDHR should be proud of themselves and I’ll be revisiting Cuphead regularly until we (hopefully) meet him again.
9.0 / 10