A tough game to recommend, but filled with love.

User Rating: 8 | Cuphead PS4

By this point, if you have even a fleeting familiarity with indie games, you probably know about "Cuphead." Developed by Studio MDHR, this bullet hell shooter with a 1930s animation throwback style captivated audiences around the globe with its stunning aesthetic and painstaking difficulty. While I tried the game initially at launch, I ended up dropping it because the challenge became a bit too much for me to handle. Recently, though, I've been on a small "Cuphead" binge, especially after checking out "The Cuphead Show!," the new Netflix animated series (which I think is great fun), so I decided to try the game again in a co-op playthrough. After making it through the game...there are a lot of complex, conflicted things going on in my head with this review (and the inevitable rating it will get).

"Cuphead" is the kind of game that simply oozes love. The hand-drawn animation that hearkens back to the styles of the 1930s golden age is painstakingly drawn but lovingly crafted as an appreciative throwback to a forgotten style of animation. I also think that the story, while rather light, injects some interesting chaos and is boosted by some likable characters. The music also adds a lot of chaoticness to the game, and the soundtrack as a whole is extremely memorable stuff. The gameplay is sure to be enthralling to a lot of players: it's a 2D platformer bullet hell game with smooth left-to-right controls, exciting weaponry, and some unique boss design. It's been said a lot already, but this game is TOUGH, and you'll be going through the same bosses very often. Even with that, the game does capture the essence of classic games from the NES and Super NES days, where they constantly whooped you but you found yourself needing to keep going. I almost dropped the game again in this second playthrough, but it got to a point where losing didn't feel like an option, and the game really incentivizes you to come back, improve, and push through the extreme difficulty.

And yet, that difficulty leads into the biggest criticism I have for the game, and one that's going to get into some personal territory but I'll allow myself to do it anyway. I've seen a lot of players note that the game is a fair kind of difficult, which at points, I can agree with, but this was a game that affected me in a way much deeper than most other challenging games. Diving into something a bit more personal, I struggle with what I believe to be some form of ADHD, and for me, it's difficult to focus on multiple things at once. With "Cuphead," the boss fights are known to throw as many things at you as possible and that, combined with the busy visual style, was rougher than I thought. This was the first time that a game ever affected that side of me and made me feel extremely overstimulated, and it's a large part of the reason why I nearly gave up again. I totally get the appeal and the desire to constantly learn patterns, but it was a massive hurdle for me, and the game's desire to essentially punish players for using the "Simple" difficulty option kinda hurts in that regard.

But through all of that, and even with the impact on my mental health being a potential thing to hold against the game...it's so hard for me to dock points and ignore all the things it does extremely well. As a game made by a team that was probably in the single digits prior to release (and is only at 19 now), the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and passion that went into it is clear from the jump, and the way it feels like a respectful tribute to old-school cartoons and old-school gaming is undeniably impressive. But this is a really tricky game to recommend because it's a major case of "know thyself." If you feel ready for "Cuphead" to hit you with an extreme challenge, go on in. If you're worried it could leave you overstimulated or overwhelmed, you wouldn't be in the wrong for skipping it. Whichever you choose, I do think you deserve to experience "Cuphead" in some way, even if it's through watching a playthrough online. As much as the game messed with my head, I can't forget or ignore the amount of love and passion that went into this old-school love letter.

Final rating: 8 out of 10 "Great"