In the Play This Next column, Man of Many takes a look at a great new or recently released game that may have slipped under your radar. Given the sheer quality of content available on consoles and the near-limitless potential of PC, it’s easy to overlook an amazing game in favour of the latest hit. For every Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, there’s another game equally worthy of attention, and we make a case for why you should play it and where you can find it.
Don’t let its crude art style fool you. Cuphead is both a modern, tough-as-nails shoot-em-up and the ultimate love letter to 1930s cartoons. Development on Cuphead began way back in 2010 by a team of three under the moniker Studio MDHR. Microsoft eventually snapped up exclusive rights and released it in late 2017 to universal acclaim.
Cuphead channels arcade shooters of the late 1980s and early 90s through its frantic pace and overwhelming difficulty. Fighting larger-than-life bosses makes up the majority of Cuphead’s gameplay with several run-and-gun levels intersecting to shake-up the core action.
There are no checkpoints and no ways to regain health. You could spend hours repeating a boss battle before a strategy pays off. Take comfort in knowing when a level is done, it stays done. There’s no doubt that frustration will set in, although Cuphead never feels unfair and its excellent design will have you coming back for more. The entire game can also be played in couch co-op with a friend.
The visuals and sound design are the real talking point, as they were painstakingly created utilising similar techniques as the era it emulates. This includes hand-drawn cel animation, watercolour backgrounds and original jazz recordings. Gameplay is set at 60 frames per second, while the animation is set at 24 as a nod to films of the 1930s. There’s also a deliberate grain quality to the visuals, and you can even hear the static of the turntable between the upbeat jazz tunes.
Cuphead has a story, but it’s one of its least important features. Cuphead and his brother Mugman enter the Devil’s Casino to play craps. The two are on a winning streak before the Devil shows up to raise the stakes. If Cuphead and Mugman win one more roll, they will receive all the money in the casino; if not, the Devil will take their souls. Cuphead rolls snake eyes. He and Mugman beg for mercy. The Devil makes a deal with them: collect his other soul contracts by midnight the next day, and he might let them keep theirs.
Cuphead was released on September 29th, 2017 and went on to be a critical and commercial success. Cuphead holds an 88% score on Metacritic and has sold over 2 million copies.
Cuphead is tough. It’s arguably one of the most challenging titles released in 2017, but it’s also one of the best if not the most unique and that’s exactly why it earns a place in our Play This Next column. Cuphead is available as a digital download for both PC and Xbox One for RRP $29.95. If you like Cuphead, try these games: Super Meat Boy, Spelunky.