Cuphead Game Review
GDC 2015 Preview
Available on Steam and Xbox One (tested)
Cuphead release date: TBC 2015
Originally announced at E3 as part of the ID@Xbox presentation, Cuphead looked to be one of the most unusual console games in a while.
You play as a little teacup with a striped straw poking out – because we all drink tea through a straw, obviously – who can shoot enemies by clicking his fingers and releasing drops of water. As little Cuphead, you’ll need to take on a series of challenges that range from boss battles to more platforming style levels.
Although Cuphead himself is adorable and a little bit sassy, there’s another distinguishing feature of the game – its art style. Inspired by early hand-drawn cartoons such as Mickey’s Steamboat Willie and Popeye the Sailor, Cuphead has muted tones and a flickering film style to give it that nostalgic feel.
Even if you weren’t around during that era to witness the age of this cartoon style, there’s a charming vulnerability to its style. The grainy film quality has been reproduced well, but despite the cinematic effects, the graphics of the actual gameplay still look crisp on Xbox One.
The soundtrack was written especially for Cuphead and is another nod to that early cartoon era. Plus, the sound effects have a touch of Mario charm to them, which helps heighten the entire appeal of the game.
Cuphead’s level structure sees our little crockery hero explore a hand-drawn world that’s littered with level options. Each level takes place in a different area across the map, such as the vegetable garden, beach or even a pirate ship.
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In the preview session I had at GDC 2015 – the first time this wonderful game has been available to play – people watching and queuing to play always surrounded the Cuphead demo.
People were lured in by that unique art style and then stayed to watch or play, just because they wanted to beat the previous player.
That’s partly down to the fact that Cuphead is very difficult. In the series of boss battles I played, gameplay consisted of a combination of shooting water pellets with the right stick and landing a well-timed double jump on to pink projectiles. In some cases, enemies may have had a glowing pink weak spot on their bodies that you’d need to double jump on too.
Complementing the uniqueness of Cuphead himself, the enemies too are colourful characters. For example, there’s a giant potato with a nasty penchant for releasing missiles, a carrot who releases waves of airstrikes made up of tiny carrot bombs, a Bluto-esque pirate with a mean streak, and a tentacle-spinning, side-scrolling octopus who shoots as well as spins.
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If you’ve got any chance of mastering these boss battles, you’re going to have to be quick on your feet, as this game is definitely about precision. Miss a jump or allow a few blows to hit you in succession and you’ll be taken out in no time. This made for some pretty frustrating gameplay, but not so annoying that you’ll be throwing the controller through the screen any time soon.
It’s a huge compliment to the old platformers, where your mastery and adeptness is the key to success. I was kicking myself as I missed that double jump for the umpteenth time, much to the amusement of the devs and the crowd of eager players behind me.
I’ve not played an indie game before that’s attracted quite such a crowd as Cuphead.
What makes it even trickier is that just as you’ve grasped what you need to do for one boss, it’ll change form, throwing up a whole new load of perils for you to overcome.
Cuphead looks to be a fantastic addition to the games library on PC, Mac and Xbox One. It was already well received from the E3 2014 trailer, and now I’ve had the chance to play it at GDC I’m totally hooked. The art style works wonderfully well in HD and combined with the appealing and colourful cast, this is going to be one you’re addicted to for weeks after launch.
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