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Cuphead (PC Review)

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Turns out, Cuphead is quite the experience.

There are literally a dozen bullet hell shooters that come out from Japan a week, what makes Cuphead so great? Well, firstly, it doesn’t involve giant robot mech suits with laser beams or cute sorceress schoolgirls whose skirts you can see up or the usual eye-rolling tropes that so infest the bullet hell shooter genre. Cuphead is a hand-drawn visual masterpiece set in the style of 1930s “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse cartoons. I honestly don’t know what that type of animation or art is called, but it is entrancing on the screen. In a world so enamored with 60 frames a second and getting graphics as realistic as possible, there’s something wonderful about seeing such a graphical throwback. Colors are ridiculously vibrant and the animations are large and over-the-top that act to telegraph enemy attacks so you as the player can react and get out of the way.

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So all in all, there are almost thirty incredibly unique boss battles across the Islands of Inkwell, including an even more incredibly well designed battle with King Dice, the owner of the casino where you lost your bet with the Devil in the first place. Instead of a visible “boss health” bar, each boss is broken down into phases where the more damage you do, the faster the boss gets to the next evolution phase. Each phase has a different series of attacks and strategies you have to employ, and each boss has several of them to deal with. It’s a pretty slick way to keep track of damage.

The problem that most people will run into with Cuphead is that not only are the visuals old school but much like old 1980’s Nintendo games, Cuphead itself is absolutely unforgiving with its difficulty level. Each boss fight takes less than three minutes to finish, most of them under two minutes, but the game demands perfection during those 2-3 minutes. You have a few health points to get you through, but generally speaking, you lose all your health, you start at the beginning of the fight again. Many of these 2-3 minute fights took me hours to hone and perfect my strategies, switching out weapons and power-ups to see if something better would work. All in all, it took me just shy of 10-12 hours to get to the end game credits, but there was a level of pride that came with beating Cuphead that I usually save for games like Dark Souls.

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Another weird hurdle is the second to last boss, King Dice, is a full six-minute encounter that I won’t spoil for you, but there are going to be a lot, lot, lot of people who slug all the way through the game, get to King Dice and throw their hands up in absolute fury.

For a game demanding absolute perfection from your moves, there were times when I felt the controls were a little sluggish at parts. Oh, and the ability to “parry” (when you jump, if you jump into anything pink and then hit the jump button again, you parry the attack and make another jump) is one of the most frustrating parts of the game, primarily because it feels painful. Wait too long to hit the jump button again and you take damage because you’ve likely hit the projectile, but hit the parry button too soon and you swing and miss and still hit the projectile. You have to time it correctly. Granted, there is a power-up that allows you to auto-parry, which is a godsend on certain fights, but otherwise, the flat health bonus is more useful overall.

For $20, Cuphead is a breath of fresh air in a space that is often sluggish with reskins and sequels to games that no one asked for. In a world where everyone is trying to be the next PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds, this is such a hard left turn that I can’t help but strongly recommend you get it when you get the chance. But before you do, make sure you’re willing to deal with the difficulty or you’ll find yourself an hour in and throwing your controller across the room.

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