Can Cuphead’s Gameplay Live Up to Its Masterful Visual Style?

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Now Playing: Cuphead's Strange Bosses Gameplay

As a painstakingly accurate pastiche of 1930s animation, Cuphead’s visuals are not only unique among games, they’re also astonishing to behold. Playing Cuphead, it genuinely feels like you’re somehow controlling an 80 year old cartoon, gleefully bopping anthropomorphic carrots and buying period-appropriate upgrades from a pig with an eyepatch.

But we’ve adored Cuphead’s aesthetic since the game originally debuted at E3 2014 with a brief yet impressive trailer. Now, more than two years later and with a firm release date still undetermined, a more pertinent concern is how the game plays. And at this point, the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to the sophistication and originality of the visuals. There’s still hope for Cuphead and its demanding approach to classic run-and-gun action, but I walked away from my recent demo at PAX West feeling slightly frustrated and underwhelmed.

Though the team at Studio MDHR recently showed off the game’s first platforming levels, my demo focused solely on boss battles--four of them, to be exact, two of which were actually shown way back in that original trailer two years ago. Three of those four battles stuck me a relatively small 2D space with a large boss character, and in each case, that boss never strayed from its preset attack pattern.

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The blue blob boss, for example, would hop across the screen and back, pausing occasionally to turn into a giant fist that could punch halfway across the screen. Once my co-op partner and I hit him enough times, he morphed into a slightly larger blob and continued the same pattern. Honestly, there wasn’t much for my co-op partner and I to do. We would lay into him with our standard projectile attacks, dash out of the way when it looked like he might land on us, and employ our super attacks whenever possible. Though we actually died several times during this process, the fight felt more tedious than challenging.

This is due in part to small but important details. For example, bosses don’t react to damage. They blink when you shoot them, but there’s no other feedback to indicate how close you are to victory or whether you’re even attacking the right way. Frustratingly, your own health appears only as a tiny number tucked away in the very bottom corner of the screen, and when you die, your co-op partner has only a split-second to jump and grab your ghost to revive you. If your buddy is slightly too far away or slightly too slow to react, you’re toast.

Granted, it’s really not fair to criticize a game for being too tough so long as it's consistent and equips you with enough tools to fight back. And Cuphead is indeed both consistent and fair. You can, for example, parry certain projectile attacks to build up your super meter, which eventually allows you to unleash a devastating blast. You can also purchase and equip upgrades like a spread-shot projectile attack. And our deaths never felt arbitrary: when we died, we knew exactly what killed us and what we needed to do differently next time.

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However, once we learned those lessons, the boss battles became exercises in patience more than anything else. During another fight, we had to take down a giant violent potato (yes, it was pretty hilarious). The potato sat in place firing large, slow-moving projectiles at regular intervals...and that was it. Once we learned the rhythm, hurdling those projectiles while training our own weapons on him proved painfully straightforward. The only challenge came from timing our jumps properly; there wasn’t really any deeper strategy or mechanical complexity--I never once found it necessary to parry anything.

Our third battle--this time against a sunflower--was a bit more diverse, however. The sunflower lunged at us both high and low, spat spinning seeds at us, and spawned smaller enemies that attacked from the ground and the air. That battled involved a great deal more dodging and parrying, as well as more coordination between myself and my co-op partner. With any luck, the final version of the game--which aims to include as many as 30 boss fights--will find a way to inject more of this kind of variety into its boss encounters and perhaps even trust players with other, deeper gameplay mechanics.

While there’s clearly still work to be done on Cuphead, there’s also plenty more to the game that we haven’t yet seen. With any luck, the few months remaining in 2016 (the game’s purported launch window) will be enough to allow the team to fine-tune the experience and realize Cuphead’s massive potential. But hey, if nothing else, at least it’s just as beautiful in action as we all hoped it would be.

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Avatar image for westsiderz28
westsiderz28

i think this would be better a story driven platformer and not so much a shooter and why are they shooting with invisible guns?

Avatar image for westsiderz28
westsiderz28

The boss fights looks tedious and a chore to be honest, the graphics look great but i fear it's going to be let down by its gameplay.

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elheber

I really hope it isn't all sauce and no steak.

Avatar image for RabidBurp
RabidBurp

The vegetable/slime bosses are supposed to be early game bosses, hence why they're easier to beat.

Avatar image for onehitta323
onehitta323

Another X FLOP ONE failure. Absolutely nothing interesting about it.

Avatar image for lordstrategery
lordstrategery

@onehitta323: Yep, nothing interesting about it ever in any way. You're a good Sony Justice Warrior!! If only the Sony name attached would have happened, then it'd be the best game ever!!!

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onehitta323

@lordstrategery: attention everyone. We got a butt hurt x bot fanboy here that got offended because I don't like something that he does.

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: do u have a like bot

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onehitta323

@freeryu: no I Don't. obviously people agree with what I say :)

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: Yeah Sony fanboys do stick together, that's probably it.

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onehitta323

@freeryu: and in your case, only the inferior X bots in denial stick together.

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: Assuming someone is an Xbot without them mentioning a word about Xbox is a Pony trait 😬

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onehitta323

@freeryu: it's pretty obvious. You guys stand out pretty easily.

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: Just looking at some of your comments make me cringe. It's weird how a teen or an adult can be that immature and write the things you do lmao.

