Cuphead Hands-On Preview – A Damn Fine Cup Of Coffee

I’m sorry, I’m unable to contain myself. I’d usually try to think of some whimsical opening to a piece like this, but I can’t help it. I love Cuphead. So much so, that I want to sing it from the rooftop of the hotel I’m writing this from. This labour of love has been in the works for a damn long time and it only took sitting down with team artist and producer Maja to realise that the long development, though a lot of work, has been a richly rewarding one.

This very brief chat came after my time with Cuphead, but she told me the bullet points of Cuphead’s lengthy development. There’s a lot at stake for this team, who remortgaged their homes and quit their jobs after the call came that laid out the future of Cuphead. I reassured Maja that I was quite sure that all of the risks — both personal and creative — would pay off. They have to. You can’t pour your soul into a game like this and not have it bear fruit.Cuphead1A brief tutorial from the team saw Cuphead dashing across the screen in his stunning, painstakingly hand-drawn style which, I imagine, had me looking like one of those anime characters with wide, gleeful eyes.

It wasn’t long before I had my hands on the game which, due to time restraints, had its story elements removed. I certainly didn’t mind this as I both wanted to just sink my teeth into the game itself and also keep the game’s story a surprise from when it releases next month. In my time with Cuphead, I played through a more traditional platforming level as well as three of the game’s boss rush servings. As soon as you load into the former, the words “run n’ gun” flash up in towering writing. And so I did. Enemies drop in infinitely here, so you’re never able to clear the screen during these relentless levels. With that firmly in mind, I charged forth. Thanks to dying a few times, I could tell that the spawns were at least consistent, allowing players to carve out an optimal path.Cuphead3With menacing flowers and cunning mushrooms making my life a bullet hell, I held down my rapid fire ‘pea shot’ and finally, after some refreshing frustration triumphed over the level. Though it has its own clear identity, Cuphead is very much a love letter to the bone-hard platformers of old. Contra was thrown up as just one inspiration.

Cuphead’s selling point for so long has been its terrific art direction, inspired largely by classic animation from as far back as the 1930s. The game, contrary to the films of the era, runs at 60 frames per second.  In action, the game is something to behold, but my grin grew so wide when I first saw the overworld map. It’s god damn adorable. The game’s vintage colour palette and clever use of scratches and cue dots lend to the belief that Cuphead could have been torn from a film reel nearly a century ago and sent into the present to enrich our lives. Even the way levels are briefed using intertitles from a silent film is just downright genius.

Cuphead2

Without demeaning the platforming levels in any way, Cuphead is at its best during the game’s boss rush levels. It’s fitting that these levels are the wildest, creative and fun, given that Cuphead did start out as a much smaller boss rush-only game. I was told that originally, the game was set to have around ten levels. Maja then happily told me that Cuphead now boasted more than triple that. So, the team hasn’t been sitting on their hands, they’ve been pouring in an exhaustive amount of content. I made short work of a monstrous vegetable patch, I beat the hell out of a pair amphibians and I even sort of became a plane to take down the demo’s most harrowing boss, Hilda Berg.

My mind has been racing since just imagining all of the possibilities for bosses. After punching on with a carrot, the sky is the limit.

Cuphead, thankfully, comes out September 29 for Xbox One.

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