Cuphead @PAXEast 2016

Developer: Studio MDHR Publisher: Studio MDHR Platform: Xbox One/PC

During the ID@Xbox sizzle reel at e3 2014, one game’s visuals stood out among the rest. The classic 30’s cartoon aesthetic of Cuphead by Studio MDHR blends hand drawn animation with deceptively treacherous boss battles. After getting some playtime in at PAXEast with the first build of the game with it's music, I can confirm that Cuphead is both uniquely beautiful, and a total bastard. “Our level progression is the opposite of most games,” Says Jared Moldenhauer lead designer. “Where others  follow the level, level, level, then a boss we have boss, boss, boss, then give you a break with a short traditional level.” 

Even when you learn boss patterns,
we’ve added an element of randomness
to their actions.


As “Mugman”, Cuphead’s other half , I went through a short tutorial showing how to parry projectiles,  use my special attack dash, and shoot bullets from my “gun”, which is of course Mugman's hand making a pistol with his forefinger. Quickly we’re thrown straight into our first boss battle. For me it was a smart-alec blue slime with some devastating attacks, where making Mugman dodge and dash was crucial to avoid losing one of my only 3 hitpoints.

Like traditional boss battles after years of gaming I begin to memorize the patterns and vocalize this to Jared, to which he replies “ Even when you learn boss patterns, we’ve added an element of randomness to their actions”. I died, and died, and died, and I didn’t mind. Each of the three bullet-sponge boss battles I attempted never ended in victory, but the fluidity of animation and authentic classic cartoon charm had me fighting and dying and not feeling frustrated but smiling at the clever nuance.

The game can be played cooperatively, for what is balanced right now as “1.75” difficulty modifier. Cuphead and Mugman can work together to parry  incoming  projectiles for each other, as well as revive one another. When a players dies, they turn into a ghost that floats toward the top of the screen, and if the partner can grab him in time he rejoins the fight.  However, with each following death the ghost rises faster and faster.

An 'easy' mode is also available for those of you who’d like play Cuphead  without sweating or cursing at the cutest cartoons you’ve ever seen. If you hit a difficulty roadblock, the animation style of this game will surely warrant a full play through just to see everything.

Look for Cuphead spilling onto Xbox One and Steam later in 2016.