Beta Test #1: Cuphead

Cuphead—The Impossible Game

 

G’day folks, I’m a Bethany Griffiths and this is Beta Test, where I—a self confessed noob—choose one game a month to go ham on. Whether I get better or get wrecked, you’ll get an unbiased review!

 

This month we’re going to dive into the satanic depths of Cuphead. It’s a high-powered, action-packed indie game that has become notorious for having some of the hardest game play in a stand-alone franchise this year. The near impossible levels of hardness, and the smug noises of the big bosses (Goopy Le Grande, I’m looking at you, buddy), have made me rage more times than I’d ever care to admit this early on in our relationship.

In the game, you play as a little red teacup with arms and legs (or a blue mug of the same anatomy if you’re player 2) that shoots bullets of energy out of their hands in attempt to kill the endlessly spawning enemies. Starting in Inkwell Isle, you progress through three different worlds to reach the main boss of the game and defeat the evil. Pretty straightforward, right? So, what’s the catch?

The entire game is stacked against you!

Right from the very start, you notice that you are slower and do less damage than your enemies. There are also no checkpoints or saves mid-level, so if you die you HAVE to go back to the start. (You have three lives, straight up, with no extra lives thrown at you at any point in time.) Not only that, but if you play the game in Simple Mode, you can’t progress to the final battle.

Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t played a game that used platforming like this since the Rayman and Spyro franchises back in the early 2000s, as my tolerance for spending hours on a single level only to get to the end and die for the twentieth time is pretty low. I’m one of those people who get so immersed in games that I feel like I’m actually about to die if I lose… which leads to a lot of clocked hours on placid games like The Sims.

But this one, this one game made me re-think my entire stance on all of that. I spent a good hour-and-a-half on the first level, where I tried so hard to  get through the first half, only to die when the acorns started appearing. I was bashed by daisy men and mushrooms alike; little blue blob creatures foiled my every plan to get coins, and parry pink items to get a perfect score. And at the end of it—at the end of all that time dying over and over again—I was absolutely, utterly hooked.

The game play is simple enough. All the boss levels are a mass stream of button mashing until they die. You get various power-ups that you can buy with coins collected from run and gun levels, as well as some well hidden spot around the home screen. There are three basic types of level: run and gun, boss battles, and plane levels where you fly a fighter aircraft that fires bullets and drops bombs. All in all, the basic concept is plain and simple, but very well thought out.

The plot line is pretty fantastic, too. You and your brother are bequeathed the arduous task of collecting the souls of the damned for Satan himself, ensuring your safe return home after gambling away your own soul in a casino that somehow let in minors.

As you race through level after level beating bosses, you have to find ways to cheat the system to make any progress. You can use potions and remedies to poof in and out of focus or special bullets; you can gain features by freeing people from impending doom. This would be frustrating and ‘unfair’ if you weren’t dealing with a game that has the literal devil himself in it. Every detail has been thought out from the devil’s perspective and it all makes sense. Given this, and the sheer amount of time I spent on this game, I would rate it:

5/5 Cupheads for style

4/5 Cupheads for plotline

2/5 Cupheads for easiness

Which all rounds down to a solid 3.6/5 Cupheads.

The game is conceptually brilliant and visually stunning. The late ’50s inkwell style animation and fluid, ever-changing characters create such a beautiful world that it’s hard not to fall in love. The influence of early Disney and Fleischer Brothers studio, are evident, with the game holding true to those sinister undertones of cartoons gone by. Yet, it’s refreshing to see this style of animation in a modern setting. If there’s one thing I can say as a take away from Cupheads, it’s that even if you suck, even if you haven’t picked up a controller in fifty years, you will be entertained. And that is what makes this a fantastic game.

 

I’ve been a Bethany Griffiths, and this has been Beta Test. Until next time…

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