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onehitta323

@freeryu: you're one to talk :) you're just like every other x bot fanboy. If someone doesn't like something that you do, then you must result to name calling or degrading the other person. I find it weird and funny. Typical xbot offended very easily :)

Avatar image for freeryu
FreeRyu

@onehitta323: you're one to talk :) you're just like every other Sony pony. If someone doesn't like something that you do, then you must result to name calling or degrading the other person. I find it weird and funny. Typical pony offended very easily :)

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onehitta323

@freeryu: must be around 12 or so like I suspected. No wonder you like cup head.

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: Even if I was 12 this shows how mature you are lol. "This guy is 12, I'm gonna go back and fourth with him because he's not a fanboy like me!" You fanboys are hilarious lol.

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onehitta323

@freeryu: looks like you're 12 and a hypocrite :)

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: Rather be both of those than the scum of the Internet, a fanboy like you :D

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onehitta323

@freeryu: here's something even a 12 year old like you can understand. I know you are but what am I. :)

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FreeRyu

@onehitta323: here's something even a pathetic fanboy like you can understand. I know you are but what am I? :D

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lordstrategery

@onehitta323: Attention everyone else!! We have a Sony Justice Warrior triggered because they cant fathom that others may not like everything that their God savior Sony penetrates into their buttocks. SJWs love it up the butt!!!

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sleepnsurf

@onehitPretty much sums up every PS4 exclusive for me. This actually looks interesting.

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westsiderz28

@sleepnsurf: really ? You would put uncharted 4, the last guardian, God of war, etc in to that category ? Sure your a gamer?

Avatar image for lordstrategery
lordstrategery

@westsiderz28: A good SJW always retorts with AAA offerings against indies. However, this special Sony Justice Warrior will use circular knowledge and eventually exclaim (be triggered) how Sony indies is better than Xbox AAA exclusives. They are a special breed.

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westsiderz28

@lordstrategery: well the guy said EVERY ps4 exclusive ?? So... Whatever

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lordstrategery

@westsiderz28: Well, Uncharted is the only PS4 exclusive currently you can defend. God of War PS4 and Last Guardian are in the air, so...whatever. You know, like...false equivalence..you know? Sorry you were triggered.

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westsiderz28

@lordstrategery: lol what you waffling on about ? I'm not defending any game the guy said it sums up EVERY ps4 exclusive, ?? whatever man

x1 has some good exclusives too if that makes you feel any better about it lol

I honestly couldn't give a hoot mate

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jaoman9

@sleepnsurf: That sums up EVERY exclusive ever, whether its PS4,Xbox one,PC or anything else in existence.

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sakaiXx

Im predicting the gameplay will be very simplistic but with tons of flashy moments.

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uncle5555

@sakaixx: Hopefully it's more than style over substance, it's a game I've been interested in since they showed it at E3, hopefully the first time developers can get some help with fine tuning the game before it comes out. We'll see.

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sakaiXx

@uncle5555: well its cool to be positive about it.

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catsimboy

This looks like it could be a great platformer but all I've seen is dull boss battles which are more about endurance and not making mistakes once you learn the predictable patterns. They're really doing the art a disservice with such simplistic design.

Avatar image for Hodax
Hodax

@catsimboy: So far it does just look like a collection of boss fights.

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JustPlainLucas

I think the game sounds fun enough to play to warrant getting just for the aesthetics.

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Poison-tooth

Title in question form -> answer to question = no.

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Moonco

Gameplay reminds me of Alien Solider for the Mega Drive. I would like to know more about those platform levels. Looks awesome but I think the difficulty is gonna turn off many gamers (Game Genie to the rescue ha).

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boardsport311

Cuphead, Forza Horizon 3 and Gears 4 in the same season, are you kidding me?? Phil said last holiday season was the best Xbox games lineup ever but I think this one has it beat.

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Jag-T1000

Is this gonna release this year or what?

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FreeRyu

@Jag-T1000: Q3 2017

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ExoticCharm

Listen to this:

"Honestly, there wasn’t much for my co-op partner and I to do. We would lay into him with our standard projectile attacks, dash out of the way when it looked like he might land on us, and employ our super attacks whenever possible."

The author basically described almost every classic 2D action game out there that uses ranged attacks as its main offense, yet is now trying to make it sound like a bad thing. Each boss battle I have seen looks and plays similar to a boss battle from old-school Contra games. Are those games suddenly not good anymore like this author is implying?

I hope they get someone else to review the game when it comes out. This person clearly didn't grow up playing games in the 80s.

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Wretch1d

@ExoticCharm: Thank you......every 2D scrolling shooter always had boss battles that meant learning the pattern, in fact most 3D games have that as well, some people need to go back and play some contra

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hystavito

@ExoticCharm: It's often hard to know which way it will go. Sometimes reviewers like retro or simple gameplay, other times they'll say it's same old, sometimes they love a game's art style so much they forgive everything else, I think that one happens a lot, but then maybe not in this case, who knows :).

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Alucard_Prime

@ExoticCharm: Yeah I'm not convinced with these impressions at all. Going to search for 2nd opinions.

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boardsport311

@ExoticCharm: Honestly I don't want anymore than that. Games like Contra and Metal Slug are so great because they mix simple, straightforward controls with awesome gameplay and environments...exactly what Cuphead looks like it has going for it.

Avatar image for gotrekfabian
gotrekfabian

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that while this will be a good game it will never be as good as games like Gunstar Heroes. Let's hope that I'm proven wrong.

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