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Cuphead Xbox One Review

Rubber hose animation was an animation style prevalent in the 1930’s, it was primarily standardized in the American animation industry where it allowed characters to be drawn quickly, without having to articulate leg or arm joints, instead allowing on ‘rubber hose’ like limbs that simply curved. You may remember cartoons such as the very early Disney cartoons being like this, carrying with them an incredible charm and atmosphere. Where am I going with this? Cuphead, the new game from Studio MDHR, just sprang onto the scene like Mickey Mouse onto the proverbial steamboat, declaring its presence and taking the world by storm in the process.

Gameplay:

Not only has the game ‘brought back’ the glorious rubber hose animation of the past in all its wacky glory, Cuphead also brings with it that controller tossing, hair pulling, teeth grinding difficulty level of gameplay that the 80’s and 90’s are so well known for with their platformers. This is no simple game. Cuphead holds you by the hand, tells you you’re going to have a great time, skips along with you, then smacks you over the head with a mallet!

The controls are quite simply, run left and right, crouch and look up with the D Pad. You have a shoot button, a jump button, a ‘parry button’ you can use to kill certain red enemies/objects to gain items and a dash button. The reaction times for these controls harkens back to the very best pixel perfect platformers, where a split second can define the difference between life and death. Cuphead’s design is *just that good*.

It gets even better in two player, as like Super Mario World, you start with an overhead map, traversing the area, selecting stages, then completing them. Stages can vary from left to right running stages, boss fights that are anything but easy and other novelty stages such as aeroplane flight stages calling back memories of games such as Fantasy Zone on the Sega Master System or even Prehistoric Isle (part 1, not the awful part 2).

The game mechanics themselves range from not very original (run and shoot, the types of weapons i.e. triple direction shot, tracking shot) to the way lives work. When you die in multiplayer, your friends ghost traverses up the screen. If you manage to leap into it and ‘parry’ in time, it calls out in a deep voice “Thaaaank you”, and your friend is brought back to life. Theoretically this loans a mechanic to the game that could potentially give you infinite lives, however, with action getting incredibly hectic, often you’ll struggle just to get to the ghost, just in time to see it hover off the screen, knowing that it’s all down to you… damn it.

The best thing, playing in single player, you get one difficulty, however when multiplayer kicks in, the game will extend its difficulty. Extra enemies, extra boss fight segments and higher rates of waves coming at you. It’s all done at a fantastic rate.

Graphics:

Cuphead is glorious visually. From a stunning colour palette, to the beautiful hand drawn pipe animation (seriously, every single frame is hand drawn), to the hand drawn backgrounds and characters. Everything is a feast for the eyes. This is a game that blows past the mega budget triple A games of the last few years offering something that unlike most games that make the claim, redefines visuals in a platformer. Some games ‘claim’ to be cartoons, some games ‘claim’ to have cartoon animation. Cuphead however, does all this with aplomb.

I must admit, I have missed a lot of the things Cuphead touches upon in animation. Adult themes such as sex, gambling, smoking and violence are gloriously represented in Cuphead in subtle and not so subtle ways. Stages have you fighting giant plants, giant cigars, monsters and whatnot. The way in which these are represented is never confrontational and always charming. The developers have made true strides in making this game feel authentic to the 1930’s, these representations go that extra mile with a great grainy filter that never inhibits your view and only makes the game look even better. I’ve not seen a platformer that looked this great since the early 1990’s, when Disney had a run of success with its animated movies such as Lion King and Aladdin being translated to consoles. In this case, Cuphead has set the bar for all 2D games from here on out with no overreaction at all.

Sound:

A little advice. When this game starts, for the first time, remember to press start? I guarantee, you’re going to sit there for five minutes just listening to the AMAZING introduction song. Cuphead’s audio is stunning, music that brings back memories of the best Disney and Fleischer studios animations. The audio comes complete with that ‘record scratch’ sound as it goes by, nothing sounding ‘too modern’. Cuphead knows its audience, it knows it plays on nostalgia to a degree and instead of abusing it, it embraces it to a perfect degree.

The voicework in Cuphead itself is great as well. The minimalistic lines that *are* spoken fit in with the ‘time’ the game mimics. From the deep voices calling “thank you!” upon revival, to the small quips during boss fights and whatnot, everything feels ‘just right’. Cup head is a pure delight in the audio department on all fronts.

Value:

Cuphead screams value. From the single player option to the expanded double player option. From purely the delight of watching it play out as a cartoon while someone else plays it, to getting in there and having a go yourself. It throws in the ability to replay levels and do better each time through a ranking system as well. There’s a lot to love here indeed. But what’s the ultimate selling point here? What’s the thing that just grabbed me from the get-go with Cuphead? It’s only $19.99 USD on Steam and $29.95 on the Australian Xbox Live store (We still go by USD remember on Steam here for now) The developers have not only hit that sweet spot of a great price, they’ve possibly under-priced their game in my opinion. They could’ve charged 49.95, maybe 69.95 AUS and I wouldn’t have complained, given this games quality. This is triple-A material here and you’re getting it at bargain basement pricing. Rush out, grab it and you won’t regret it one bit.

Overall:

Cuphead has fantastic animation that sets a new bar and then some, the sound is incredible, the controls are fluid and fantastic as well as a pricing point that just emphasises everything that is right about the game. This is quite literally “the game that can do no wrong”. It has replay value out the rear end. It uses ingenious gameplay mechanics to make its players responsible for each other. It may not ‘redesign’ the wheel, but it damn well paints it a new colour and makes you want it all over again. If you like challenge, if you like a game you’re going to come back to time and time again and you want something that’s both funny, challenging, appealing AND tickles that sweet nostalgia spot? Get yourself a copy of Cuphead asap. You will not regret it.

Pro’s:

  • Graphics are glorious
  • Sound is stunning
  • Controls are spot on
  • Voice acting is fantastic
  • Cartoon still frames are beautiful
  • Rubber hose animation is perfect
  • Extremely hard at times, but never impossible, really gives you that ‘one more goes’ feel.

Cons:

  • I found none. Seriously.

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