Here's A Real High-Class Bout: Cuphead Switch Review
When I first laid eyes on StudioMDHR’s Cuphead, I was enamoured. The brilliant use of 1930’s hand-drawn animation blended with tough-to-beat boss battles made for a happy marriage. When Cuphead first launched in 2017, it sucked me and never let go. Now, the oddball world of Inkwell has arrived on Nintendo’s Switch console.
If Cuphead has flown under your radar up to this point, let’s quickly catch you up to speed. Cuphead and his trusty pal, Mugman, cross paths with the Devil after a rambunctious outing at a casino. Without proper payment, our two heroes are tasked with collecting the soul contracts from the Devil’s debtors. Failing to do so, Cuphead and Mugman would then become eternal servants for the dark lord himself.
A Brawl Is Surely Brewing!
The bulk of the game tasks you with fighting numerous bosses throughout Inkwell in order to collect the soul contracts. Inkwell is divided into three sub-worlds, each offers a small cast of bosses to battle. Peppered throughout each world are two run-and-gun levels which offer their own challenge and reward.
Cuphead has built a reputation for its easy to learn but difficult to master gameplay. As you get your feet wet, you will quickly learn that death is inevitable. Cuphead features a spread of bosses that incredibly unique, and each is pleasing to look at. Most boss fights are separated into phases. Complete one phase, and the boss with morph, and its attack patterns will change. This is where the challenge lies. Cuphead is punishing with its trial and error. Luckily, each battle lasts roughly two or three minutes. Throughout your first few attempts, it is up to you to find the patience and learn from your past mistakes. It takes precision and accuracy to achieve victory time and time again.
One of the first bosses you will come across is Goopy Le Grande, a small blue slime dot. His pattern is centred around jumping from one end of the screen to the next. Learning his pattern and how far he jumps is the key to success. Same can be said for a late boss, Dr. Kahl’s Robot. In one of the hardest boss battles, you must maneuver through a relenting number of phases. As the fight transitions, you will have to quickly recalibrate in order to survive.
Run-and-gun levels work in a similar fashion. A successful run will likely take under two minutes. However, because they focus on side-scrolling and platforming, be prepared for what lies beyond the screen’s edge. Completion of the run-and-gun levels offers much-needed coins to purchase additional buffs and weapon loadouts at the shop. Unfortunately, when compared to the highs that boss battles offer, the run-and-gun levels fall a bit short. While each level has you go through some pretty imaginative settings, they fail to compare when placed next to the perfectly crafted boss battles.
The amount of difficulty may be offputting to some players. However, Cuphead is designed in a way to reward you for climbing the mountain and reaching the top. StudioMDHR has given enough tools within the loadout options to customize your weapon set and buff to your preference. If you feel like leaning on the dash to evade attacks, the Smoke Bomb charm will make you invulnerable to damage during a dash. Prefer one additional hit point? Apply the Heart charm. The same goes for your shots.
Besides the well thought out boss levels, where Cuphead shines is though its visuals and audio. Cuphead is inspired by 1930’s cartoons and animation. Each model and level has been hand-drawn to drive home the feeling of watching a cartoon from Fleischer Studio. On top of the animation, a grain effect has been applied to sell that look of an old-timey cartoon. Everything is very deliberate. Cuphead features a wonderful jazz-inspired original soundtrack. The composer, Kristofer Maddigan helped build the atmosphere and set the stage with one catchy tune after another.
Following the release on Switch, Cuphead’s better half, Mugman is now playable. Akin to a Mario and Luigi relationship, Mugman handles the exact same. Small differences between character models are all that set the two apart. After nearly two year's of being in the limelight, it’s nice to see Cuphead share the stage.
The leap from Xbox One and PC to Switch could not have been better. During my extensive playtime, I experienced no slowdowns whatsoever, even when the action on screen was at it’s most hectic. Due to the number of replays and do-overs, loading times were a big worry for me. As death can come as little as 30 seconds into a fight, jumping back in without downtime is a must. Thankfully, load times are minimal and are comparable to the Xbox One and PC versions.
Cuphead also includes a few surprises. StudioMHDR included their achievement list from Xbox One and PC. While Nintendo does not have a designated trophy or achievement system, StudioMDHR has included a built-in achievement list for their game. In addition, a few new boss phases are included thanks to the 1.2 update.
One of the biggest change seen implemented is animated cutscenes. Upon the initial launch, cutscenes were static images. Now, beautifully rendered cutscenes run throughout the narrative beats. It was not a necessity, but I applaud StudioMDHR for going back and rejuvenating these scenes to bang the nostalgia drum even more.
While playing in handheld mode, I found the Joy-con controllers to be a bit harder to use accuracy. Cuphead can aim in the traditional eight directions, but the diagonal inputs were a bit finicky to use with the Joy-con thumbstick. Otherwise, playing in handheld mode was an enjoyable experience. Transitioning to the dock, there were not many noticeable changes. Since Cuphead has hand-drawn cel animations throughout, you won’t notice a lack of graphical fidelity between playing on your TV or on the go.
Cuphead is a pure delight. StudioMDHR clearly has a passion and nostalgia for 1930’s animation. The studio was able to craft a well-polished game top to bottom. If you are a fan of side-scrollers or boss battles, Cuphead is a must play. The accessibility and option to play on the go is a strong addition. Welcome to the Switch family, Cuphead.
Verdict: Strongly Recommended
Available: April 18th, 2019
A Nintendo Switch code for Cuphead was provided for review purposes.