Struggling through gaming’s toughest platformers is rarely as rewarding as you’d think. You might labour through level after level of torture only to realise that the game you’re playing lacks style. It lacks identity. Cloudberry Kingdom, one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, is one that springs to mind. It’ll spike your blood pressure, but it’s also as bland as a saltless diet.
The same can’t be said for Cuphead which is dripping with style. Its take on classic animation from the earlier part of the twentieth century is not only stunning to behold, but it’s a technical marvel. I couldn’t even fathom the hours spent hand-drawing each of the game’s beautiful frames, but the dedication and care shown by every artist involved have to be both admired and commended. In a world where we hunt the uncanny valley and aim for lifelike visuals, Cuphead is confident enough to say no to that while being one of the most gorgeous games out today.In Cuphead, the eponymous hero finds himself in deep with the Devil himself after overextending himself on a bet. You then spend your time in the game repaying your debt to him by collecting the souls of a great many others who did the Devil dirty. It’s a simple plot, which harkens back to the very cartoons that Cuphead seems to be inspired by.
Cuphead’s presentation, on the whole, is out of the top drawer. While its art direction is the clear eye-catcher here, there are so many little touches that make it joyous to play. The colour bleeding, scratching and cue dots that make it look like an honest to God cartoon that holds its own against some of Disney’s classics. Even the infectious, swinging jazz soundtrack that underpins the whole damn thing. There’s no shred of derivation here, Cuphead is unique and original and it’s the first time I’ve been able to say that for what feels like ages.As Cuphead, your toolbag doesn’t exactly run deep. Though you’ll unlock a handful of weapons as you progress, you begin with a peashooter and the ability to jump and dash. That’s about it. Gradually you happen upon EX attacks and supers that help you deal a little bit of extra damage, but at its core, Cuphead is a true, classic platform game inspired in part by its predecessors like Contra.